We live in a world where too often what our friends and peers think of us is the most important thing. We worry about making a good impression, about showing the best of our lives, and about being liked. Instead of caring so much about what others think about us, what if we spent our time improving what we think and feel about ourselves? This post will be the first in a small series on self-esteem and self-worth; this week I want to discuss the difference between the two, and, in future posts, I will focus on building your existing self-esteem and self-worth.
It is common to see the terms self-esteem and self-worth used interchangeably, yet these two terms are fundamentally different. Once we understand the fundamental distinctions between the two, we will be able to focus on both of them individually and improve emotional health.
First, I want to talk about self-worth. Self-worth is defined as the value you give to yourself, without the impact of external factors. It is not determined by what others think of you. How valuable do you think you are? What do you think you deserve to have and accomplish in this life? If you have a happy, fulfilling relationship, or a stable job, do you deserve these things? Or, if you are stuck in a rut and/or unhappy, do you think you deserve that? It is not superficial, but instead formed from your opinion of yourself, your innate gifts, talents, and abilities. Often, our upbringing will determine what we believe we deserve… or do not deserve. The good news is that our self-worth does not have to be fixed or stagnant. You can value yourself in different ways; some may choose to focus on gaining material achievements over spirituality while others may focus on spiritual gain rather than materialism. By elevating our self-worth, we can earn and yearn for new heights and depths of good things in this life.
Self-esteem is the appreciation that you have for yourself; it is fleeting and can change on a whim. It is greatly dependent upon external versus internal factors. You might get dressed and ready for the day, feeling like a million bucks. But when someone calls you a name or slanders your work, you can suddenly feel deflated, worthless, and insignificant. Others can easily damage your self-esteem by their responses. Self-esteem is also intricately tied to your physical appearance; a bad haircut, acne, weight gain/loss, or dirty clothes can affect your self-esteem. Self-esteem is fragile, and can rock back and forth (like a pendulum) for many. The good new is, though, that self-esteem is more easily bolstered than self-worth, as one compliment can quickly lift your spirits and leave you feeling better about yourself temporarily.
When we focus on building self-esteem, we tend to work on being better at this or that (ie. losing weight, becoming healthier, thinking more positively, developing healthy personality traits–which are all good things). But when we place our entire value in them, our own supposed value can come crashing down at any given moment. Whereas if you know that you are of great worth–no matter what you think, feel, or do, or despite whether you fail or not–your core knowledge of your fundamental worth does not change. This is something I focus on in individual, couple, and group therapy since your perception of yourself and what you believe you deserve carries over into all aspects of your life and relationships; this is always one of the first places I start in my sessions with clients. If you sense that you are struggling with your self-perception and self-worth, please schedule a session with me today. And stay tuned for future blog posts where I will discuss how to improve your self-esteem, as well as how to place more importance on your ideas of self-worth.
Difference Between: “Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth”
Dr. Christina Hibbert: “Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q & A with Dr. Christina Hibbert”
Online Counseling College: “Self-worth Versus Self-esteem”
Psychology Today: “Reframing Self-esteem as Self-worth”