The Importance of differentiating Self-Worth vs Self-Esteem for Mental Health

self-worth vs self-esteem

Especially in the last few years, we have heard of a myriad of “self” words. These include self-esteem, self-confidence, self-compassion, self-care, self-love, self-belief, self-worth and many more. Some of these terms are used interchangeably but it is important to make some differentiations in order to understand the true meaning and underlying factors.

image self

 As someone who has struggled with several of the above-mentioned “selfies” 😉 I have always had a big interest in the more exact definitions from a psychological point of view. Most recently the one I have been most fascinated by is the concept of self-worth and how it differs from self-esteem. The differences really resonated with me and I wanted to dig a little deeper.

Researching “self-worth” was a real eye-opener and the more I learned about it, the more I am convinced that it forms the necessary foundation not only for good mental health but also for the above-mentioned “self” concepts. The individual reasons for low self-worth vary greatly but can often get traced back to past events, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, poor attachment, unsupportive relationships etc.

So what is the definition of self-worth?

In research, self-worth is described as a more stable and consistent form of self-esteem. Whereas self-esteem is often based on judgements, thoughts and feelings of ourselves at a particular point in time, self-worth is less influenced by external or internal factors. Self-esteem is also highly influenced by the input of others and the world around us. As Forrest Hanson and Rick Hanson put it beautifully in their Podcast “Authentically developing Self-Worth”, self-esteem is our evaluation of ourselves relative to others. Contrary to this, self-worth is our internal sense and core belief of being good enough, of being worthy and of value irrespective of external factors. 

If I could illustrate the difference between self-esteem and self-worth in two simple phrases they would be:

I do (self-esteem)

I am (self-worth)

Core beliefs such as self-worth tend to be consistent, which is why they are less likely to fluctuate due to external and internal circumstances and events.

I remember when I was a child we had an old-fashioned toy called a “Stehaufmännchen” which literally translated means “getupagainman” (sorry for the gender inequality). I think the equivalent in English could be a roly-poly. These toys work with a mechanism around the centre of gravity. A small weight is attached at the base which makes the toy stand back up again no matter how many times it’s knocked down. This is what I imagine self-worth to be, a steady support in our centre helping us to weather the storms of life.

image roly poly self words

When we have good self-worth it is likely that we also have a more stable form of self-esteem. Self-worth provides protection against stress, anxiety and other mental health problems, while also having a positive effect on our overall health and well-being.

Self-worth expresses itself through:

  • Believing we are good enough, worthy and lovable.
  • Feeling deserving of love and respect from others.
  • Accepting and loving ourselves as we are without judgement.
  • Practising self-compassion and treating ourselves with love and respect.
  • Believing in our potential and capability. (self-confidence)
  • Accepting flaws and making mistakes as a human condition that doesn’t threaten our identity or worth.

I truly believe that self-worth, as I understand it, is the foundation and core concept that is needed to build up healthy and true versions of all the other aforementioned “selfies” including self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love. If self-worth doesn’t form the basis (which is a very common occurrence) self-confidence, for example, is just a front to cover up low self-worth and this will raise its head until we address this.

Of course, as I know so well myself,  it’s easier said than done and like so many other mental health elements it’s a work in progress and needs attention and practice. Rather than going into detail here, I am adding a few very helpful sources and resources to find out more about building up and establishing our self-worth as a foundation of physical and mental health.

My wish for all of us for the new year is to find our self-worth to help us shine bright and authentically bring our unique gifts to the world.

Read more blog posts here.

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