SELF
ESTEEM

 

 

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What Is Self-Esteem?

 

The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

  

Self-esteem and self-worth are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Learn how self-esteem and self-worth differ, and why both contribute to our wellbeing.

 

The terms self-esteem and self-worth are often used interchangeably.

However, their meanings are quite different.

Some people focus on building their self-esteem, while others prefer to strengthen their sense of self-worth.

In actual fact, though, the development of both is essential in remaining grounded and healthy.

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between self-esteem and self-worth to see why this is the case.

 

Self-Worth and Self-Esteem Complement One Another

What is Self-Esteem?

 

Self-esteem is the manner in which we evaluate ourselves.

It is our internal assessment of our qualities and attributes.

We have healthy self-esteem when what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves is honest and realistic.

Building and maintaining healthy self-esteem depends on gathering evidence about what we are like as a person.

 

Unhealthy self-esteem, on the other hand, can present itself in the form of two extremes.

Firstly, you can think too highly of yourself, which can lead you to fall into the trap of narcissism.

 

When your self-esteem is too high, you exaggerate your positive traits or deceive yourself about your faults and weaknesses.

A narcissist may believe that his or her opinion matters more than anyone else’s, based on the self-perception that he or she is smarter than everyone.

 

In contrast, when you have low self-esteem, you underestimate – or flat out ignore – your positive characteristics.

If you struggle with low self-esteem, then you may tell yourself that you are stupid, lazy, boring, selfish, inconsiderate, or generally a bad person because of the things you think, say, and do.

You view yourself through a harsh and negative filter.

It becomes difficult to understand why people enjoy your company or sincerely believe any compliments that people give you.

 

What is Self-Worth?

Self-worth is the belief that you are loveable and valuable regardless of how you evaluate your traits. In this way, your self-esteem could hit rock bottom, yet you still hold onto the notion that you have innate worth. This is important.

When you don’t feel good about yourself, this doesn’t mean, of course, that you are no longer valuable.

So you need a form of positive self-perception that acts as a crutch to keep you stable when your self-esteem fluctuates (as it inevitably does for everyone).

 

You may be wondering where self-worth actually comes from.

Well, there are different ways of looking at this.

You could say that you – simply by virtue of being human – have intrinsic value, goodness, and capabilities.

Regardless of whether you are upbeat, talented, or successful, you are good enough.

Self-worth comes from the realization that you always have the capacity to do good and make a positive impact in the world, however small it may be.

 

Another perspective says that your self-worth is based on your wants, which are, again, common to everyone.

Deep down, you desire peace of mind, contentment, relief from suffering, the realization of your potential, and a sense of belonging.

These wants give you inherent value. Just as you respect others because of their wants, it’s crucial to respect yourself in the same way.

 

Depression Threatens Self-Worth

 

When you suffer from depression, you may forget that you need or deserve love and so it becomes difficult to climb out of that pit of worthlessness.

Your perception becomes distorted.

You believe you are unlovable even though people show unconditional positive regard towards you. Self-worth is about showing this same attitude towards yourself.

 

Self-Esteem and Self-Worth Are Both Necessary

Now, while self-worth should act as a foundation, as your mental armor during difficult times, this doesn’t mean that self-esteem is unnecessary or irrelevant.

You can believe that you are lovable and good enough, but this is just one aspect of seeing things for how they really are.

In all kinds of situations, be they work environments or relationships, having a down-to-earth view of yourself (healthy self-esteem) will allow you to be more honest about your qualities and, in turn, able to more effectively grow as a person.

Indeed, self-esteem and self-worth are complementary when it comes to our wellbeing.

 

 

 

Self-Esteem

Self-Worth, Sociometer

 

Confidence in one's value as a human being is a precious psychological resource and generally a highly positive factor in life; it is correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction. Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive relationships and situations.

 

Too much self-love, on the other hand, results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures.

It can also be a sign of clinical narcissism, in which individuals may behave in a self-centered, arrogant, and manipulative manner. Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.

 

 

Improving How You Feel About Yourself

Jirsak/Shutterstock

People who experience a steady diet of disapproval from important others—family, supervisors, friends, teachers—might have feelings of low self-esteem.

Yet the healthy individual is able to weather off-putting evaluations.

 

Each person's experience is different, but over the course of the lifespan, self-esteem seems to rise and fall in predictable, systematic ways.

Research suggests that self-esteem grows, by varying degrees, until age 60, when it remains steady before beginning to decline in old age.

 

Self-esteem can influence life in myriad ways, from academic and professional success to relationships and mental health.

