Confidence in one's value as a human being is a precious psychological resource and generally a highly positive factor in life; it is correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction. Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive relationships and situations.
Too much self-love, on the other hand, results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures. It can also be a sign of clinical narcissism, in which individuals may behave in a self-centered, arrogant, and manipulative manner. Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.
People who experience a steady diet of disapproval from important others—family, supervisors, friends, teachers—might have feelings of low self-esteem. Yet the healthy individual is able to weather off-putting evaluations.
Each person's experience is different, but over the course of the lifespan, self-esteem seems to rise and fall in predictable, systematic ways. Research suggests that self-esteem grows, by varying degrees, until age 60, when it remains steady before beginning to decline in old age.
Self-esteem can influence life in myriad ways, from academic and professional success to relationships and mental health. Self-esteem, however, is not an immutable characteristic; successes or setbacks, both personal and professional, can fuel fluctuations in feelings of self-worth.
Feelings of high or low self-worth often start in childhood. Family life that is riddled with disapproval can follow a person into adult life. Low self-esteem can also become a problem because of a poor school environment or a dysfunctional workplace. Likewise, an unhappy relationship can also alter a person’s self-worth.
No one person is less worthy than the next person, and no one is deemed more important. Knowing this detail is crucial. To feel more confident and have healthy self-esteem, it helps to put aside fears of being worth less than others.
Ease up on yourself, and try not to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. Take a vacation from criticizing yourself for one hour. Talk to yourself as you would to someone you care about; you are likely putting yourself down and framing the situation at hand—whatever it is—in overly negative terms. If you begin to cultivate a habit of interrogating your self-downing thoughts, you will slowly learn to sidestep feelings of low self-worth.
Self-actualization represents the pursuit of reaching one’s full potential. The concept is rooted in a theory established in 1943 by Abraham Maslow. The psychologist set forth a hierarchy of psychological needs, illustrating an order of human motivation.
At the base of Maslow’s motivational pyramid lies physiological needs, such as the air we breathe and the food we consume. Once those needs are met, it is possible to pursue needs for safety, love and belonging, and self-worth.
Self-actualization occurs when the more basic needs are met or in the process of being met and it becomes possible to strive to add meaning and personal and social fulfillment to existence—through creativity, intellectual growth, and social progress. As Maslow himself stated, “What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
The world may have expectations for you: an important high-paying job, an ideal set of 2.5 children, a luxury car. Yet you do not have to buy into thinking that you are worthless without these things. Imperfection is perfectly fine. Also, setting your own goals, and not following someone else’s, will help.
It’s easy to feel insecure and distressed about it. An insecure person needs reassurance from the people around them; this person wants others to make decisions and set goals for them. But taking personal agency is the first step toward feeling more secure and feeling healthy self-esteem.
The confident person is easily spotted and commands attention. But there's a healthy balance between too little and too much self-worth. Here are some signs that an individual has the right dose.
- Knows the difference between confidence and arrogance
- Is not afraid of feedback
- Does not people-please or seek approval
- Is not afraid of conflict
- Is able to set boundaries
- Is able to voice needs and opinions
- Is assertive, but not pushy
- Is not a slave to perfection
- Is not afraid of setbacks
- Does not fear failure
- Does not feel inferior
- Accepts who they are