For those of you wanting a quick answer:
To have high self-esteem is to love oneself.
To have a high self-worth is to feel worthy of love, by no one in particular.
To have self-worth is to have an inner flame which is not self-love, it’s just the warm and nurturing feeling of being loveable – by anyone. To have that warm and nurturing feeling can, however, allow us to ‘let love in’ and love ourselves, and have a high self-esteem.
A more detailed explanation:
Does a person climb mountains because they have high self-worth, knowing they are capable of achieving great things? Or do they climb mountains because their self-worth is so low they feel they have to earn it?
I don’t know. Both options might apply, or neither. I just don’t know.
Is a person who doesn’t care about what other people think of their behaviour so self-assured they don’t need other people’s approval? Or have they failed to impress for so long they have given up and are taking comfort in ‘being themselves’?
Does the arrogant, bombastic, boastful jerk act that way because he has high self-esteem, and lacks humility and social skills? Or is he over-compensating for a deep-seated insecurity?
Does a person take loads of selfies because they find themselves so interesting? Or because they feel the need to regularly reassure themselves that they matter? Does a powerful dictator rant because he has a deep and irrepressible confidence in himself, or because he is trying to overcome a deep sense of powerlessness? Do bullies and violent criminals have rock-bottom self-esteem, like the experts attest? Or do they treat us badly because they see themselves superior to us? Are we insects in their eyes?
And, if it is true that most of us have a low self-esteem, why do most of us think we are better drivers, more ethical, less prejudiced, more cooperative, generous, kinder and smarter than the average person? (Some of these self-deceptions are exposed in David G. Myers’ article ‘The Inflated Self’. David says, ‘Note how radically at odds this conclusion is with the popular wisdom that most of us suffer from low self-esteem and high self-disparagement. We are, to be sure, strongly motivated to maintain and enhance our self-esteem and we will welcome any message which helps us do that. But most of us are not grovelling about with feelings that everyone else is better than we are.’)
And, if we have low self-esteem, why is it that Tarot Card readings and other ‘psychic’ readings, which are designed to fool the gullible, are full of subtle compliments the victims happily agree with?
We are complex creatures. For Christmas I would like to be another person for a day. Preferably, a ratbag. The comparisons I could make! The insights I would gain!
Chocolates are good too, though.
With my bewilderment laid bare, here is my attempt to define a few terms:
Self-worth, as suggested, comes from feeling that we are worthy of being loved. That we are loveable. We feel worthy of exisiting, worthy of being, of having the right to be alive and be on the planet.
It doesn’t mean we feel loved by others or by ourselves; it simply means we feel worthy of being loved. And that’s enough to satisfy our innate need to feel valued and our deep need to belong.
There are advantages to having a strong self-worth (feeling loveable):
1. We feel more self-assured, and are therefore less concerned about what other people think of us. That allows us to feel less anxious and be more likely to make independent decisions.
2. We become less dependent on having another person’s love, which means we can be less needy and more discerning when we look for a relationship.
3. We feel emotionally safer in life, because we are self-nurturing.
4. People with self-worth will continue to study hard and work hard, because they enjoy feeling good about themselves, and want to enhance that feeling.
5. A person with a high self-worth will also have a high self-esteem. After all, if we feel loveable it won’t take much to actually feel loved – by others or by ourselves.
self-esteem is often confused with self-worth because the two regularly overlap, but self-esteem (in my mind) is a measure of how much we like ourselves. To have a high self-esteem is to like who we are.
I have spoken with people with high self-esteem who can’t understand why others don’t feel the same way. I have spoken with people with low self-esteem who can’t understand how anyone can think highly of themselves. Members of these groups can be enigmas to one another.
There is nothing wrong with having a high self-esteem provided it comes from:
1) a sense of self-worth, of feeling loveable. (If we feel loveable we are open to ‘letting love in’, and when we ‘let love in’ we reignite the feeling we had as an infant: that we deserve. We matter. That feeling is not a self-admiring love; it’s a self-assuring love.
2) respecting the qualities we have.
A poor way to gain self-esteem is believe that we are in some way special (a belief that comes from being convinced of it). The trouble is: when we feel a little better than others it erodes our connection with humanity, and that makes it harder to satisfy our deep need to belong. Plus, it becomes harder to see our flaws.
