LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
"Self-confidence is not a feeling of superiority, but of independence."
"Self-confidence is knowing that we
have the capacity to do something good
and firmly decide not to give up."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem is not
directly defined in the Buddhist tradition, but it would certainly
be classified as a negative emotion or delusion, as it exaggerates
one's limitations in capacity, quality and potential for growth.
Briefly put, every sentient being has the potential to become
a fully perfected Buddha, if one does not understand this, one is
deluded in this respect.
Lack of self-confidence can be made up of several
different aspects like: guilt, anger
turned inward, unrealistic expectations of perfection, false sense
of humility, fear of change or making mistakes, depression
etc. Depression can actually also be a result of a lack of self-confidence.
(See also the page on Depression.)
Art of Happiness at Work" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
"...to have greater self-awareness
or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality.
Now, the opposite of reality is to project onto yourself
qualities that are not there, ascribe to yourself characteristics
in contrast to what is actually the case. For example,
when you have a distorted view of yourself, such as through
excessive pride or arrogance, because of these states
of mind, you have an exaggerated sense of your qualities
and personal abilities. Your view of your own abilities
goes far beyond your actual abilities. On the other hand,
when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate
your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself,
you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of
faith in yourself. So excess--both in terms of exaggeration
and devaluation--are equally destructive. lt is by addressing
these obstacles and by constantly examining your personal
character, qualities, and abilities, that you can learn
to have greater self-understanding. This is the way to
become more self-aware."
A view from Shantideva:
"Self-confidence should be applied to wholesome
Overcoming of delusions and my ability to overcome them.
Thinking, 'I alone shall do it'
Is the self-confidence of action."
P.J. Saher writes in 'Zen-Yoga':
"Courage in an untrained mind leads to cruelty,
and in a trained mind it leads to hope and compassion."
Specifically in the Mahayana tradition of wishing
to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment, it is important
to have a healthy amount of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect
to bring this vast task to a good end. Obviously, overconfidence
and pride are at the other side of the scale and to be avoided.
His Holiness the 7th Dalai Lama in 'Songs
of spiritual change' (translated by Glenn Mullin):
"Who has magnificent self-confidence
And fears nothing that exists?
The man who has attained to truth
And lives free of error."
In my own words: 'If a doctor would only focus on his fear for
mistakes, how could he ever heal a patient?'
Do take a moment to let the next one sink in:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your
Not an easy one; take some time to dig deeper into yourself to
answer why you allow others to make you feel inferior? Why
don't they feel inferior?
In Buddhism, in order to be cured from the problems
in cyclic existence, we ourselves need to follow the instructions
given by the Buddha with regard to the manner and frequency in taking
his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant medical restraints.
Likewise, we need to follow the precepts and advice given by the
Buddha and control/subdue our greed, hatred and ignorance. No one
can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha or by
making offerings to him. Neither does celebrating festivals in honour
of the Buddha, mere prayer or begging lead to enlightenment. We
need to strive hard by controlling our selfish desires and emotions
in order to find a permanent solution to our problems.
"Human potential is the same for all. Your
feeling, "I am of no value", is wrong. Absolutely wrong.
You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought-
so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change
anything. It is usually said that you are your own master."
"With the realization of ones own potential
and self-confidence in ones ability, one can build a better world.
According to my own experience, self-confidence is very important.
That sort of confidence is not a blind one; it is an awareness
of ones own potential. On that basis, human beings can transform
themselves by increasing the good qualities and reducing the negative
Both quotes from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
This is even more so on the Mahayana path; if we
seriously strive to make an end to the suffering of all sentient
beings, we can't expect to achieve that by fearfully 'hiding in
a corner'. Instead, it requires us to take confidence and courage
in our own skills, and to work diligently for ourselves and others.
See for an inspiring text, 'the
37 Practices of a Bodhisattva', and a commentary
on that text by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Low self-esteem can actually be categorised as
a form of laziness as explained by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche from Daring
Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism:
"The Buddhist notion of diligence is to
delight in positive deeds. Its opposite, called le lo
in Tibetan, has three aspects. Le lo is usually translated as
"laziness," though only its first aspect refers to laziness
as we usually understand it.
The first aspect is not doing something because of indolence,
even though we know that it is good and ought to be done.
The second aspect is faintheartedness. This comes about when we
underestimate our qualities and abilities, thinking, "I'm
so incompetent and weak. It would be good to do that, but I could
never accomplish it." Not having the confidence of thinking,
"I can do it," we end up doing nothing.
The third aspect refers to being very busy and seeming diligent,
but wasting time and energy on meaningless activities that will
not accomplish anything in the long run. When we do many things
for no real purpose, we fail to focus on what is truly worthwhile
and our path has no clear direction.
When we refrain from these three aspects of laziness, we are diligent."
So from this point of view, a lack of self-confidence
can be like an excuse for 'not-doing' when something needs to be
done, and is therefore clearly a problematic emotion.
Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said: "Fearlessness is the first requisite
of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.”
It can be difficult to accept others and to
accept ourselves. "I should be better. I should be something
different. I should have more." All of this is conception;
it's all mental fabrication. It's just the mind churning up "shoulds,"
"ought tos," and "supposed tos." All this
is conceptual rubbish, and yet we believe it. Part of the solution
is to recognize that these thoughts are conceptual rubbish and
not reality; this gives us the mental space not to believe them.
When we stop believing them, it becomes much easier to accept
what we are at any given moment, knowing we will change in the
next moment. We'll be able to accept what others are in one moment,
knowing that they will be different in the next moment. This is
good stuff for everyday practice; it's very practical.
to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator by Thubten Chodron.
SOME POSSIBLE SIGNS OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM:
(Note: these are mainly my personal views, not strictly Buddhist)
- Guilt: paralysing
form of self-torture; seeing one's imperfections and believing improvement
is beyond possibilities.
- Scepticism/being over-critical; unrealistic expectation
of perfection, reasoning that, "I am not perfect, so I'm worthless".
Scepticism and cynicism are sometimes called "crystallised forms
of anger", and can be detrimental to yourself, as you may only be
focussing on faults of yourself, and rarely allow yourself to enjoy
good things. In cynicism, the fear and distrust are taken one step
further, thinking, "They are imperfect, they are worthless".
- Unforgiving: unrealistic expectation of perfection, reasoning
that "People should be perfect, I and others are not perfect, and
no one can be forgiven for not being perfect."
- "I could never do this, I can only ...": focus on my own
limits rather than on my possibilities for growth and improvement.
"I am not perfect" may be very true, but is that not the best possible
reason for trying to improve oneself in a disciplined manner by
being positive and helping others?
- Self-shame: keeping secrets about oneself: "I am disgusting,
strange, weird, stupid, ugly". This creates a negative spiral, "others
never talk about it, so I must be really weird"; based on the delusion:
"I should be perfect, because others are".
if one is genuinely self-confident, there is no need for pride;
only an empty balloon can be 'blown up'. It is based on the unrealistic
view: "Others should be perfect and are not, but I am better".
To cover up their own insecurity, a fair amount of people act out
pride, as if they are better than others, but only because they
- Improper humility: not regarding oneself as equal to others,
but less than others. Humility is a positive quality as it avoids
pride and is other-centered, often driven by active compassion for
others. Lack of self-confidence however, is often self-centred (feeling
sorry for oneself and looking for excuses to not change your own
situation) and paralyses you from doing positive actions. In fact,
this kind of false humility is categorised under pride.
- Idolising people: overestimating others is based on - or
will easily lead to - underestimating oneself, see improper humility.
- Fear, uncertainty to: make mistakes,
be abnormal, not be liked, change, be hurt or of responsibility.
Fear closes the heart and mind off from the outside; leaving you
alone! Based on the misunderstanding: "I should be perfect", which
is simply unrealistic.
- Acting to be a perfect person instead of being myself:
if I am self-confident, I don't need to behave like someone else;
see pride. Instead of leading to praise, others may easily pierce
through the facade and uncover my acting.
His Holiness the 7th Dalai Lama in 'Songs
of spiritual change' (translated by Glenn Mullin):
"What is like a smelly fart, that, although invisible,
One's own faults, that are precisely as obvious as the effort
made to hide them.
- Feeling: "the world is a bad place";
note that the world is often a mirror of what we think of ourselves;
a negative world image and negative self-image can be two sides
of the same coin; reflects expectation of an unrealistic perfect
world. The world is neither perfect nor all bad.
(in Buddhism defined as "being attached to temporary pleasure, not
wanting to do virtue or only little".) The reason for this kind
of laziness could be based on the fear responsibility or making
mistakes, based on the unrealistic:"I should be perfect and not
make mistakes, so I better do nothing at all".
- Depression: indulging in
self-pity, closed-heartedness: based on "I am not perfect and therefore
- Lack of trust in others; when you never open your heart
to others, it is hard for them to open their hearts to you. Without
this openness, we are likely to start asking ourselves if we are
'normal' without getting any feedback. At the same time, when we
do not open our heart to others, they will usually not open their
hearts to us. In that way, we never discover that others struggle
with the same problems as we ourselves do. Real communication will
simply prove there is nothing to be ashamed of to begin with - we
are all humans.