Self-esteem, however, is not an immutable characteristic; successes or setbacks, both personal and professional, can fuel fluctuations in feelings of self-worth.

 

What causes low self-esteem?

 

Feelings of high or low self-worth often start in childhood. Family life that is riddled with disapproval can follow a person into adult life.

Low self-esteem can also become a problem because of a poor school environment or a dysfunctional workplace.

Likewise, an unhappy relationship can also alter a person’s self-worth.

 

How can you boost feelings of self-worth?

 

No one person is less worthy than the next person, and no one is deemed more important. Knowing this detail is crucial. To feel more confident and have healthy self-esteem, it helps to put aside fears of being worth less than others.

 

I feel like I can't do anything right. What should I do?

 

How to Reach Your Full Potential

NongMars/Shutterstock

Self-actualization represents the pursuit of reaching one’s full potential.

The concept is rooted in a theory established in 1943 by Abraham Maslow.

The psychologist set forth a hierarchy of psychological needs, illustrating an order of human motivation.

At the base of Maslow’s motivational pyramid lies physiological needs, such as the air we breathe and the food we consume.

Once those needs are met, it is possible to pursue needs for safety, love and belonging, and self-worth.

 

Self-actualization occurs when the more basic needs are met or in the process of being met and it becomes possible to strive to add meaning and personal and social fulfillment to existence—through creativity, intellectual growth, and social progress.

As Maslow himself stated, “What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”

 

Will following your "inner compass” help?

 

The world may have expectations for you: an important high-paying job, an ideal set of 2.5 children, a luxury car. Yet you do not have to buy into thinking that you are worthless without these things. Imperfection is perfectly fine.

Also, setting your own goals, and not following someone else’s, will help.

 

How can someone feel more secure about themselves?

 

It’s easy to feel insecure and distressed about it.

An insecure person needs reassurance from the people around them; this person wants others to make decisions and set goals for them.

But taking personal agency is the first step toward feeling more secure and feeling healthy self-esteem.

 

Signs of Strong Self-Esteem

Tracy Siermachesky/Shutterstock

The confident person is easily spotted and commands attention. But there's a healthy balance between too little and too much self-worth.

 

Here are some signs that an individual has the right dose.

  • Knows the difference between confidence and arrogance
  • Is not afraid of feedback
  • Does not people-please or seek approval
  • Is not afraid of conflict
  • Is able to set boundaries
  • Is able to voice needs and opinions
  • Is assertive, but not pushy
  • Is not a slave to perfection
  • Is not afraid of setbacks
  • Does not fear failure
  • Does not feel inferior
  • Accepts who they are

Self-Esteem

Self-Worth, Sociometer

 

Confidence in one's value as a human being is a precious psychological resource and generally a highly positive factor in life; it is correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction. Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive relationships and situations.

Too much self-love, on the other hand, results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures. It can also be a sign of clinical narcissism, in which individuals may behave in a self-centered, arrogant, and manipulative manner. Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.

Contents

 

Feeling Down on Yourself?

3 surprising things that can damage your self-confidence and expert advice for rebuilding and protecting it.

 

Does your self-esteem seem as if it’s stuck on a roller coaster?

 

One minute you’re on top, and the whole world is yours.

The next, you’re screaming your way down to the bottom.

Up, down, again and again in a dizzying loop-the-loop. But unlike a rollercoaster that you know will go up after it goes down, you don’t always have what you need in your life to climb back up.

You need help.

Here are 3 quick things that can adversely affect your self-esteem, how to repair the damage, and protect yourself in the future.

 

How to heal your self-esteem from the pain of rejection

Rejection hurts.

You can have the deepest, strongest growth mindset and the self-confidence of Thor, but rejection still hurts.

It comes in many forms — the date that said no, the editor that spits back your article, the committee that rejected your proposal, the promotion you earned but didn’t get.

These are hard blows to your self-esteem, and like physical blows, they hurt.

 

Research has shown that the experience of rejection activates the same parts of the brain that are activated with physical pain.

Rejection does, in fact, hurt, and the brain responds accordingly.

Like all wounds, it takes time for the pain to heal, and this requires self-compassion.

 

Advice like “learn from it and improve the next time” doesn’t really help in the moment.

In fact, it might make you feel as if someone is dismissing you and telling you to just “get over it.” You can’t always do that.

 

You may want to ignore it and move on, but like all wounds that haven’t healed, the hurt lingers and can impair forward movement.

It also may flare up in irritation, anger, or, in its most serious form, depression.

 

On the other hand, you may ruminate on it, reliving the pain over and over.

This is akin to picking off a scab on a wound that hasn’t healed. It just deepens the pain and prolongs the healing.

