Healthy Self-Esteem



Face it: You’ll either be high on your own ego or in the dumps of despair at any given moment–but what if I told you there was a middle path: Healthy self-esteem.

Many of us throw the word around, but do you really know what self-esteem is and how it impacts your life on the daily basis? We have a general idea but by better knowing this essential component of yourself, you take more control of your life from external forces.

Cos knowledge is power™!

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is the measure of confidence you have in yourself and how you perceive your value to the world. It’s your understanding of your own worth and involves how you think of aspects of yourself. Too much and you become a narcissist (not to be confused with Narcissistic Personality Disorder); too little and you end up feeling low and deflated.

And it’s important to draw a distinction between high self-esteem and healthy self-esteem, as research finds they aren’t necessarily the same in the ways we think they are:

[…]high self-esteem is not the same thing as healthy self-esteem. And new research by a psychology professor from the University of Georgia is adding another twist: those with “secure” high self-esteem are less likely to be verbally defensive than those who have “fragile” high self-esteem.

“There are many kinds of high self-esteem, and in this study we found that for those in which it is fragile and shallow it’s no better than having low self-esteem,” said Michael Kernis of University of Georgia.  “People with fragile high self-esteem compensate for their self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and enhance their feelings of self-worth.”

~”High Self Esteem is Not Always What it’s Cracked Up to Be“, Science Daily

Things that impact your self-esteem include appearance, grades, work performance, popularity, racism, sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, and interpersonal relations with the people closest to you. Also, your self-esteem isn’t fixed, instead it’s a processes–an ongoing negotiation that fluctuates as we go through life living, loving, lamenting and laughing.

Healthy self-esteem is a negotiation as we go through life living, loving, lamenting and laughing. Click To Tweet

Benefits of Healthy Self-Esteem

When you have healthy self-esteem, you’re confident in your independence and agency. You have faith in your ability to handle tasks, you can accurately assess your good qualities without boasting, reflect on your bad qualities without sulking, and you tend to be more flexible in the face of obstacles–seeing problems as obstacles rather than permanent setbacks.

Healthy self-esteem won't make you immune to life's shit--but it'll give you a good toilet scrubber. Click To Tweet

People with healthy self-esteem seem to attract everything good into their lives like promotions at work, higher grades, favorable outcomes on/after dates (wink), and people that will seriously consider their points when talking. It isn’t that the universe is necessarily bestowing gift upon gift on them randomly (I’ll go more into this later). High self-esteem is a VIP pass: It allows you to open doors into “opportunity spaces” and be in the crowd when Oprah starts hurling out SUVs.

Detriments of Low Self-Esteem

low self esteem, depressed, sad,When you have low self-esteem, you can’t, as Mazlow says “self-actualize,” or recognize and manifest your potential. You’ll feel unworthy, incompetent, pessimistic, and fall into a cycle of ever-increasing negativity, not being able to escape your bad mood and incessently negative thoughts. Trust me when I say I think we all know how that feels.

And not to make you feel anxious, but there are experts who say that low self-esteem can result in unfortunate circumstances that can bring your self-esteem even lower.

Lois Frankel [Ph.D., president of Corporate Coaching International] identifies certain traits in individuals with low work self-esteem: Generally, they are people with low confidence who are risk-averse. They are less likely to speak up in meetings or to take on challenging tasks, which can lead superiors to believe they are ineffective. None of which is good when you’re fighting to stay afloat in a competitive work environment.

Low self-esteem may also manifest itself through body language and presentation. Sharon Fountain, president of the National Association for Self Esteem, points to ““uptalk”” as a particular culprit. That is, saying all of your statements as though they are questions, which makes you seem less confident. Speaking too quietly, which denotes fear, and not making enough gestures to emphasize points and convey energy can also betray you in important work settings, especially when it comes to landing the job.

~“How Low Self Esteem Can Cost You The Job”, Forbes

Low self-esteem can act like a downward spiral–you do things in the way that people with low self-esteem do and you get treated like someone who has low self-esteem (meaning you get less than you deserve), which reinforces your low self-esteem–and it serpentines lower and lower until you’ve hit rock bottom.