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SOME THOUGHTS ON LOW SELF ESTEEM
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:
"One can be deceived by three types of laziness:
of indolence, which is the wish to procrastinate;
the laziness of inferiority, which is doubting your capabilities;
and the laziness that is attachment to negative actions, or putting
great effort into non-virtue."
A remark of late Lama Yeshe:
"We have to understand the middle path: that a human has a positive
and a negative side.
We have a false, ignorant side, but we also have a beautiful potential
- Buddha nature."
Question: If we have committed a serious negative act, how
can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?
Answer by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
"In such situations, where there is a danger
of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point
of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving
which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. A Buddhist
may reflect on the nature of the mind, on its essential purity,
and in what way disturbing thoughts and their subsequent emotions
are of an entirely different nature. Because such disturbing emotions
are adventitious, they can be eliminated.
To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our
being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental
purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable
you to develop self-confidence and courage.
The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient
beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the
bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are
the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as
troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of
Shakyamuni Buddha himself, prior to his enlightenment, lived in
other incarnations that were far more difficult than our present
lives. To recognize, in all its majesty, our own potential for
spiritual perfection is an antidote to guilt, disgust, and hopelessness.
Nagarjuna says in "The Precious Garland of Advice for the King"
that pessimism and depression never help in finding a good solution
to any problem. On the other hand, arrogance is just as negative.
But to present as an antidote to it a posture of extreme humility
may tend to foster a lack of self-confidence and open the door
to depression and discouragement. We would only go from one extreme
to the other.
I would like to point out that to set out on a retreat for three
years full of hope and expectations, thinking that without the
slightest difficulty you will come out of it fully enlightened,
can turn into a disaster, unless you undertake it with the most
serious intentions. If you overestimate your expectations and
have too much self-confidence, you will be headed for dissatisfaction
and disillusionment. When you think of what the Buddha said -
that perfect enlightenment is the result of spiritual purification
and an accumulation of virtues and wisdom for eons and eons -
it is certain that courage and perseverance will arise to accompany
you on the path."
12-year old Kelly Lin (from the Sokai
"I think that self-confidence is very important.
If you have low self-esteem, you will not dream up goals because
you will think that it is impossible to reach them. Without goals,
however, life would be meaningless and boring. Having a goal is
like putting an apple in front of a horse, to make it move forward.
Each time you reach your goal, your self-confidence grows stronger
and you are encouraged to set a new goal. Each time you accomplish
something you set out to do, you get a good feeling. This feeling
cannot be taken away from you.
You don't feel good because you are better than someone else;
you feel good because of personal achievement. After you have
reached a goal, you must continue to set goals in order to move
forward in life. Why stop when you have nothing to stop you? The
Buddha does not decide if you will be successful in life; you
decide whether or not you will achieve your goals. No one can
guarantee that you will have a good life, but many people can
help by inspiring you, putting some sense into you or getting
you on the right track. The Buddha is a role model for many people.
You can look up to him and try to be like him."
Zen Master Linji, as translated by Thomas Cleary (Note that
this original statement is from the ninth century!)
"What I point out to you is only that you shouldn't
allow yourselves to be confused by others. Act when you need to,
without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this...
what is the affliction? Their affliction is their lack of self-confidence.
If you do not spontaneously trust yourself sufficiently, you will
be in a frantic state, pursuing all sorts of objects, unable to
- We can only learn by admitting we don't know
everything yet, we can only grow if we accept that we are not perfect,
just like everyone else around us.
- Be light, humorous, eager to learn, courageous to change and not
afraid of making mistakes.
- Emotionally beating yourself up is not helping yourself or the
world; it does not change the past, nor does it change the future;
it only makes the present miserable.
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera:
Do It Yourself
Self confidence plays an important part in every aspect of man's
life. Knowing that no external sources, no faith or rituals can
save him, the Buddhist feels the need to rely on his own efforts.
He gains confidence through self-reliance. He realizes that the
whole responsibility of his present life as well as his future
life depends completely on himself alone. Each must seek salvation
Achieving salvation can be compared to curing a disease: if one
is ill, one must go to a doctor. The doctor diagnose the ailment
and prescribes medicine. The medicine must be taken by the person
himself. He cannot depute someone else to take the medicine for
him. No one can be cured by simply admiring the medicine or just
praising the doctor for his good prescription. In order to be
cured, he himself must faithfully follow the instructions given
by the doctor with regard to the manner and frequency in taking
his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant medical restraints.
Likewise, a person must follow the precepts, instructions or advice
given by the Buddha (who gives prescriptions for liberation) by
controlling or subduing one's greed, hatred and ignorance. No
one can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha
or by making offerings to Him. Neither can one find salvation
by celebrating certain important occasions in honour of the Buddha.