You may drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how and why it happened, but it’s impossible to be objective while you’re still experiencing the aftermath.

Give yourself time to heal and then objectively analyze why and how it happened, and only then, learn from it.

 

What to do —

I once had a 3-page article rejected with a 3-page excoriation of every sentence in the article. Seriously. I wadded it up in a ball and threw it away after screaming several inappropriate words I won’t share here.

It was only after the pain passed that I fished it out of the trash and read it objectively, looking for how I could learn from it.

 

This taught me some valuable lessons about rejection.

  • Time does help heal the pain of rejection.
  • Not every criticism is accurate, valid, or worth considering.
  • It’s just someone’s opinion.
  • Yes, you can learn and improve.
  • It still sucks.
  • Don’t let it stop you. Ever.

“I know that when a door closes, it can feel like all doors are closing.

A rejection letter can feel like everyone will reject us.

But a closed door leads to clarity.

It’s really an arrow.

Because we cannot go through that door, we will go somewhere else. That somewhere else is your true life.” — Tama J. Kieves, author, speaker

 

If you’re not careful, social media can become the enemy of your self-esteem

Social media is pervasive in everyday life, and it can be both good and bad for your self-esteem.

On the positive side, social media is a way of remaining connected to family, friends, colleagues, and others when you can’t be physically present.

 

It connects you to opportunities, shopping, and services that make the world and information accessible.

It’s impossible to imagine doing business without social media as a tool.

 

On the other side, it can open you up to criticism, ridicule, and bullying.

Social media can be the dark, nasty home of trolls who delight in tearing others down.

 

It becomes easy to start comparing yourself to others on social media who appear more successful, attractive, fit, and so on— images of perfect lives that can be impossible for you to achieve.

In addition, the time spent on social media is time not spent with others, aggravating existing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

 

Psychologists from Ryerson University, Toronto, analyzed 2 decades of studies on social media use and self-esteem.

While the results were mixed, the prevailing conclusions showed that the negative effects of social media outweigh the positive benefits.

 

What to do —

Decrease the amount of time spent on social media and increase the time you spend with other people.

Avoid reading sites or posts that make you feel down on yourself, clean up your feeds to purge them of negative messaging, and refuse to get sucked into comparisons with others.

Stop doom-scrolling.

 

Often, what you see and read on social media isn’t the truth or anywhere near what might be the truth.

Everyone has an agenda and a reason for what they post.

Influencers want you to support their sponsors, actors want you to see their films, advertisers want your money, and so on and on.

The best advice is to approach social media with a healthy dose of skepticism and learn to vet what you read for accuracy and truthfulness.

 

“When it comes to social media, there are just times I turn off the world, you know.

There are just sometimes you have to give yourself space to be quiet, which means you’ve got to set those phones down.” — Michelle Obama

 

Is your physical environment the culprit in lowering your self-esteem?

Self-esteem isn’t just an inside job; our external environment influences it.

 

According to Michael J. Formica MS, MA, Ed.M., writing in Psychology Today,

“The environment with which we surround ourselves is very often a direct expression of where we are emotionally and psycho-spiritually — our global state of mind.”

 

Look around.

What does your physical space look like?

Do you feel safe and secure?

Is it both physically and psychologically comfortable?

Or do you feel like walking out, locking the door, and never going back?

 

Your physical environment at work and at home affects your mood, your sense of well-being, and your self-esteem.

A neat, clean, orderly environment with well-lit interiors is conducive to positive states of mind and being.

On the other hand, many environmental factors, such as noise, improper lighting, poor air circulation, clutter, physical obstacles preventing ease of movement, and more negatively affect you and reflect you and your state of mind.

 

“Untidiness makes us anxious on an instinctive and on a personal level.

Instinctively, we are programmed to have a degree of anxiety about mess due to the health hazard it may present.

Personally, people in messy environments may become anxious about what others may think of their living conditions, the time it will take to clean up, and so on.” — National Counseling Society

 

What to do —

If you have clutter or your space needs a thorough cleaning, start there.

There’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction seeing how much better your environment looks and smells after a sound cleaning.

 

Clear the clutter and create a strategy for keeping it clear and organized.

 

You don’t have to pare things down to the bare minimum, but get rid of what you don’t use or need. There’s a definite self-esteem boost by donating items to charity.

 

Create open spaces to let the energy flow from room to room and use the right lighting for the activities of that space.

Kitchens need bright lighting for cooking, living areas need lighting that can be dimmed, and bedroom(s should have soft, warm lighting conducive to slowing down and preparing for bed.

Check out this lighting article from Better Homes & Gardens. (You will leave Medium.com and go to a third-party website.)

