Self-esteem has gotten some negative press in recent years. Perhaps this is because of the concern regarding the increase in narcissism (Dingfelder, 2011). Some people mistakenly see self-esteem as a bad thing. Self-esteem that is grandiose may lead to narcissism, but self-esteem that is healthy is important for every human being.
As a mental health therapist, I notice that low self-esteem is often a characteristic of my new counseling clients. Healthy self-esteem is something we work to obtain. Having healthy self-esteem means that we view our value as a human being as equal to the value of all other human beings. We are not better-than and we are not less-than. When self-esteem is healthy, we acknowledge and appreciate that we have strengths, skills, and talents, and we use them to make the world a better place. We recognize that every person has positive attributes as well.
Because we each have our own unique set of positive attributes, healthy self-esteem helps us realize that each person is different, and that comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time. No one is exactly like you, and you are unlike anyone else – so it is impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison. When a person has low self-esteem, they continually compare their worst qualities to the best qualities of others. That is not a fair comparison, and it is a sign that self-esteem needs a boost.
Healthy self-esteem, which is our understanding of our worth, remains relatively constant despite our circumstances. When self-esteem is low, our opinion of ourselves rises and falls depending on what is happening in our world at the time. Our self-worth should not severely plummet because of a break-up, a failed exam, loss of a job, health issues, mistakes, or failures. Our self-confidence may falter due to circumstances, but healthy self-esteem dictates that we are valuable regardless of what is happening in our lives or because of what we may or may not have done.
Healthy self-esteem is different from self-confidence, self-care, self-compassion, self-acceptance, and all the other “self” concepts. Self-esteem does depend on these concepts to develop and maintain our identity, a sense of competence, and our overall sense of worth, but one “self” concept alone is not what self-esteem consists of. I like to think of self-esteem as an overarching umbrella, and all of the “self” concepts are the spokes that keep the umbrella open and uplifted.
Without healthy self-esteem, our ability to function fully is hindered (Branden, 1994). Healthy self-esteem gives us a sense of competence, worthiness, flexibility, and independence. We are better able to identify, and realistically pursue, our purposes, goals and dreams. Healthy self-esteem enables us to better adapt to our ever-changing world and personal circumstances (Branden, 1994).
Self-esteem that is healthy enables us to admit, accept, and work to correct our mistakes. We can accept the truth that we are imperfect humans who sometimes blunderl. Healthy self-esteem helps us admit when we are wrong and values our ability to correct our mistakes and attempt to right our wrongs (Branden, 1994).
When self-esteem is healthy, we respect ourselves and we respect others. We feel secure within ourselves, others do not pose a threat to our ego, and we securely establish boundaries. When we value ourselves, we also value other people. When we are secure in ourselves as a human being, we are not threatened by the self-confidence of others. According to author Nathaniel Branden (1994), we are more likely to be empathetic and compassionate to others (because that is how we treat ourselves), we are kinder and more cooperative with others (because we are not threatened by them), and our relationships with others reflect our relationship with ourselves. Relationship problems are one of the main reasons that people seek counseling. Healthy self-esteem results in healthy relationships, which makes healthy self-esteem something worth pursuing!
Branden, N. (1994). The six pillars of self-esteem. New York: Bantam.
Dingfelder, Sadie F. (2011). Reflecting on narcissism. American Psychological Association (APA) February 2011, Vol 42, No. 2. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/02/narcissism. Accessed June 29, 2020.