Buddhism is not a religion where people can attain salvation by
mere prayer or begging to be saved. They must strive hard by controlling
their selfish desires and emotions in order to gain salvation.
& Compassion' by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Compassion Helps Communication.
Compassion also brings us an inner strength. Once it is developed,
it naturally opens an inner door, through which we can communicate
with fellow human beings, and even other sentient beings, with
ease, and heart to heart.
On the other hand, if you feel hatred and ill feeling towards
others, they may feel similarly toward you, and as a result, suspicion
and fear will create a distance between you and make communication
difficult. You will then feel lonely and isolated. Not all members
of your community will have similar negative feelings toward you,
but some may look on you negatively because of your own feeling.
If you harbour negative feelings toward others and yet expect
them to be friendly to you, you are being illogical.
If you want the atmosphere around you to be more friendly, and
must first create the basis for that. Whether the response of
others is positive or negative, you must first create the ground
of friendliness. If others respond to you negatively after this,
then you have the right to act accordingly.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 'Dzogchen'
The path to genuine co-operation is again through
sincere compassion and love. Sometimes we misunderstand compassion
as being nothing more than a feeling of pity. Compassion is much,
much more. It embraces not only a feeling of closeness, but also
a sense of responsibility. When you develop compassion, it will
help you enormously to generate inner strength and self-confidence,
and to reduce your feelings of fear and insecurity. So compassion
and love, embodied in an attitude of altruism, are qualities that
are of tremendous importance for the individual, as well as for
society and the community at large.
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SOME ANTIDOTES TO LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
- Find the courage to really open your heart to
someone; self-confidence is deeply related to trusting others. Our
deepest secrets are often not as hidden to others as we may think,
or simply so common in the experience of others, that there is actually
nothing special about them. We often consider ourselves very special,
and forget that all the others around us are just as human as we
- Try reality checks with others, and do not tell yourself that,
"he/she is lying when saying that I am a nice person"
- this is actually quite a negative attitude to people, as you assume
they are lying...
- Practice compassion and loving-kindness
to others, also if they do not immediately react positive.
- Analyse reality to discover that "life is not perfect, I am not
perfect (yet), and neither are other people".
- Try hard to give up unrealistic expectations of needing to be
perfect right now, then forgiving
and having compassion for yourself becomes possible.
- Be realistic: I am just as much a human than others (equanimity),
are they really that much better?
- Study and meditate on the Noble
Truth of Suffering, realising that if you do not take any action,
nothing will ever improve.
- To overcome frustration afterwards, try to act when negative situations
can be changed, better to have no success than never having tried.
What is there to loose, really?
- Meditate on your potential; unveiling
your Buddha nature
- Meditate on purification;
this may make your potential clear.
on impermanence: everything changes, even my bad "I"
will change for the better!
on karma: the only way that things will get better is to do
on emptiness; the ultimate antidote to all delusions.
- Try taking some precepts/vows
to build your self-esteem, or simply any positive commitment
to yourself which you are certain you will manage to keep.
- Dare to laugh at yourself
and the world!
" Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but for the patience to win my freedom."
A few thoughts as examples of what you could reflect upon during
a meditation session on self-confidence:
- If I cannot accept myself as being human, how
can I ever accept and trust others? If I cannot accept and trust
others, how can I respect and love them? If I cannot respect and
love others, how can they respect and love me?
- Spirituality is going beyond our self and self-interested focussing,
it requires courage, independence, faith in our own potential
as a human being, even our potential to become a Buddha, and peace
of mind. Note that these aspects all refer in some way to self-confidence
and self acceptance.
- By falling over and getting up many times, children learn that
walking is possible. In judo, falling many times teaches you to
fall without pain; we cannot always avoid falling, but we can
often learn to avoid the pain!
- Self-confidence comes from being challenged to one's limits,
meeting them and then setting new limits.
- If I let the fear of making mistakes control my life, I could
not do anything at all but lead a completely useless life, is
that not something to be very afraid of?
- Perhaps the following prayer can be a powerful motivation as
well as dedication for any (meditation) practice:
"May I become at all times, both now and
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
For a meditation on self-confidence and other subjects, see the
List of Sample Meditations.
See also this inspiring teaching from Ayya
Khema on 'Accepting Oneself'
A lovely list can be found at Strategies
for building self-esteem
My initial response was to sue her for defamation of character,
but then I realized that I had no character.
One man with courage is a majority.
Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with
Why fake feeling good, when all you need is
to enjoy feeling bad.
All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I
see that I should have been more specific.
If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.
updated: September 11, 2011