The Difference Between Self-Esteem, Self-Worth, Self-Confidence and Self-Knowledge

Anxiety worry and woman breathing on sofa to relax calm down and stress relief from panic attack Mental health depression and portrait of anxious girl sitting on couch with hand on chest in pain

I have noticed that there is a great deal of confusion between the four common challenges listed in the title. Sometimes people ask me if they are all the same.

The differences can be subtle and there can be overlap, yes. But they are all indeed different in some very specific ways. Ways that are important to understand as you think about your own view of, and feelings about, yourself.

So let’s start with a little “quiz.” As you read the descriptions below, see if you can identify which person has low self-esteem, which has low self-worth, who has low self-confidence, and who has low self-awareness.

Then read on to see if you identified them correctly, and also to learn much more about each of these common struggles.


Jenny sits on the couch in the lobby waiting to be called for her job interview to begin. On the outside, she appears calm and composed. On the inside, she is desperately trying to manage her anxiety and stop the thoughts that are racing through her head.

What if I say the wrong thing? What if they see right through me? I might blow this. I don’t belong here. Around and around those thoughts go, feeding her anxiety.


Dwight wakes up at 11:00 this Saturday morning. Lying in bed, he thinks about going straight to the gym to make sure he gets in a workout today. But a dark feeling creeps over him, and he realizes he has already lost this battle. He rolls over and goes back to sleep, wanting to escape this crappy feeling.


Molly sits with her friends at a restaurant as they all discuss the win/loss record of the Red Sox and whether they are likely to do well this year. As her friends throw around game stats, players’ names and batting averages, she quietly feels mortified. “I can’t even remember the players’ names, much less all these stats. They are all so much smarter than I am.”


Andy, receiving his 6-month evaluation at his new job, hears his boss say the words, “Your skills with Excel spreadsheets could use some improvement. I’m sending you to an Excel training next week.” His head reeling, he misses the rest of the feedback he receives. He is thinking, “I might as well quit now. This is obviously not the right job for me.”

Now that you have read the experience of Jenny, Dwight, Molly, and Andy above, let’s see how accurately you were able to identify the dilemma of each.

Self-Confidence — Jenny

Jenny’s anxiety is not actually about the job interview. It is about herself. Deep down, Jenny does not believe that she has the ability to present herself well in the interview. She is doubting her own ability and skills. Self-confidence is how much you truly believe in yourself and what you can do.

Self-Worth — Dwight

Dwight knows that he should go to the gym, and he also wants to do so. Surprisingly, that dark feeling that creeps over him is not depression or sadness or grief. It is actually a deep feeling that he is not worth the time, effort and energy that would be necessary to get to the gym. Self-worth is your deeply held feeling about your own value as a person.

Self-Esteem — Molly

Molly feels inferior to her friends as they talk about the facts and statistics of baseball. This is an expression of her low self-esteem. Molly has no idea that she is every bit as intelligent and interesting as the people at the table; she simply knows less about baseball because she is not a fan of the sport. Self-esteem is the way you feel about yourself in different areas, like intelligence, personality, appearance, and success.

Self-Knowledge — Andy

Andy was given lots of good feedback in his evaluation, but he was knocked off his game by the one, small, negative comment he heard. Andy was very hurt by the one small negative statement because he does not know what his strengths and weaknesses are. He doesn’t realize that he brings multiple other strengths to this job that outweigh his lack of experience with Excel. Self-knowledge is how well you know your own abilities, talents, capabilities, preferences, likes and dislikes, wants and needs.

The Ways These 4 Struggles Hold You Back

  1. Self-Confidence: Having low self-confidence like Jenny makes it hard to try new things or reach for new challenges. Anxiety is a natural result that holds you back, clinging to the familiar things you do have confidence about, like a job, relationship or living situation, for example.
  2. Self-Worth: Low self-worth undermines what you are willing to do for yourself. Are you worthy of another person’s attention and love? Are you deserving of receiving good things? Do you have enough to offer other people so that they might value you? Having low self-worth prevents you from believing in yourself and from claiming what is yours.
  3. Self-Esteem: When you have low self-esteem you walk through the world in a one-down position. You operate from a place of, “I’m not good enough.” Everything that happens in your life is filtered through that deeply held notion, even though it is definitely not true. So even mundane interactions like Molly’s, once they go through your filter, can end up hurting you.
  4. Self-Knowledge: How well, and how accurately, do you see yourself? Can you predict how you will act, or how you will feel, in certain situations? Are you aware of your own strengths and preferences? Low self-knowledge makes it hard to make good choices for yourself, and hard to believe in the decisions you make.

