Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you feel about your abilities and limitations. When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and see yourself as deserving the respect of others. When you have low self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You might constantly worry that you aren't good enough.
Here's how to tell if your self-esteem needs a boost and why it's important to develop a healthy sense of your own worth.
Factors that shape and influence self-esteem
Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:
- Your own thoughts and perceptions
- How other people react to you
- Experiences at home, school, work and in the community
- Illness, disability or injury
- Culture or religion
- Role and status in society
- Media messages
Relationships with those close to you — parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts — are important to your self-esteem. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you've received from these people over time. If your relationships are strong and you receive generally positive feedback, you're more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have healthier self-esteem. If you receive mostly negative feedback and are often criticized, teased or devalued by others, you're more likely to struggle with poor self-esteem.
Still, your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact on self-esteem — and these thoughts are within your control. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can learn to develop a more balanced, accurate view of yourself.
Ranges of self-esteem
Self-esteem tends to fluctuate over time, depending on your circumstances. It's normal to go through times when you feel down — or good — about yourself. Generally, however, self-esteem stays in a range that reflects how you feel about yourself overall. Consider how to recognize the extremes of your self-esteem:
- Low self-esteem. When you have low or negative self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You focus on your perceived weaknesses and faults and give scant credit to your skills and assets. You believe that others are more capable or successful. You might have difficulty accepting positive feedback. You might fear failure, which can hold you back from succeeding at work or school.
- Healthy self-esteem. When you have healthy self-esteem it means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws.
When self-esteem is healthy and grounded in reality, it's hard to have too much of it. Boasting and feeling superior to others around you isn't a sign of too much self-esteem. It's more likely evidence of insecurity and low self-esteem.
Benefits of healthy self-esteem
When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile. You have generally positive relationships with others and feel confident about your abilities. You're also open to learning and feedback, which can help you acquire and master new skills.
With healthy self-esteem you're:
- Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions
- Confident in your ability to make decisions
- Able to form secure and honest relationships — and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
- Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others
- More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks
- Less likely to experience feelings such as worthlessness, guilt and shame
- Less likely to develop eating disorders
Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn't about blowing your own horn. It's about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all.