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.
What Is Self-Esteem?
In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall subjective sense of personal worth or value. In other words, self-esteem may be defined as how much you appreciate and like yourself regardless of the circumstances. Your self-esteem is defined by many factors including:
- 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
Why Self-Esteem Is Important
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.
Factors That Affect Self-Esteem
There are many factors that can influence self-esteem. Your self-esteem may be impacted by:
- Physical abilities
- Socioeconomic status
- 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.