The Underlying Cause

In my work as a therapist for over 20 years I have clearly seen the main factor that prevents good, strong people from seeing, believing, and owning what is so good and strong about them. It is this:

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Being raised by parents who fail to see, value, and validate your deepest, truest self — your emotions — enough.

When your parents don’t see your feelings, even if it’s not done maliciously, they fail to see the real you. If they don’t see you, they can’t really know you. If they don’t know you, their love won’t feel deep and real.

I have seen over and over again three very relevant things. First, most people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect have no idea that it happened to them. Second, most of those people continue the neglect by emotionally neglecting themselves. And third, if you don’t see and nurture yourself emotionally, you are very vulnerable to low self-confidence, esteem, worth, and knowledge.

The Answer

Yes, believe it or not, there is one! Now that you are aware of what might be wrong, you are on the path to healing it. By learning to treat your feelings and yourself differently you can change how you feel about yourself in very profound ways. This is the path to healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, why you may not be aware of it, and how to reverse it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To find out if you grew up with Emotional Neglect Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how to heal your adult relationships from Emotional Neglect see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Tina - February 26, 2024 Reply

Hi Jonice. I’m just becoming familiar with your work. I’ve been living with the Invisible Force that is CEN for many years and have explained my abusive childhood countless times to therapists but got little insight or help with just general understanding So I’ve never really understood why I treated myself so badly in relationships. I have good self confidence and intellect and appearance and I guess this confused the therapists, doctors ie “professionals” I saw over the years. I just came to believe I would just “have to live with it.” I’m so glad you broke these 4 concepts down because they ARE separate at least for me. The quiz was very helpful. I just ordered your book. Wish I had found you years ago when I had more life left. Thank you. I’m grateful for your work.

Kari - August 31, 2023 Reply

Jonice, My therapist said she thought I did not have self -acceptance. Although I nowhere near perfect, I tend to want myself and other aspects of life to be perfect. Do you think this is related to the 4 feelings in this title? Maybe the same as one of them or another possibility when I person does not love themself?

Sherri - August 29, 2023 Reply

Another great article, thank you. I can see myself using all of these at different times. Before reading your books I was already involved in a lot of similar reading, saw a psychologist from time to time and even studied counselling and psychology. The neatness of CEN has been an eye opener for me personally, and seeing it other people has helped me to better manage me and my relationships. Its a long road, and it gets better with time. My husband and I were both raised CEN and ‘Dr Jonice’ has become a really helpful shorthand between us. Thanks again

GreggB - August 29, 2023 Reply

Is it possible to have more than one, or even all four, in the same person?

    Jonice - September 4, 2023 Reply

    Yes, it absolutely is. They tend to go together, and are often found together in the same person.

RaeLana Lucas - May 23, 2019 Reply

I whole hearted believe in Dr Webb’s article because of how it resonates with me.. I struggle with emotional regulation every day, and debilitating fear that I matter to nobody… Thank you for your free lessons..

    Jonice - May 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear RaeLana, please do keep working on seeing and accepting your true worth. I’m glad you find this article helpful. All my best to you.

David - May 23, 2019 Reply

I think my thing is ” low self worth” rather than the others? Firstly I do not have a job any more. So my only income is my state pension. All my family are mow deceased and I do not have any friends or workmates so I am in effect what people may term “a workshy layabout” sponging on the taxpayer and basically because I am over 80 I know I am unlikely to ever get a job again as once my d.o.b. on application form is found employer is highly likely to bung it into bin, despite fact I have been in work all my life and performed ok. But also today getting an appointment to see a Doctor is nowadays so difficult, my feeling is surely others are more deserving and more worthy of getting an appointment than me as they have potentially a lot more years to continue living and may have more important issues about their physical or mental health than me that need attention. So not planning to do anything except continue being an idle workshy layabout of low self worth. Are there not many others out there just like me?

    Jonice - May 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear David, I agree that you are suffering from low self-worth. I hope you will definitely make an appointment to be evaluated for depression, as I seem to hear the gray cloud of depression in your words. Please be evaluated for depression. All my best to you!