Even using “navigational tools” in schools and workplaces for people with little social power can come off as low self-esteem: A woman who doesn’t state her opinion for fear of being seen as rude or “uppity” despite the men around her all doing so and ends up being seen as “too passive for a promotion”; a person of color that doesn’t want to “rock the boat” in the face of microaggressions and ends up bottling years of stress, further depleting their vitality and energy.

Because low self-esteem for multiple reasons is a lot more pervasive than we tend to believe, there are a lot of resources out there for managing low self-esteem.

How to Increase Self-Esteem

You can increase your self-esteem in a number of ways: Affirmations are one way to counter negative self-talk; taking self-appreciation breaks; ceasing to comparing yourself to others are a few.

Increase Self-Esteem: 1. Combat negative self-talk, 2. Affirm yourself, 3. Practice self-care Click To Tweet

Combat Negative Self-Talk

Self-talk is basically your inner voice. But it isn’t just the “sound” of the voice, but all the things it says (t.A.t.U. nostalgia anyone?) Your inner voice can contribute to your self-esteem either positively or negatively.

This video from sums up the effects of negative self-talk and some ways to combat it very well:


Affirmations are positive statements meant to condition the subconscious mind into adopting a positive state. Remember self-talk? Well affirmations are meant to flip the script so that instead of defaulting to negative self-talk, you are able to benefit from healthy self-talk. Here are 3 from Towards Happiness to get started:

  • I am doing the best I can with the knowledge and experience I have obtained so far.
  • It’s OK to make mistakes. They are opportunities to learn.
  • I always follow through on my promises.


family, self-care, self-love

Self-care is something a lot of us are familiar with, but goodness knows many of us don’t know how to keep it constant, choosing instead to “do self-care” only after something awful has happened. While that’s all fine, if we take a reactive approach, we open ourselves to harm on the other days. So what are we to do? One strategy is to create a self-sustaining self-care system. Again:

Create a self-care regimen that works even when you aren't in the middle of hurt Click To Tweet

Self-care can be anything, for you it may look like:

  • Hanging out with family and friends who’ve agreed to just chill and share a space with you, only talking when you’re ready. Sometimes just the existing of others nearby is enough.
  • Pampering your pet and spoiling them. They may not say it, but if they’re socially inclined animals, you’ve done the world for them. This also works for your children, a friend, or
  • Cleaning your living space. Sure it’s a boring chore for some, but it can actually help you feel better and be symbolic of your inner experience.
  • Going to a spa. Because seriously. Seriously.

We are constantly neglecting to take stock of how we’re doing when we are seemingly well and not hurt. This disregard for our wellbeing makes it so that later on, when we are down in the pits, we don’t realize everything that led up to our point of pain. Acknowledging hurt doesn’t make us weak–ignoring it will, though.

How to Enjoy the Benefits of Healthy Self-Esteem

High self-esteem makes you shine in social settings because people are attracted to the seemingly magnetic qualities of confidence and optimism. Study after study have shown that people with high self-esteem get hired more, do better in school, succeed at securing promotions at work, and generally lead a self-directed social life.

And because this is seen as “good” and “normal”, unfortunately this makes anything else “bad.” We overlook people with chronically low self-esteem, people with mental health issues for whom constant confidence isn’t feasible or possible, and people who don’t have our station of privilege and support–people whom we often choose to see as jealous or bitter or too lazy to “fix” their lives.

Self-esteem is thought of as being intrapersonal, but it is not divorced from outside influence. It does not fluctuate in a vacuum based on merit, failure, or strength of character, as the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” motto would have us believe. Instead, it interacts with racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. and it is important that, in our analyses of our situations, we take that into account–especially when giving advice to others.

So while we’re shining, we can do our part to bring up the vibes of the people around us and direct some of that energy to not only improving our way of life, but de-stigmatizing the perception of “happiness” that surrounds us, creating a more open environment wherein everyone can access the care and support they need across the board.

Sage Nenyue

Sage is a twenty-something Millennial who lives with his partner and two cats in Recife, Brazil. He graduated with a Bachelor's in Communication Studies (Media Studies) from The College of Wooster and now teaches English to some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet.