Is your self-esteem conditional? 

 February 23, 2021

By  Tamara Davidson

You may have heard someone say, “I have low self-esteem” or you may think somebody you know has “low self-esteem”, however the fact that self-esteem could be high or low, points to it being conditional. In this blog, I will reference the work of Dr Michael Hall to explain how our self-esteem is often confused with self-confidence and how this confusion allows the distortion to take place that our self-esteem is somehow based on a set of conditions. It is not. What if your self-esteem was neither high nor low, what if your self-esteem was unconditional? Would you want that? Read on… 


So, what’s the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence? Self-esteem refers to a person’s value, worth, dignity, honour, and lovability. It has nothing to do with what you can do, what you are good at, your talents, dispositions, gifts, or achievements. Those facets define confidence. 

As a verb, esteem refers to a mental evaluation or judgement. It refers to how you appraise the value of something. And, as such, it is based on several criteria. But what criteria? When it comes to self-esteem, upon what do you base your evaluation? Is that evaluation conditional or unconditional? If conditional, then upon what conditions? Do you base the evaluation on a person’s looks, intelligence, skills, cooperative nature, strength, speed, grades, money, relationships, etc? Whatever you base a person’s value on, that then becomes the self-esteem conditions that you use - consciously or unconsciously. 



- Based on conditions 

- Earned 

- Always "on the line" 

- Hoping to become a "somebody" 


- Based on no conditions

- Recognised as a gift 

- Never in question

- Born a "somebody"

If you value a person (including yourself) as having value, esteem, worth, dignity, honour, etc., based on any conditions, then you are conditionally valuing that person. You are believing and expecting that the person has to earn it. The person has to prove him or herself worthy of the value you attribute. And because the person has to continually earn it, the person is on a treadmill - always trying to prove him or herself. 

Conditional self-esteem implies a person is not okay in and of him or herself, the person has to earn the right to be valued as a person. Now imagine doing that to anyone. Do that to a child and you rob the child of his or her innate right to be an innately valuable human being. And that will set the child up to feel anxious about his or her very existence. You have posited the child's self-worth as “on the line” and liable to be destroyed. 

By contrast, unconditional self-esteem makes the criteria singular - if you are a human being, you have innate worth and value. Your dignity and honour is a given, you were born with dignity. You don’t have to prove anything to be seen, recognised, and accepted as a full human being. And if your worth is a given, you don’t have to prove anything to be a somebody. You already are a somebody and now you have the right and freedom to fully express your somebodyness. 

" Everybody is a somebody "

Typically, most of us confuse self-esteem and self-confidence and speak about these two states as if they are synonyms. They are not. Self-esteem is often presented as if it is something conditioned upon a person’s feelings of confidence about achievements. Once that assumption is made, then the assumption is that you have to encourage a person to “build up” his or her self-esteem by encouraging the person to find his or her strengths and develop them. Do that to a person and you are subtly suggesting that the person has to “earn” his or her worth as a human being. 

A sign of this confusion shows up also in our language every time we speak about high or low self-esteem. Yet if self-esteem can be high (or low), then it is conditional. It can go up or down. And if it is conditional, then it is not a given. It is not unconditional. Then it can be lost. By contrast, if your esteem as a human being is unconditional, then you can esteem your worth or value as unquestionable. You attribute to yourself, and everyone else, the honour and dignity of being a human being and therefore special, unique and sacred. 

Contrastive Difference Between 


- About being-ness

- Human Being 

- Being as a person 

- Unconditional 

- Don't have to prove 

- Realm of 'person' 

- Be in order to do

- Value of your person 


- About talents and skills 

- Human Doing  

- Doing as an achiever 

- Conditional 

- Must prove yourself 

- Realm of competency and achievement 

- Do in order to achieve 

- Trust in what you can do

Unlike self-esteem, self-confidence is conditional. You have to earn it. You have to prove that you can actually do the thing that you’re confident about. The person who demands the feeling of confidence in something prior to learning is requiring either the impossible or is drowning in a fool’s desire. I say “the impossible” because to have confidence in yourself that you can do something before you do it is by definition - impossible. And I say “fool’s desire” because if you did access a feeling of confidence regarding something in which you are actually incompetent, then that feeling of confidence would only make you a fool. You would feel that you could do something when you cannot! 

