What Is Self-Esteem?

Your beliefs, relationships, and experiences all influence your self-esteem. Understand the many types of self-esteem and the advantages of having a positive self-image.

Your overall view of yourself — how you feel about your strengths and limits — is referred to as self-esteem. When you have a healthy sense of self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and believe that you are worthy of others’ regard.

When you have poor self-esteem, you don’t appreciate your own thoughts and opinions. You may be concerned that you aren’t good enough all of the time.

Here’s how to tell if your self-esteem needs a boost and why it’s important to develop a healthy sense of your own worth.

What Is Self-Esteem?

In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall subjective sense of personal worth or value. In other words, self-esteem may be defined as how much you appreciate and like yourself regardless of the circumstances. Your self-esteem is defined by many factors including:

  • Self-confidence
  • Feeling of security
  • Identity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Feeling of competence

Other terms that are often used interchangeably with self-esteem include self-worth, self-regard, and self-respect.

Self-esteem tends to be lowest in childhood and increases during adolescence, as well as adulthood, eventually reaching a fairly stable and enduring level. This makes self-esteem similar to the stability of personality traits over time.

Why Self-Esteem Is Important

Self-esteem impacts your decision-making process, your relationships, your emotional health, and your overall well-being. It also influences motivation, as people with a healthy, positive view of themselves understand their potential and may feel inspired to take on new challenges. People with healthy self-esteem:

  • Have a firm understanding of their skills
  • Are able to maintain healthy relationships with others because they have a healthy relationship with themselves
  • Have realistic and appropriate expectations of themselves and their abilities
  • Understand their needs and are able to express them

People with poor self-esteem are less confident in their abilities and may have doubts about their decision-making ability. They may lack the motivation to try new activities because they doubt their ability to achieve their objectives.

Low self-esteem might make it difficult to form connections and convey one’s needs. They may also have low self-esteem and believe they are unlovable and unworthy.

People with excessively high self-esteem may overestimate their abilities and believe they are entitled to success, even if they lack the tools to back up their confidence.

Because they are so concentrated on perceiving themselves as ideal, they may struggle with relationship troubles and stop themselves from self-improvement. 1 minute, 18 seconds, 0 seconds 1:18 volume 90 percent

Factors That Affect Self-Esteem

There are many factors that can influence self-esteem. Your self-esteem may be impacted by:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetics
  • Illness
  • Physical abilities
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Thought patterns

Self-esteem has been found to be negatively affected by racism and prejudice. Furthermore, hereditary elements that influence a person’s personality can play a role, although life experiences are regarded to be the most essential aspect.

Our experiences frequently serve as the foundation for our total self-esteem. Those who, for example, receive unduly critical or negative feedback from family and friends are likely to have poor self-esteem. Those who receive unconditional positive attention, as Carl Rogers defined it, are more likely to have healthy self-esteem.

Factors that shape and influence self-esteem

Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:

  • Your thoughts and perceptions
  • How other people react to you
  • Experiences at home, school, work and in the community
  • Illness, disability or injury
  • Age
  • Role and status in society
  • Media messages

Your interactions with people close to you, such as your parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and other essential contacts, have an impact on your self-esteem. Many of your present ideas of yourself are based on signals you’ve received from these people throughout time.

If your relationships are strong and you get typically positive feedback, you’re more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have better self-esteem. If you get a lot of negative feedback and are constantly reprimanded, mocked, or devalued by others, you’re more likely to have low self-esteem.

Your fate, on the other hand, does not have to be decided by your past experiences and connections. You have the most control over your own thoughts, which have the largest impact on your self-esteem. Working to change your inclination to focus on your flaws or inadequacies may help you develop a more balanced and truthful view of yourself.

Range of self-esteem

Self-esteem tends to fluctuate over time, depending on your circumstances. It’s normal to go through times when you feel down about yourself and times when you feel good about yourself. Generally, however, self-esteem stays in a range that reflects how you feel about yourself overall and increases slightly with age.

Consider how to recognize the extremes of your self-esteem:

  • Low self-esteem. When you have low or negative self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You focus on your perceived weaknesses and faults and give scant credit to your skills and assets. You believe that others are more capable or successful.You might have difficulty accepting positive feedback. You might fear failure, which can hold you back from succeeding at work or school.
  • Healthy self-esteem. When you have healthy self-esteem it means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws.

