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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I overcome a lack of confidence and self-esteem?

    I'm having trouble getting involved in conversations- lack of confidence seems the reason for this so whats the best way to build confidence?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 7


    Joe Gubbay

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    I have worked in public hospitals as well as private practice over the past 25 years. As a clinical psychologist I treat depression, social anxiety, … View Profile

    You can try to deal with this yourself by changing behaviour and thought patterns, and possibly some skills training.

    Behaviours that keep low confidence in place might not be obvious, but you'll probably find that there's some avoidance going on. Try to place yourself into situations where you can face what you're fearing. Practising really does make a huge difference - the more you do it, the easier it will get.

    Thought patterns that keep low confidence in place are usually related to beliefs that people won't like you, they'll think you're stupid, boring, and so on. Try to work out just what it is that you're thinking in difficult situations, and then see if you can challenge those thoughts. Some questions you can ask yourself to straighten out your thinking can be found here:

    We also have assumptions that we make about ourselves, and about other people. If these assumptions are wrong, they can make us vulnerable to anxiety or depression. See if you can work out what assumptions you're making, and challenge them. They might be beliefs like, “ practiseI'm a boring person” - similar to the negative thoughts, but more stable ideas.

    Skills training means looking at the skills involved in starting and maintaining conversations. Often it's just low confidence getting in the way, but sometimes some specific “tricks” can help when you're first starting up a conversation with someone. Taking part in skills training can also help with the first suggestion - behaviour change. For example, joining a group like toastmasters not only helps with the skills of public speaking, but it also gives you opportunity to practice (it's not exactly conversation, but often public speaking will tap into the same sort of fears).

    Many people manage to deal with self-esteem issues by themselves, and generally, the course over time is for gradual improvement. If you find you're stuck, then see a psychologist who can lead you through this process, and tailor it to your needs and circumstances. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the approach that I'd recommend.

    I hope that helps!

  • 6


    Dr Simon Kinsella

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Dr Simon Kinsella is a Melbourne based clinical psychologist, who has been practicing since 1993. Currently he is the Director of Corporate and Personal Consulting, … View Profile

    I totally agree with Joe's comments above.  I would offer these idea's as some of the skills or tricks you can use to help to gain confidence with conversations:

    1. Stay up to date with current affairs.  Have some idea about what's happening in the world and form some opionions.  When people start to take notice of the news they struggle a bit because they haven't formed deep opinions based on years of knowledge, but your knowledge will build over time and you will have greater depth to draw on over time.

    2.  Know your audience.  Whether it's a small social group, a work meeting or a large presentation it helps to know a bit about why people are there.

    3.  Keep notes.  This sounds really contrived, but when people are anxious they tend to forget details about conversations.  When you meet those people again you can lose confidence if you can't remember names or important parts of converstations.  Writing will consolidate what you have learned (even if it's writing down which footy club people barrack for).  You can then also look back on notes later, if you know you're about to meet people at another gathering.

    4.  Spend less time worrying about what others think of you, and start to put more effort into what you think of others.  You're entitled to have an opinion about other people, and not just hope they like you.  Also,  when you do this more you start to see some of the reasons why you gel with some people and not with others

    There are many more tips and strategies, but these offer some ways of working on the social confidence

  • 6


    Dr Louise Shepherd

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a clinical psychologist with 15 years experience working with all sorts of goals and issues. I love working with people, helping them to … View Profile

    Hopefully this won't be confusing for me to present a slightly different take on this. There are often a few ways to address issues that we face in our lives and so please take or leave what I have to say :-). 

    I'd start by saying that anxiety is a natural part of life and we all experience it. That said, when we struggle with anxiety, or if anxiety is something we try very very hard not to have then anxiety can become quite a problem……..a saying that makes a lot of sense to me if this, “if you are not willing to have it (e.g. anxiety), you've got it”… the very thing we don't want perhaps we end up getting a whole lot of……so not being willing to feel anxious can lead to panic in the same way that struggling with loss and sadness may lead to depression. Does that make sense?