Stepping into Unconditional Self-Esteem

Begin by distinguishing person and behaviour. People are more than their actions. Do you know this about yourself; you are more than your behaviours. You are more than your thoughts, your emotions, your responses. How well do you know this about yourself? Can you appreciate and stand in awe of your humanness? 

This realisation of the difference between person and behaviour empowers you to unconditionally value and esteem yourself as “somebody” so that you do not put your value on the line based on some fallible aspect of human nature, like your thinking, feeling, acting, understanding etc. And when you can do that with yourself, you can do the same with others. When you deal with people, you deal with their expressions of thoughts, feelings, speech and behaviour - not them as a person. Their person remains a mystery - a sacred mystery. 

Moving from Self-Confidence to Self-Efficacy 

Once you develop confidence in one thing, and then another, and then many others, eventually another state can emerge. When you develop self-confidence once and again in a variety of areas, it means that you have repeatedly moved from incompetence to competence. It means you have learned and developed one particular skill, and then another. And at first it always seems impossible. Hard.  But eventually, you realise that it is just the learning process. And with that, Self-Efficacy begins. 

What’s the difference? Self-confidence relates to the past - to the skills you have already developed. Your confidence in what you can do has proof. You have evidence for your confidence. It’s credible. You know you can do something because you have done it before and you have done it often enough that you now trust yourself, and now feel convinced that you can do it again and again. You can perform it on demand. 

Self-efficacy relates to the future and to the skills that you will develop, or even could develop, if you so choose. Your sense of confidence in those yet-to-be-developed skills of the future has no historical proof, no evidence, that you can point to and say, “See I have done that before!” Instead, what convinces you is something else, it is your sense of confidence in you, in your ability to learn, to develop, to work through the learning process. It is your sense of confidence that you can trust your wits, your intelligence, your emotions, your ability to relate to others and so on. That’s self-efficacy. 


Contrastive Difference Between 


- Able to do something, development of a skill, able to achieve action or experience 

- From incompetence to competence and then to expertise 

- Proof from the past 


- Not able to do something yet, trust in oneself that I will be able to develop the new skill or competence 

- Realisation: I have developed many competencies and that means I can trust my future abilities and potentials   

- Trust in the future 

If you would like to learn more about how you can step into your highest and best potential, contact Modo Coaching and Training today for an introductory coaching session. 


Michael Hall Headshot - Is your self-esteem conditional?

This article was co-authored with Dr. Michael L. Hall, Meta-Coach Co-Founder.

Dr. Hall’s doctorate is in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology is from Union Institute University, Cincinnati Ohio.  His dissertation explored the languaging of four psychotherapies (NLP, RET, Reality Therapy, Logotherapy) using the formulations of General Semantics.  He addressed the Interdisciplinary International Conference (1995) presenting an integration of NLP and General Semantics.  His Masters degree was in Clinical Counseling and Psychology from Regis University in Denver Colorado and his Bachelors of Science was in Management of Human Resources.  Prior to that he took a Masters in Biblical Literature and Language.

As a prolific writer, Dr. Hall has written 58 books, another 30 serial books, over 100 published articles, and is recognized as a leading NLP Trainer and Developer.  Most notable of the models is the Meta-States Model, also The Matrix Model, Axes of Change, etc.   Michael co-founded, with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer, Neuro-Semantics® in 1996 as a field which focuses on meaning and performance.

As a modeler of expertise, Dr. Hall has completed 27 modeling projects which include modeling resilience, self-reflexive consciousness, “thinking,” communication excellence, sales, persuasion, accelerated learning, wealth creation, women in leadership, fitness and health, cultures, leadership, collaboration, and more.

Tamara Davidson

Tamara Pickard is an Executive Coach, Trainer and a Managing Director of Modo Coaching and Training, with many years of experience leading large organisations. Tamara is a certified Meta-Coach, Master NLP practitioner and experienced Enneagram facilitator, and her passion is to facilitate people to discover and actualise their highest potentials in their personal and professional lives.

Tamara Davidson

related posts:

Business, Coaching, Personal Development, Professional Development

One of the essential skills for any leader is knowing how to cultivate a curious mind in conversation with others. [...]

Business, Personal Development, Training

Have you ever wondered how it is we get into conflict? Maybe you're curious if everyone experiences conflict in the [...]

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Never miss an article.

Subscribe and Save.

Subscribe and you'll be the first to know when a new article is posted, you'll also receive special offers for our coaching and training programs.