    Marti - September 29, 2019 Reply

    Worth is an aggregate. It’s important to grow your own as much as the younger person. You absolutely deserve whatever your heart wants, be it a job, some way to contribute, an activity that feels good to do, somethings new to study, whatever it is. What is it you used to do? What might you like to do now? And as for worth, bring in the affirmations… “I am worthy. I am SO worthy. I matter whether I am 10 years old or 105. I have a lot to offer. And a lot still to do. I will find something I like to do” I think there is a story about a man who got into pecan farming in his older years. I was trying to find it out. I will repost when I do. Look for the spark of hope, some idea, some leaf that falls just so, I think there’s something for you. You don’t have (nor deserve) to feel like a lazy layabout. You are worth the time to chart a new story, to start a new/renewed path.

Gregory - May 22, 2019 Reply

Jonice’s blogs demonstrate that there are many ways to present the same fundamental subject.

I found this article more useful than most: the finer analysis helps develop more precise insight and is perhaps more actionable as a result.

This technique of learning through “observing others” works well for me.

    Jonice - May 22, 2019 Reply

    Hi Gregory, I wouldn’t call it different ways to present the same subject. It’s more like different results, causes, and treatments. CEN is the root of so many life problems and symptoms that there is a lot to say. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

Steven - May 20, 2019 Reply

Is there a need to separate 1 giant struggle into 4 big struggles? Doesn’t each of 4 struggles cause another 3? Won’t getting rid of 1 struggle will eliminate another 3?

    Jonice - May 20, 2019 Reply

    Dear Steven, good question. Actually, our view of ourselves is very layered and complex. It is not an all-or-nothing or black/white kind of thing. Therefore, it really helps to think in a more complex way about how you see and feel about yourself, and that is what I wanted to help people do with this article.

John - May 20, 2019 Reply

The writer proposes a theory of psychology that has been largely discredited by the vast amount of research on cognitive behavioral therapy. Disappointing article.

    Jonice - May 20, 2019 Reply

    Hi John, that is patently incorrect. Current research in the areas of the neuropsychology of emotion, as well as attachment and mindfulness, support and corroborate the content of this article.

GWOR - May 19, 2019 Reply

As an aging senior and looking back to the cruel 50s & 60s finally having a friend’s father in education get me into a school because I was borderline flunking and in shock and no roads open I got the last seat at the college for the fall entrance.By way of this introduction I never had time for self-esteem,worth,confidence & knowledge I had to defend both my mother and my self sleeping with one eye open.
However arriving at college I had the first good night’s sleep. And as I sat in C- Dining Hall where most were there for the same category of education I realized the quiet, the friendship but had a rude awakening I am now on my own when for the first time in my life I asked a girl out and got the “ Country Bumpkin” status and went on probation due to a misunderstanding and a jealous rat sitting beside me.
Somehow the counsellor actually only a few years older gave me a chance and I moved off the floor to a big dorm room right in the East corner of the university section. The bets were on I would be out at Christmas . A friend next door sensed my deep hole and watched over me. Later killed in a road accident. But as I got into the rhythm of the institution I started to both feel and embrace the words – worth,esteem,confidence and knowledge for the self. Oh I returned after Christmas as 68% of that corner funked out or went OAC. I guess many lost their bets .There are times when one is cornered in all directions but there are 360 degrees in the compass and my Center was getting stronger and I chose one under the guidance of my new friend and the probation proctor realized we both worked in the summer before for the same organization so he went easy and rest is history but if one is rattled always cranked and unsettled in disorder’s entity 24/7 365 there is only time for survival and looking back the self seeing ,sensing, feeling to realize there were beautiful caring emphatic people around me. The chap next door finding out semester ending that I was broke; drove two hours out of his route to my home to deliver me to my doorstep and be on my Uncle’s Farm the next day cleaning and clearing the orchard floor . No it is not easy and much trauma happened after but getting a sense of the self- the knowledge, the worth , the confidence broke down many barriers but the esteem will always be a w.i.p.or work in progress . I do not fight it anymore and metaphorically swim through it and consider myself one lucky person to always move forward but being strategically and visually aware there is always someone that enjoys destroying the whole and narcissistic rats are just out about to bite the first person they can and takeover and destroy others lives and living.

    Jonice - May 19, 2019 Reply

    Dear Gwor, it sounds like you have fought for your self-worth and self-confidence. Thank you for sharing your story.

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