Further, if we take pride in being a little better than others we might find ourselves feeling mystified and anxious when we fail to meet our own expectations.
So, the difference between self-esteem and self-worth:
To have high self-esteem is to love oneself.
To have a high self-worth is to feel worthy of love by no one in particular.
To have self-worth is to have an inner flame which is not self-love, it’s just the warm and nurturing feeling of being loveable – by anyone. To have that warm and nurturing feeling can, however, allow us to ‘let love in’ and love ourselves – have a high self-esteem.
More about self-esteem:
Q. ’Mark, some people say self-esteem is transitory. We can dress like a million dollars and have a high self-esteem, but with one insult our self-esteem can plummet.’
When you stand resplendent in front of a mirror feeling good, it doesn’t mean you like yourself more than you did an hour ago. It means you feel more confident about yourself. An insult can dent that confidence.
‘Can we measure a person’s self-esteem?’
We could ask the person the following questions:
1. ‘If there were another one of you, would you like to meet him/her?’
I have asked this question of friends and received varying responses, ranging from, ‘Sure, I wish there were hundreds of me!’ to ‘Nuh.’
2. ‘Do you deserve to be loved?’
Answers ranged from, ‘The answer to that silly question is: absolutely!’ to ‘Nuh’.
3. ‘In general, how much do think people like you?‘
The answers to the three questions lead to obvious conclusions. But is this an accurate measure of self-esteem? I don’t know. How could self-esteem be measured scientifically? We can’t even agree on what it is or who has it. Any questionnaire would have to take into account modesty, arrogance (which can hide insecurity), self-worth, and cultural biases. So how accurate could the questionnaires be?
People from Eastern cultures tend to see the ‘self’ differently, placing more value upon how they are seen by others than on how they see themselves. They focus on their weaknesses rather than on their strengths, and believe it’s inappropriate to praise oneself. Plus, there are translation problems.
I suspect that getting an accurate gauge of self-esteem is nigh impossible. Are you, dear reader, even clear about how much you like yourself? Would you be certain to give the same answers to the three questions above, an hour later?
A healthy low self-esteem:
We can have a low self-esteem yet lead a happy, productive life. There are people who have lost a limb and as a result have become disabled. Yet, they can be just as happy as an able-bodied person. In the same way, having a low self-esteem can disable us – it can prevent us from finding the job we want, or the right partner – but we can be just happy as a person with a high self-esteem. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, and it goes against nearly all of what the experts say, but we did not evolve an innate need to like ourselves. The advantages of liking ourselves aren’t much greater than the advantages of not liking ourselves (if they are greater at all) so we didn’t evolve that need. However, we did evolve a self-worth, but that was just to see us through our formative years.
‘What are the advantages of having a low self-esteem?’
1. If we don’t like ourselves much we might be concerned about how other people see us. Although that’s not much fun, it can prompt us modify or curtail our undesirable idiosyncrasies.
2. With a low self-esteem we can feel less compelled to live up to other people’s expectations, and be less likely to seek other people’s approval. That can be liberating. (We are less likely to seek the approval of others because we are used to rejection, having rejecting ourselves so often).
3. Low self-esteemers can take on daunting tasks, because their identity isn’t tied to succeeding. They can deal with failure. (That can apply to high self-esteemers too.)
4. With a healthy low self-esteem we are more likely to be aware of our flaws, and more likely to admit to them. That makes it easier to get to know ourselves, come to terms with our faults, and limit their influence upon us.
There are, of course, advantages to having a healthy high self-esteem as well. You’ll find them easy enough on the internet.
Warning! If you don’t like yourself that is no reason to treat yourself badly, with insults or with complaints. Why? Well, if you don’t like someone else, that is no reason to treat them badly. People deserve your respect and courtesy whether you like them or not. So, if you don’t like yourself it’s only fair that you treat yourself with the same respect and courtesy you would give someone else you don’t like. That means: no insults. No self-harm. No self-criticism. Just respect.
If you want to be angry with yourself, go ahead, but express that anger in a healthy, constructive manner. Speak to yourself as you would to someone who is delicate, who needs guidance. Focus on constructive ways to ensure the same mistake isn’t made again. Being angry with yourself is fine, but do it in a mature way. Don’t indulge in inappropriate behaviour just because it’s yourself. That is no excuse.