    I'd also say that confidence is a funny thing - we often think we have to FEEL confident before we can act - and yet we don't usually get the feeling of confidence unless we have practised something over and over and got more competent at it……which can lead to a viscious cycle of never doing things until we feel confident and we don't get out and about to get the experience that would help us to build that feeling of confidence.

    So I find it more helpful to think of the action of confidence - that we can learn skills to make room for the anxiety and yucky thoughts we might get when we are in an uncomfortable situation and go ahead and do it anyway…..not waiting to feel good about it.

    If you want to learn more about this you might be interested to read a book by a colleague of mine, “The confidence gap” - by Dr Russ Harris - or read up more on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. 

    And it might also help to remember that people who seem confident may not feel it - they may just have decided to go ahead and try something, anxious feelings and yucky thoughts and all :-). People can't read our mind and see our pounding heart to know how we are feeling (thankfully!!)

  • 4


    Emma Webster

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a warm, supportive and compassionate therapist, committed to assisting my clients to connect to their inner wisdom and strength, to develop mindful awareness … View Profile

    I like the way Louise described the “action of confidence” versus the feeling of confidence, because often feeling good comes and goes, and if we wait until we feel good in order to act, we could be waiting forever! 

    Perhaps you could also think of self esteem as an action rather than a feeling. A definition of “esteem” is “to regard with respect”. So if you were to treat yourself in an esteem way or hold yourself in esteem, regardless of how you felt, What would it look like? How would you behave around others? How would you honour yourself?

    Once you start to become clear about this, think about taking tiny brave steps to act in this way. Focus on your actions, rather than your feelings, because they are in your control!     

  • 1


    Lucy Appadoo


    I am a Registered Counsellor and Wellness Coach who specialises in grief and loss, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger management, and stress management. I have … View Profile

    It is quite human to be imperfect and to judge yourself in social situations, however there are ways to be more self-compassionate and to understand that it is okay to feel low in confidence at times. It is important to feel your emotions exactly as they are so that you can be honest with yourself. These emotions can be described in a journal as a way of honestly expressing yourself. After you write honestly about yourself, you can imagine a friend who loves you unconditionally and accepts everything about you, including everything you wrote in your journal. Reflect on how this friend feels towards you and how you are loved and accepted for exactly who you are, imperfections and all. This friend understands how you came to be as you are today, and is able to empathise with your situation. Bear in mind that who you are is determined by genetics, family history, life circumstances at the moments etc. Your history is totally out of your control.

    You can then write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this friend, and ask yourself, ‘what would this friend say to you about your weakness from the standpoint of unlimited compassion? How would this friend describe the deep compassion he/she feels towards you? What would this friend mention about your humane quality and strengths and weaknesses? If you believe this friend could offer particular changes you could make, how would these changes demonstrate feelings of unconditional understanding and compassion? Try to get a sense of your friend’s total acceptance, kindness, and wish for your health and happiness.

    After you write this letter, leave it for a while. Afterwards come back to it and read it to let the words immerse your entire being. Feel the compassion as you realise that love, connection and acceptance are your birthright. Have self-compassion by understanding where you’ve come from, how to forgive yourself, and to consider the sorts of changes you need to make to improve your quality of life and social connections.

  • Joe Gubbay

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    I have worked in public hospitals as well as private practice over the past 25 years. As a clinical psychologist I treat depression, social anxiety, … View Profile

    That's a beautiful suggestion!

  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    I agree with Lucy's suggestion of journalling. I keep a regular journal of my thoughts and feelings - it helps me to gain a sense of objectivity about them.

    A practical thought: privacy is important here.

    My journal is a Word document in this laptop. The document is encrypted and is protected by a strong (10 character) password. Logging on to the laptop needs a different strong password.

    Thay way I know that nobody else will ever see my journal without my *express* permission. 

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