Signs of Healthy and Low Self-Esteem

We all know that self-esteem (sometimes referred to as self-worth or self-respect) can be an important part of success. Too little self-esteem can leave people feeling defeated or depressed. It can also lead people to make bad choices, fall into destructive relationships, or fail to live up to their full potential.

A grandiose sense of self-importance, on the other hand, can be off-putting to others and can even damage personal relationships. It can also be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder, a mental health disorder characterized by an excessive need for admiration and lack of empathy toward other people.

Self-esteem levels at the extreme high and low ends of the spectrum can be harmful, so ideally, it's best to strike a balance somewhere in the middle. A realistic yet positive view of yourself is generally considered the ideal. But what exactly is self-esteem? Where does it come from and what influence does it really have on our lives?

signs of health and low self-esteem
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What Is Self-Esteem?

In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself. It involves a variety of beliefs about yourself, such as the appraisal of your own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors.

Self-esteem often seen as a personality trait, which means that it tends to be stable and enduring.

Why Self-Esteem Is Important

Self-esteem can play a significant role in your motivation and success throughout your life. Low self-esteem may hold you back from succeeding at school or work because you don't believe yourself to be capable of success.

By contrast, having a healthy self-esteem can help you achieve because you navigate life with a positive, assertive attitude and believe you can accomplish your goals.

Theories of Self-Esteem

Many theorists have written on the dynamics involved in self-esteem. The need for self-esteem plays an important role in psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which depicts self-esteem as one of the basic human motivations.

Maslow suggested that people need both esteem from other people as well as inner self-respect. Both of these needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow as a person and achieve 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 Influence Self-Esteem

As you might imagine, many factors influence self-esteem. Your inner thinking, age, any potential illnesses, disabilities, or physical limitations, and your job can affect your self-esteem. 

Additionally, genetic factors that help shape a person's personality can play a role, but 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.

Signs of Healthy Self-Esteem

There are some simple ways to tell if you have healthy self-esteem. You probably have healthy self-esteem if you are more likely to:

  • Avoid dwelling on past, negative experiences
  • Express your needs
  • Feel confident
  • Have a positive outlook on life
  • Say "no" when you want to
  • See overall strengths and weaknesses and accept them

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

You may need to work on how you perceive yourself if you tend to experience these common problems caused by low self-esteem:

  • You believe that others are better than you
  • You find it difficult expressing your needs
  • You focus on your weaknesses
  • You frequently experience feelings such as shame, depression, or anxiety
  • You have a negative outlook on life
  • You have an intense fear of failure
  • You have trouble accepting positive feedback
  • You have trouble saying "no"
  • You put other people's needs before your own
  • You struggle with confidence
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Article Sources
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  1. Kunc, N. (1992). The Need to Belong: Rediscovering Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In R. A. Villa, J. S. Thousand, W. Stainback, & S. Stainback (Eds.), Restructuring for caring and effective education: An administrative guide to creating heterogeneous schools (pp. 25-39). Baltimore, MD, England: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

  2. Crocker J, Major B. Social stigma and self-esteem: The self-protective properties of stigma. Psychological Review. 1989;(4):608-630. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.96.4.608

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