An unhealthy low self-esteem might come from
– doing something for which you can’t forgive yourself,
– from being verbally abused, neglected as a child,
– from being taught to feel guilt and shame,
These people might be able to absorb some barbs, but with their feelings red raw could become overly defensive, and be quick to take umbrage.
A high but wacky self-esteem comes from receiving lots of shallow praise and taking praise for granted. Such people are unlikely to see their flaws and limitations, even when pointed out to them. As a result they gain skewed perspectives, self-centredness and complacency, and are likely to be intolerant of other people’s flaws.
Think of a storybook king, or a real life dictator. After a while they can’t get enough praise, and are easily slighted. They might even appear arrogant.
As you can imagine, their relationships suffer.
‘If you have watched the early auditions on American Idol you have surely marvelled at how confident some of the worst performers are. Even when the judges look on with horror and give them three thumbs down, they declare that they are very talented and no one is going to crush their dreams. You can just imagine this person’s mother praising their tone-deaf child for fear the truth would destroy them. The consequence is that they are now learning the truth by being humiliated in front of millions of television viewers. While this is an extreme example, many teens whose self-esteem is based on nothing more than talk are in for similar disappointments as they move into adulthood.’
Some people absorb so much praise it becomes part of their identity. They find it harder to accept rejection than the rest of us because they haven’t had the opportunity to hone their coping skills. When they are rejected they are not only confused and hurt, they’re disturbed.
To be egotistical is to focus on one’s own qualities, activities and achievements. Egotistical people show little interest in others.
This could mean they have an inability to take an interest in other people, or it could mean they feel anxious when not the centre of attention.
‘When we genuinely appreciate our own worth, there is no need to tell the world how good we are. It is only the person who hasn’t convinced himself of his own worth, who proceeds to inform the rest of humanity of his value.’
From the book, ‘Being Happy’, by Andrew Matthews.
confidence is the feeling that we can successfully handle a particular situation. A person might feel confident in one situation but not in another.
‘Confident people are masters of attention diffusion. When they’re being given attention for an accomplishment, they quickly shift the focus to all the people who worked hard to help get them there. They don’t crave the approval or praise because they draw their self-worth from within.’
Dr Travis Bradberry.
narcissism is deemed to be a personality disorder and is not a subject of this book.
‘Social learning theory suggests that the narcissism develops when parents believe their children are more important than others, more special than others, more entitled than others.’
To have resilience is to have the ability, though not necessarily the confidence, to recover from a situation.
To feel resilient is to have the confidence, though not necessarily the ability, to recover from a situation.
self-assuredness is confidence with an added dollop of poise.
self-confidence is the feeling of being able to can handle a particular situation, whether or not we will succeed in our attempt.
A person with strong self-confidence might feel disappointed with a failure, or with an insult, while a person with low self-confidence might feel devastated.
‘People who brim with confidence derive their sense of pleasure and satisfaction from their own accomplishments, as opposed to what other people think of their accomplishments.’
self-importance is an exaggerated sense of one’s own value to a situation, or to the world.
By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity and altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness.’
attention seekers expect to be ignored. They’re frightened of becoming invisible. Getting people’s attention is a reminder to them that they are not invisible. However, the feeling is an empty one because on some level they know they themselves have not been seen, just their antics. The bit inside them, the bit crying out to feel valued, has not been heard, has not been seen.
Find yourself an internet troll and you have found yourself an attention seeker. That’s why the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them. They don’t get the attention they seek, and move elsewhere.
It has been suggested that attention seekers suffered neglect in their formative years.
Q. ‘Mark, won’t these terms vary depending on the circumstances? In some situations we might like ourselves, or feel worthy, or feel confident, and at other times not.’
True. The terms are rubbery and are used in different ways by different people. I have listed the terms to indicate what I mean when I use them in this book.
Q. ‘Mark, won’t a person with high self-esteem feel loveable? And therefore, have high self-worth?’
From what I can see, the only self-esteem worth having is the one gained from having self-worth. The other forms of self-esteem are wacky or fragile, and come with their own problems. That’s why we are focusing on self-worth.