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 is relatively stable and enduring, though it can fluctuate. Healthy self-esteem makes us resilient and hopeful about life.
Self-Esteem Impacts Everything
Self-esteem affects not only what we think, but also how we feel and behave. 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.
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.
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. Their’s 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’ opinion 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 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 hyper-sensitive to criticism. We may also be afraid to try new things, because we might fail.
Symptoms of 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
|Know you’re okay||Feel not enough; always improving yourself|
|Know you have value and matter||Lack self-worth and value; feel unimportant|
|Feel competent and confident||Doubt self, feel incompetent, and afraid to risk|
|Like yourself||Judge and dislike yourself|
|Exhibit honesty and integrity||Please, hide, and agree with others|
|Trust yourself||Indecisive, ask others’ opinions|
|Accept praise||Deflect or distrust praise|
|Accept attention||Avoid, dislike attention|
|Are self-responsible; honor self||Discount feelings, wants, or needs|
|Have internal locus of control||Need others’ guidance or approval|
|Self-efficacy to pursue goals||Afraid to start and do things|
|Have self-respect||Allow abuse; put others first|
|Have self-compassion||Self-judgment, self-loathing|
|Happy for others good fortune||Envy and compare yourself to others|
|Acceptance of others||Judge others|
|Satisfied in relationships||Unhappy in relationships|
|Assertive||Defer to others, indirect and afraid to express yourself|
|Optimistic||Feel anxious and pessimistic|
|Welcome feedback||Defensive of real or perceived criticism|
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.