Self-confidence is one of these terms that are used by many people in many different ways without there being a clear agreement or understanding what exactly it means. In fact, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth are often used interchangeably.

I am going to use the concept “Self-Confidence” in the philosophical sense of Axel Honneth’s Recognition Theory. He describes self-confidence as the ability to express one’s needs, desires, and anxieties without having to fear rejection or abandonment. To be able to do so, people need to have basic trust in the world as a just place in which their needs will be met. To say it in TA terms (Transactional Analysis), a person has self-confidence when s/he can say “I am OK and you are OK”.

Let me explain how that works: We have to go back to the first and most important relationship a person can have: It’s the parent-child relationship, the first social relationship in which the mother’s and the child’s being and neediness is mutually recognised – in other words, both mother and child respond to each other with care, support, respect, and appreciation within each others’ limited means.

Recognition Theory see’s “Recognition through Love” being given in the form of emotional support and care in all relationships in which strong emotional attachments are formed. This includes parent child relationship, intimate sexual relationships, friendships, and therapeutic relationships. When we give recognition in the form of emotional support and care we affirm the other person’s independence. We care for him or her until they can care for themselves.

We can see that most clearly in the parent > child relationship, whereby good enough parenting will lead to the child’s independence and maturation. The development of the self and a sense of identity is formed through balancing “symbiotic self-sacrifice” (I am here for you, I am at your disposal) and “individual self-assertion” (I am here for myself, I need space to be alone) between child and parent or between partners.

Infants are absolutely dependent on the parent for the satisfaction of their needs, for learning to be able to differentiate between self and environment, for their release of instinctual tensions, and for receiving tender comfort. Thus receiving recognition through love is the first and most important form of recognition and is the basis for all other recognition relationships.

Being given recognition through love in the form of emotional support and care allows a person to develop self-confidence. While the child depends on recognition through love and can not prosper without it, we continue to need love, care, and emotional support all throughout our life. If it’s not being given, our self-confidence will start to deteriorate until it’s hardly noticeable.

So how do you build Self-Confidence?
You do so by taking in the care and support available from your family, friends, partners, or therapists. Their care and support signals to you that you are worth being care for, worthy of their support, that you are OK, that it’s great to be around you and be your friend, that you are loveable.

Some people have been so disappointed or hurt by people that they isolate themselves and struggle to accept anyone into their lives that could give them recognition through love. If you are one of those people you can give love, care, and support to yourself. All acts of self-care, whereby the nurturing part of you is caring for the SELF, will contribute to strengthen Self-Confidence. However, it will be an uphill battle to build self-confidence all on your own steam. A supportive friend, counsellor, therapist, or partner will do wonders for your confidence.

For more reading go to:
Axel Honneth, 1995, The Struggle for Recognition (MIT Press)

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gudrun Frerichs is a trainer, psychotherapist, and researcher who has investigated for the last 20 years how people recover from the impact of abuse. For more information go to Are you interested in the field of DID (formerly multiple personalities)? Then go to her website .
Gudrun has dedicated herself to assisting survivors of sexual abuse to grow strong and fulfil their potential and their dreams. For information about the recovery from sexual abuse and about courses for healing, self-awareness, effective communication, and successful relationships go to