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.
Life Psychologists can help overcome your “inner critic” and improve your sense of worth.
- Feeling of security
- 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.1
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 low self-esteem tend to feel less sure of their abilities and may doubt their decision-making process. They may not feel motivated to try novel things because they don’t believe they’re capable of reaching their goals. Those with low self-esteem may have issues with relationships and expressing their needs. They may also experience low levels of confidence and feel unlovable and unworthy.
People with overly high self-esteem may overestimate their skills and may feel entitled to succeed, even without the abilities to back up their belief in themselves. They may struggle with relationship issues and block themselves from self-improvement because they are so fixated on seeing themselves as perfect.
Many theorists have written about the dynamics involved in the development of self-esteem. The concept of self-esteem plays an important role in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which depicts esteem as one of the basic human motivations.
Maslow suggested that individuals need both appreciation from other people and inner self-respect to build esteem. Both of these needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow as a person and reach self-actualization.
It is important to note that self-esteem is a concept distinct from self-efficacy, which involves how well you believe you’ll handle future actions, performance, or abilities.
There are many factors that can influence self-esteem. Your self-esteem may be impacted by:
- Physical abilities
- Socioeconomic status2
- Thought patterns
Racism and discrimination have also been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem.3 Additionally, genetic factors that help shape a person’s personality can play a role, but life experiences are thought to be the most important factor.It is often our experiences that form the basis for overall self-esteem. Those who consistently receive overly critical or negative assessments from family and friends, for example, will likely experience low self-esteem. Those who experience what Carl Rogers referred to as unconditional positive regard will be more likely to have healthy 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.4
- 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 increases your risk for experiencing suicidal thoughts.5
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 and 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 reach 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.
Overly high self-esteem is often mislabeled as narcissism, however 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.6 Those with excessive self-esteem:
- May be preoccupied with being perfect
- May focus on always being right
- May believe they cannot fail
- May believe they are more skilled or better than others
- May express grandiose ideas
- 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.
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 thinking 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.7
- Practice forgiving yourself for past mistakes and move forward by accepting all parts of yourself.
Consider speaking with a life psychologist about available treatment options, which may include psychotherapy (in-person or online).
These lifestyle habits also help:
- A healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Avoiding caffeine
- Avoiding alcohol and other drugs
- Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
- Trzesniewski KH, Donnellan MB, Robins RW. Stability of self-esteem across the life span. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;84(1):205-220.
- von Soest T, Wagner J, Hansen T, Gerstorf D. Self-esteem across the second half of life: The role of socioeconomic status, physical health, social relationships, and personality factors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2018;114(6):945-958. doi:10.1037/pspp0000123
- Johnson AJ. Examining associations between racism, internalized shame, and self-esteem among African Americans. Cogent Psychology. 2020;7(1):1757857. doi:10.1080/23311908.2020.1757857
- Gabriel AS, Erickson RJ, Diefendorff JM, Krantz D. When does feeling in control benefit well-being? The boundary conditions of identity commitment and self-esteem. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 2020;119:103415. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2020.103415
- Nguyen DT, Wright EP, Dedding C, Pham TT, Bunders J. Low self-esteem and its association with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in Vietnamese secondary school students: A cross-sectional study. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10:698. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00698
- Brummelman E, Thomaes S, Sedikides C. Separating narcissism from self-esteem. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2016;25(1):8-13. doi:10.1177/0963721415619737
- Cascio CN, O’Donnell MB, Tinney FJ, Lieberman MD, Taylor SE, Stretcher VJ, et. al. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2016;11(4):621-629. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136
You can seek help from a psychologist if you have low self-esteem. Your psychologist can assess if your self-esteem is a problem, and help you understand it better. Together, you can work out how to get what you want in a better way.
They can advise you about other resources to help manage your self-esteem, such as support groups, books and courses. Your psychologist can also help you manage other problems that may be associated with low self-esteem, such as anxiety, panic, depression, or personal relationships.
- Life Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including low self-esteem.
- A Life Psychologist can help you to identify and address factors that might be contributing to your low self-esteem and the most effective ways to improve self-esteem using techniques based on best available research.
- Life Psychologists usually see clients individually, but can also include family members to support treatment where appropriate.
A medical check-up with a GP might also be helpful to see if there is an underlying health issue.