What’s The Definition of Self Esteem?

self esteemWhen discussing self esteem its important not to confuse the term with self confidence. It isn’t hard to find a self esteem definition online or in a dictionary, in many cases these short definitions will not tell you everything you need to know. For example, the dictionary I used defines ‘esteem’ as ‘favorable opinion, regard, respect’. So it would stand to reason that ‘self esteem‘ means having a favorable opinion, regard or respect for yourself.

But what does it really mean to have a good opinion of yourself? Does it mean that we have to think positive thoughts about ourselves? Not really. To understand, we have to look more closely and come up with a self esteem definition that goes beyond what can be found in a dictionary.

Self esteem is a term used in psychology to assess a client’s evaluation of their own worth. The self esteem definition used in psychology does not assume that self esteem is always favorable. It may be either positive or negative.

Positive self esteem is healthy: this is the favorable opinion of oneself or self respect that the dictionary talked about.  Negative or low self esteem is not psychologically healthy and usually has a bad impact on our lives.  A person with low self esteem is not usually very happy, even when living in circumstances they feel should make them happy. This is because happiness depends as much on how we feel about ourselves as it does on external circumstances.

Self esteem also impacts how we feel about other people. Someone with a healthy self esteem usually find it easier to forgive others for hurting them or doing other bad things, because their happiness is not dependent on the actions and opinions of other people.  For the same reason, they are more able to identify, state and seek to satisfy their own needs and wishes in a positive way. So developing healthy self esteem is an important step in being able to find our own path in life.

Is There A Difference Between Self Esteem And Self Confidence?
Self esteem is not quite the same as self confidence, but both words are often used interchangeably when describing how people feel about themselves.  However, the terms indicate two different concepts. When you think about confidence, it is more about your performance in a situation. For example, you may have a healthy self esteem, but may not be very confident when doing public speaking.

What differentiates self esteem from confidence is a general opinion that we believe self confidenceabout ourselves.  For example, how you feel about yourself overall, whether you have a positive regard or self-love for yourself.  Self-esteem also develops from experiences and situations that may have been painful that sometimes shape how we view ourselves.

Experts believe that when you love yourself, self-esteem improves, which in turn affects your confidence level. When you gain confidence, your sense of self esteem will increase. In essence, confidence and self esteem are designed to work together so you can benefit in the way of being happy, successful and emotionally and mentally healthy.

Some people that have self esteem issues involve themselves in silently comparing themselves with others which feeds their insecurities.  In order to begin building positive self esteem, one would have to understand that it actually starts with an internal belief that you are significant and that you matter. It is a really good feeling once you realize you are worthy, not only to yourself, but to your community, peers, family and friends.

The first step is to acknowledge the fact that you need some assistance in finding the U in YOU. Secondly, being plugged in and present to working on developing yourself in a positive manner and most importantly, believing in yourself and your efforts for self improvement.

How Can You Identify Someone With Low Self Esteem?
Although, someone can show confidence in other areas of their life, low self esteem shows through in a person’s internal dialogue with themselves. Sometimes they will even share their negative feelings about themselves with friends and family members. Additionally, peers, friends and family members that know someone with low self esteem are usually able to observe it sometimes in the person’s body language, lackluster performance in personal and professional opportunities and if they openly share, their own personal belief system.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Self Esteem
Self actualization and esteem are so important, that psychologist, Abraham Maslow included a self esteem definition in his list of basic human needs. Maslow wrote a paper in 1943, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, that outlined human motivation. He used the terms Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem and Self-Actualization to describe the different stages of motivation.

maslow2Most of us have studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and know it is depicted  with the most fundamental need at the bottom and the higher needs such as self-actualization at the top.  It should be noted that Maslow never used the triangle concept in his writings and books to describe the levels of needs. His theory suggests that the most basic needs have to be met first, such as physiological needs before one can focus motivation on the higher levels of needs, which include self-esteem and actualization.

Maslow discusses the self esteem level in his hierarchy of needs in the following Wikipedia article:

“All humans have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People often engage in a profession or hobby to gain recognition. These activities give the person a sense of contribution or value.

Low self-esteem or an inferiority complex may result from imbalances during this level in the hierarchy. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others; they may feel the need to seek fame or glory. However, fame or glory will not help the person to build their self-esteem until they accept who they are internally. Psychological imbalances such as depression can hinder the person from obtaining a higher level of self-esteem or self-respect.

Most people have a need for stable self-respect and self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs: a “lower” version and a “higher” version. The “lower” version of esteem is the need for respect from others. This may include a need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The “higher” version manifests itself as the need for self-respect. For example, the person may have a need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

This “higher” version takes precedence over the “lower” version because it relies on an inner competence established through experience. Deprivation of these needs may lead to an inferiority complex, weakness, and helplessness.

Maslow states that while he originally thought the needs of humans had strict guidelines, the “hierarchies are interrelated rather than sharply separated”.This means that esteem and the subsequent levels are not strictly separated; instead, the levels are closely related.”

Although, physiological needs are important, Maslow actually emphasized the significance of esteem and self-actualization because he saw them as being similar to instincts and responsible for motivating behavior. The lower needs are seen as those that are motivated by deprivation and a physical motivation to satisfy and attain them. Whereas, the higher level of needs promote and encourage emotional and mental growth to develop a person in order to achieve individual potential. They require intrinsic motivation in order to accomplish success and an overall positive well being.

Do you feel that you suffering from low self esteem? Be careful to not beat  yourself up about it, but seek out positive ways to alleviate it. If you know someone close to you that may have this issue, don’t make it worse by criticizing them and not showing empathy for what they are going through. It’s best to meet their negative speak talk with positive straight talk. When they see you will not support them in condoning their perception of themselves, they will eventually change their attitude.

Self Esteem


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