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What is Self Esteem?

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: September 13th, 2020

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Self esteem is an issue very commonly discussed these days. According to this article by NBC, 85% of us suffer from low self esteem and one area that this impacts people is at work. Other studies show that social media causes low self esteem in young people, especially Instagram and Facebook. Through my work with clients I have seen that self esteem is an important factor in mental health, but what exactly is it?

Self esteem is the value you place on yourself. It is related to how successful you feel and the confidence you have in yourself. Low self esteem can be caused by abusive and negative relationships, by comparing yourself to others and by negative beliefs, often developed as a result of criticism by others or from within.

Self esteem, as I have discovered over the years, is more complicated than it appears so I’d like to help you if you are wondering if you have low self esteem.

The Questions to Ask Yourself to Discover If You Have Low Self esteem

  • Do you believe your job is worthwhile and valuable? Do others respect what you do? And how do you feel?
  • Do you think you are successful?
  • How do you see yourself (your self image or self view)?
  • How do you feel about who you are? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you compare yourself to others? Are you aware of how unique you are?
  • How is your communication with others? Do you have positive relationships?
  • How decisive are you? Do you feel you are in control of your choices in life?
  • What is your body image like? Are you happy with your appearance?

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These questions should have given you a much better idea of your current level of self esteem. But it is actually a bit more complicated than this, so let’s look at this in more detail.

Why Is Your Self Esteem Important?

We have already seen that self esteem impacts people at work (NBC article by Larry Alton 2017). In fact, a study has shown that low self esteem may lower your salary by $28,000 per year. If this is true self esteem is not just hurting your personal confidence, it may be hurting you financially.

Neil Smelser, in The Social Importance of Self-Esteem, says that self esteem affects how a person performs and behaves in society and that society needs individuals with healthy levels of self esteem.

Self esteem is also very important for our social interaction and communication with others. This article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology provides research that confirms self esteem affects how happy we are with our job, relationships and also affects depression, as well as mental and physic health.

If you’d like more information, I’ve written a whole page about the importance of self esteem, go check it out now.

What Causes Low Self Esteem?


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There are many potential causes of low self esteem, and it affects all age groups. Men are affected as well as women, although some of the causes are different. For example, women are more likely to suffer from poor body image and the consequences this can cause.

Younger people are more at risk of low self esteem because of social media exposure. There are some very shocking results from research done by the Royal Society for Public health and published in a report called #Statusofmind.

RSPH #statusofmind Statistics

  • 91% of young people between 16 and 24 use social media and 5% admit being addicted.
  • Social media use can worsen anxiety, depression and sleep patterns.
  • 70% of young people claim to have experienced cyber-bullying.

One major cause of low self esteem is blaming oneself for things that go wrong in life (Blaine and Crocker, in Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard, 2013). This would include what we think of as failure and negative events that happen to us.

Another major cause of low self esteem is comparing oneself to others. We might compare how successful we are, or how popular, how experienced, qualified or able to do something. It is easy to understand how these sorts of comparisons can make us feel bad about ourselves. No matter who you are, if you compare yourself to others you can always find someone better than you.

One awful cause of low self esteem is experience of abuse. It is not the abuse that causes the damage, it is your reaction to it. The problem is that often, especially if abuse happens when you are young, you may believe you are partly to blame or somehow deserved it. This is a terrible conclusion for anyone to reach and this may have lifelong consequences.

Another consequence of abuse is a victim mentality. This may be so strong that it becomes part of who you feel you are. If you have suffered any form of abuse, get help as you will need support to get over it.

Low self worth can make negative thinking worse and may cause you to believe other people’s criticism of you. Do you silently accept what others say? These criticisms can cause you to lose confidence, so it is important to defend yourself if you want to respect yourself more.

Take a look at this interesting graphic and discover how self esteem varies around the world.

Learn more about the causes of low self esteem and once you understand this you will be better able to overcome it.

The different Types Of Self Esteem

There are three types of self esteem : Inflated, Healthy and Low.

Inflated self esteem is negative because in this case a person will have too much self confidence even when they are not really able to meet a challenge or complete a challenge. Sometimes we need to be cautious and realistic about our limits. This guides us to what is possible and helps us avoid the consequences of doing something badly.

Healthy self esteem means that you have a high level of self regard but not too much. This will mean you are balanced between knowing what you can and cannot expect of yourself and you know your own worth. This is beneficial to your mental health and will enable you to function well in society.

Having healthy self esteem should allow you to do well in social situations and at work. It will promote more happiness in life. You will also be confident, more motivated and have the right mindset to succeed.

Low self esteem is where you are affected by a lack of confidence and poor sense of self worth. Your life is likely to be impacted negatively and you may become very unhappy or depressed. If you find yourself at this point, and this can happen to anybody, then what can you do about it?

What To Do If You Have Low Self Esteem

The following list is a summary of steps you can take right now, but there are more to be found on this page about dealing with low self esteem.

References

  • Alton, L. Better by NBC. 2017. Why Low Self-Esteem May Be Hurting You At Work. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/business/why-low-self-esteem-may-be-hurting-your-career-ncna814156
  • Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.). (2013). Self-esteem: The puzzle of low self-regard. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Mecca, A., Smelser, N. J., & Vasconcellos, J. (Eds.). (1989). The social importance of self-esteem. Univ of California Press.
  • Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1271–1288. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025558

Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.