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Self Esteem: The Difference Between Healthy And Impaired Self Esteem

The Difference Between Healthy And Impaired Self Esteem

Self-esteem is what we think of ourselves. When it’s positive, we have confidence and self-respect. We’re content with ourselves and our abilities, in who we are and our competence. Self-esteem affects not only what we think, but also how we feel and behave. It influences every aspect of our lives.

Self Esteem Impacts Everything

It and has significant ramifications for our happiness and enjoyment of life. It considerably affects events in our life, including our relationships, our work and goals, and how we care for ourselves and our children. Self-esteem is relatively stable and enduring, though it can fluctuate.

Healthy self-esteem makes us resilient and hopeful about life. Although difficult events, such as a breakup, illness, or loss of income, may in the short term moderate our self-esteem, we soon rebound to think positively about ourselves and our future. Even when we fail, it doesn’t take diminish our self-esteem. People with healthy self-esteem credit themselves when things go right, and when they don’t, they consider external causes and also honestly evaluate their mistakes and shortcomings. Then they improve upon them.

Related: 10 Habits That Cause Low Self Esteem And Depression

Healthy vs. Impaired Self Esteem

I prefer to use the terms healthy and impaired self-esteem, rather than high and low, because narcissists and conceited individuals who appear to have high self-esteem, actually don’t. Theirs is inflated, compensates for shame and insecurity, and is often unrelated to reality.

Boasting is an example because it indicates that the person is dependent on others’ opinions of them and reveals impaired rather than healthy self-esteem. Thus, healthy self-esteem requires that we’re able to honestly and a realistically assess our strengths and weaknesses. We’re not too concerned about others’ opinions of us. When we accept our flaws without judgment, our self-acceptance goes beyond self-esteem.

Impaired self esteem

Impaired self-esteem negatively impacts our ability to manage adversity and life’s disappointments. All of our relationships are affected, including our relationship with ourselves. When our self-esteem is impaired, we feel insecure, compare ourselves to others, and doubt and criticize ourselves. We neither recognize our worth, nor honor and express our needs and wants.

Instead, we may self-sacrifice, defer to others, or try to control them and/or their feelings toward us to feel better about ourselves. For example, we might people-please, manipulate, or devalue them, provoke jealousy, or restrict their association with others. Consciously or unconsciously, we devalue ourselves, including our positive skills and attributes, making us hypersensitive to criticism. We may also be afraid to try new things because we might fail.

Symptoms of Healthy and Impaired Self Esteem

Self Esteem: The Difference Between Healthy And Impaired Self Esteem
Self Esteem: The Difference Between Healthy And Impaired Self Esteem

The following chart lists symptoms that reflect healthy vs. impaired self-esteem. Remember that self-esteem varies on a continuum. It’s not black or white. You may relate to some, but not all.

Healthy Self Esteem

Impaired Self Esteem

Know you’re okayFeel not enough; always improving yourself
Know you have value and matterLack self-worth and value; feel unimportant
Feel competent and confidentDoubt self, feel incompetent, and afraid to risk
Like yourselfJudge and dislike yourself
Exhibit honesty and integrityPlease, hide, and agree with others
Trust yourselfIndecisive, ask others’ opinions
Accept praiseDeflect or distrust praise
Accept attentionAvoid, dislike attention
Are self-responsible; honor self   Discount feelings, wants, or needs
Have internal locus of controlNeed others’ guidance or approval
Self-efficacy to pursue goalsAfraid to start and do things
Have self-respectAllow abuse; put others first
Have self-compassionSelf-judgment, self-loathing
Happy for others good fortuneEnvy and compare yourself to others
Acceptance of othersJudge others
Satisfied in relationshipsUnhappy in relationships
AssertiveDefer to others, indirect and afraid to express yourself
OptimisticFeel anxious and pessimistic
Welcome feedbackDefensive of real or perceived criticism
What is Self-Esteem And How To Raise It?

Causes of Impaired Self-Esteem

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can lead to codependency as an adult. It also weakens your self-esteem. Often you don’t have a voice. Your opinions and desires aren’t taken seriously. Parents usually have low self-esteem and are unhappy with each other. They themselves neither have nor model good relationship skills, including cooperation, healthy boundaries, assertiveness, and conflict resolution.

They may be abusive, controlling, interfering, manipulative, indifferent, inconsistent, or just preoccupied. Directly or indirectly, they may shame their children’s feelings and personal traits, feelings, and needs. It’s not safe to be, to trust, and to express themselves.

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Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an expert author on relationships and codependency. She's counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books and other online booksellers and her website.View Author posts