 

The strength of your self-esteem isn’t set in stone

Your self-esteem goes up and down for many reasons and is affected by many factors — some of which are under your control.

When your self-esteem has taken a hit, give yourself time and space to deal with the hurt you experienced and when you ready, explore the triggering situation and take steps to mitigate the effects of the trigger on your self-esteem in the future.

 

 

4 Mental Habits that Cause Low Self-Esteem

Let them go and watch your natural self-esteem rise


 

Most people assume that they need to understand the origins of their low self-esteem to improve it.

And while it’s true that unpacking the original cause of your low self-esteem can be helpful to an extent, the more important insight is this:

 

Whatever caused your low self-esteem in the past, it’s your present habits that are maintaining it.

 

In my work as a therapist, by far the biggest reason I see people struggle with low self-esteem is that they are caught in subtle mental habits that keep them feeling bad about themselves.

 

If you can learn to identify and overcome these four mental habits, you’ll find your self-esteem is actually much higher than you realize.

 

1. Dwelling on past mistakes

Of course, we all make mistakes. And when we do, it’s normal to feel bad about it:

  • We fail to catch simple errors in our work and feel disappointed with ourselves.
  • We say something insensitive at a dinner party and feel embarrassed afterward.
  • Sometimes we even fail outright: not passing an exam or even getting fired from a job for poor performance and feeling like a failure.

Now, some amount of thinking about and reflecting on our mistakes is healthy and good for our self-esteem because it helps us avoid similar mistakes in the future:

  • If you failed a test, it’s probably worth asking yourself why so that you can prepare better next time and learn from that failure.
  • If your marriage “fails” because you were consumed with work and never spent quality time with your spouse, it’s probably worth reflecting on that if you want future relationships to go better.

But like many of our best efforts in life, thinking about and reflecting on past mistakes is subject to the law of diminishing returns:

  • Spending a couple of hours reflecting on what went poorly during that interview you bombed will probably be very helpful for your performance in future interviews.
  • Spending a couple of hours per week for a few weeks might lead to some new insights. Although that’s a lot of time for just a few new insights…
  • Spending hours per week for years thinking about how you screwed up that interview… Yeah, probably not worth it!

I use the idea of the law of diminishing returns here because it’s important to frame your thinking about past mistakes in terms of helpfulness.

 

Just because it’s true that you made a mistake in the past doesn’t mean thinking more about it more is helpful.

 

Helpfulness is what distinguishes healthy reflection from unhealthy dwelling.

 

And one of the biggest reasons people suffer from low self-esteem is that they get into the habit of unhelpfully dwelling on their past mistakes.

When you reflect on your mistakes and try to use them as learning opportunities, you do feel bad about yourself but that bad feeling gets offset by the new learning and insight you gain — and presumably, the confidence and healthy self-esteem that comes from doing better in the future.

 

But when you dwell on past mistakes beyond the point of helpfulness it’s all side-effect and no benefit.

 

Remember:

  1. Just because a mistake is true doesn’t mean thinking more about it is helpful.
  2. We are helpless to change past mistakes. Living in denial about that fact by continuing to dwell on our mistakes only hurts us in the long run.

“The past can’t hurt you anymore, not unless you let it.”

― Alan Moore

 

2. Worrying about the future

Worrying about the future is another mental habit that feels productive but is actually harmful to both your emotional wellbeing and self-esteem.

 

Here’s the key distinction to keep in mind:

Planning for realistic dangers is very different than worrying about unrealistic ones.

 

Our imagination is a powerful tool. But like most powerful tools, it can be used well or poorly…

  • Imagining how you might enjoy working in a new career can help you grow and explore new professional options.
  • But imagining all the ways you’re likely to fail in any new endeavor will make you anxious and depress your self-esteem.
  • Imagining what would happen if you lost power while on a trip to the cabin for a weekend get-away might help you plan ahead and bring extra flashlights, water, and other supplies that might be helpful.
  • But imagining you and your family getting into a car accident driving to the cabin will likely make you anxious and insecure.

Both realistic planning and unrealistic worrying are forms of thinking about dangers in the future.

And while it’s helpful to plan and prepare, worrying is rarely helpful and always comes with two big downsides:

  1. Worry makes you anxious. When we get caught in the mental habit of imagining unrealistic fears and worst-case scenarios in the future, we train our brains to be afraid unnecessarily. As a result, we end up feeling unnecessarily anxious. Worry is the engine of anxiety.
  2. Worry lowers your self-esteem. In addition to making you feel anxious in the moment, chronic worry about unrealistic things eventually makes you feel incompetent about your ability to navigate life successfully. And when you feel like that persistently, your self-esteem takes a hit.