When self-esteem is healthy and grounded in reality, it’s hard to have too much of it. Boasting and feeling superior to others around you isn’t a sign of too much self-esteem. It’s more likely evidence of insecurity and low self-esteem.

Theories

Many theorists have written about the dynamics that play a role in self-esteem growth. Self-esteem is a key component in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which describes esteem as one of the most fundamental human motives.

Maslow proposed that humans must have both external and internal self-respect in order to develop esteem. Both of these requirements must be met in order for a person to mature and achieve self-actualization.

It’s vital to distinguish self-esteem from self-efficacy, which refers to how confident you are in your ability to handle future actions, performance, or abilities.

Healthy Self-Esteem

There are some simple ways to tell if you have healthy self-esteem. You probably have healthy self-esteem if you:

  • Avoid dwelling on past negative experiences.
  • Believe you are equal to everyone else, no better or no worse.
  • Express your needs.
  • Feel confident
  • Have a positive outlook on life.
  • Say no when you want to.
  • See your overall strengths and weaknesses and accept them.

Having healthy self-esteem can help motivate you to achieve your goals because you are able to navigate life knowing that you are capable of accomplishing what you set your mind to.

Additionally, when you have healthy self-esteem, you are able to set appropriate boundaries in relationships and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others.

Benefits of healthy self-esteem

When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile. You have generally positive relationships with others and feel confident about your abilities. You’re also open to learning and feedback, which can help you acquire and master new skills.

With healthy self-esteem you’re:

  • Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions
  • Confident in your ability to make decisions
  • Able to form secure and honest relationships — and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
  • Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others
  • More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks

Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn’t about blowing your own horn. It’s about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all.

Having healthy self-esteem can influence your motivation, your mental well-being, and your overall quality of life. However, having self-esteem that is either too high or too low can be problematic.

Better understanding what your unique level of self-esteem is can help you strike a balance that is just right for you.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem may manifest in a variety of ways. If you have low self-esteem:

  • You may believe that others are better than you.
  • You may find expressing your needs difficult.
  • You may focus on your weaknesses.
  • You may frequently experience fear, self-doubt, and worry.
  • You may have a negative outlook on life and feel a lack of control.
  • You may have an intense fear of failure.
  • You may have trouble accepting positive feedback.
  • You may have trouble saying “no” and setting boundaries.
  • You may put other people’s needs before your own.
  • You may struggle with confidence.

Low self-esteem has the potential to lead to a variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders and depressive disorders. You may also find it difficult to pursue your goals and maintain healthy relationships.

Having low self-esteem can seriously impact your quality of life and increase your risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Excessive Self-Esteem

Overly high self-esteem is often mislabeled as narcissism, but there are some distinct traits that differentiate these terms. Individuals with narcissistic traits may appear to have high self-esteem, but their self-esteem may be high or low and is unstable, constantly shifting depending on the given situation. Those with excessive self-esteem

  • may be preoccupied with being perfect.
  • You may focus on always being right.
  • You may believe they cannot fail.
  • They may believe they are more skilled or better than others.
  • may express grandiose ideas.
  • They may grossly overestimate their skills and abilities.

When self-esteem is too high, it can result in relationship problems, difficulty with social situations, and an inability to accept criticism.

How to Improve Self-Esteem

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to address problems with self-esteem. Some actions that you can take to help improve your self-esteem include:

  • Become more aware of negative thoughts. Learn to identify the distorted thoughts that are impacting your self-worth.
  • Challenge negative thought patterns. When you find yourself engaging in negative thinking, try countering those thoughts with more realistic and/or positive ones. 
  • Use positive self-talk. Practice reciting positive affirmations to yourself.
  • Practice self-compassion. Practice forgiving yourself for past mistakes and moving forward by accepting all parts of yourself.

Low self-esteem can lead to or be a symptom of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Consult a doctor or therapist about treatment options, which could include psychotherapy (in person or online), drugs, or a mix of the two.

A Word From Verywell

Though some of the causes of low self-esteem can’t be changed, such as genetic factors, early childhood experiences, and personality traits, there are steps you can take to feel more secure and valued.

Remember that no one person is less worthy than the next. Keeping this in mind may help you maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem.

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