Just like thinking about past mistakes quickly hits the point of diminishing returns, so too does thinking about future dangers.

 

If you’re caught in the habit of worrying about unrealistic fears in the future, you’re getting all side-effect (chronic anxiety and low self-esteem) with no real benefit.

 

Your ability to think about the future is a tool. And like any tool, it’s useful in some situations and counterproductive in others.

“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.”

― Dan Zadra

 

3. Ruminating on old injuries

In #1 we talked about how dwelling on our past mistakes hurts self-esteem. Similarly, dwelling or ruminating on injuries or slights against us can be similarly unhealthy.

 

Of course, when someone hurts us it’s perfectly natural to think about — this is especially true if it’s someone close to us like a parent, friend, long-time co-worker, etc.

 

Reflecting on how others have hurt us in the past is also helpful to a degree…

 

Keeping track of who hurts us on a regular basis is an important way to know which relationships are healthy and to be cultivated and which ones are unhealthy and to be avoided!

But like dwelling on past mistakes and worrying about future dangers, thinking about how we’ve been wronged in the past can easily slide into an unproductive and self-esteem-killing habit.

 

There are a few major downsides to a habit of ruminating on old injuries:

  1. Chronic anger and resentment. Rumination leads to anger. And while anger isn’t bad in and of itself, chronically feeling angry can lead to resentments, excessive stress, and relationship conflicts.
  2. Avoidance of productive action. Moving on from an unhealthy relationship or old injury is hard. Often it requires setting (and enforcing) healthy boundaries, removing people from your life entirely, or working to forgive someone. Because each of these is quite difficult, our natural inclination is to avoid them (like anything else in life!). And if we’re not careful, it’s easy to end up procrastinating on doing what you really need to do to move on from an old injury by letting yourself ruminate about it.
  3. Lower self-esteem. Finally, allowing yourself to stay stuck in a habit of unhelpful rumination slowly chips away at our self-esteem because, deep down, we know it’s not helpful — and in many cases, actually makes things worse. How many relationships get ruined because of the inability to forgive? How many people stay stuck in their lives because they can’t let go of the past, and as a result, end up ignoring their present and future life?

 

At the end of the day, the decision to continue ruminating on an old injury or let it go comes down to this:

 

Do you want to live your life chained to the past or work for the freedom to live your life moving forward?

 

Because it is morally justifiable, rumination is an especially dangerous trap to fall into. But just because you’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean replaying that hurt is in your best interest.

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

― Corrie Ten Boom

 

4. Judging yourself for how you feel

You’ve probably heard the term gaslighting before: It means when one person manipulates another person into thinking they’re crazy.

 

It’s common in many abusive and unhealthy relationships where, for example, one person — in order to maintain control and power in the relationship — convinces the other person that they’re not confident enough to make important decisions by secretly undermining their decisions over time.

 

And while this is certainly a terrible situation for some people, what’s even more tragic is this:

 

Many people unconsciously gaslight themselves by getting into the habit of judging themselves for how they feel.

 

For example:

  • When you criticize yourself for being “weak” whenever you get sad about something that happened a long time ago, you’re making yourself feel crazy over something that’s actually entirely normal and healthy.
  • When you judge yourself for feeling anxious and indecisive during a meeting at work, you’re making yourself feel crazy over something that’s entirely normal and happens to everyone (even if they don’t always admit it to themselves).
  • When you get angry at yourself for feeling angry, you’re making yourself feel crazy for experiencing a perfectly normal human emotion.

And guess what happens when you’re in the habit of consistently making yourself feel crazy?

Yup, your self-esteem crashes.

 

How could you have healthy self-esteem if you think you’re crazy or a bad person for feeling emotions — something you don’t have direct control over?

 

That’s like judging yourself as a bad person because you got rained on or have brown hair!

When you’re in the habit of judging yourself for things you can’t control — like how you feel emotionally — it’s a setup for chronically low self-esteem.

 

Practice accepting your emotions for what they really are: Sometimes painful and inconvenient but never bad or dangerous.

 

If you can build the habit of self-compassion, you’ll find your self-esteem rising dramatically.

“Feelings are something you have; not something you are.”

― Shannon L. Alder

 

All You Need to Know

Healthy self-esteem isn’t necessarily about what you do more of so much as what you avoid.

Specifically, if you can avoid these 4 mental habits, you’ll find your self-esteem rising:

  1. Dwelling on past mistakes
  2. Worrying about the future
  3. Ruminating on ancient history
  4. Judging yourself for how you feel