The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

August 22, 2018 Sam Woolfe

Self-esteem and self-worth are often incorrectly used interchangeably.  Learn how self-esteem and self-worth differ, and why both contribute to our wellbeing.

The terms self-esteem and self-worth are often used interchangeably. However, their meanings are quite different. Some people focus on building their self-esteem, while others prefer to strengthen their sense of self-worth. In actual fact, though, the development of both is essential in remaining grounded and healthy. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between self-esteem and self-worth to see why this is the case.

Self-Worth and Self-Esteem Complement One Another

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is the manner in which we evaluate ourselves. It is our internal assessment of our qualities and attributes. We have healthy self-esteem when what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves is honest and realistic. Building and maintaining healthy self-esteem depends on gathering evidence about what we are like as a person.

Unhealthy self-esteem, on the other hand, can present itself in the form of two extremes. Firstly, you can think too highly of yourself, which can lead you to fall into the trap of narcissism. When your self-esteem is too high, you exaggerate your positive traits or deceive yourself about your faults and weaknesses. A narcissist may believe that his or her opinion matters more than anyone else’s, based on the self-perception that he or she is smarter than everyone.

In contrast, when you have low self-esteem, you underestimate – or flat out ignore – your positive characteristics. If you struggle with low self-esteem, then you may tell yourself that you are stupid, lazy, boring, selfish, inconsiderate, or generally a bad person because of the things you think, say, and do. You view yourself through a harsh and negative filter. It becomes difficult to understand why people enjoy your company or sincerely believe any compliments that people give you.

What is Self-Worth?

Self-worth is the belief that you are loveable and valuable regardless of how you evaluate your traits. In this way, your self-esteem could hit rock bottom, yet you still hold onto the notion that you have innate worth. This is important. When you don’t feel good about yourself, this doesn’t mean, of course, that you are no longer valuable. So you need a form of positive self-perception that acts as a crutch to keep you stable when your self-esteem fluctuates (as it inevitably does for everyone).

You may be wondering where self-worth actually comes from. Well, there are different ways of looking at this. You could say that you – simply by virtue of being human – have intrinsic value, goodness, and capabilities. Regardless of whether you are upbeat, talented, or successful, you are good enough. Self-worth comes from the realization that you always have the capacity to do good and make a positive impact in the world, however small it may be.

Another perspective says that your self-worth is based on your wants, which are, again, common to everyone. Deep down, you desire peace of mind, contentment, relief from suffering, the realization of your potential, and a sense of belonging. These wants give you inherent value. Just as you respect others because of their wants, it’s crucial to respect yourself in the same way.

Depression Threatens Self-Worth

When you suffer from depression, you may forget that you need or deserve love and so it becomes difficult to climb out of that pit of worthlessness. Your perception becomes distorted. You believe you are unlovable even though people show unconditional positive regard towards you. Self-worth is about showing this same attitude towards yourself.

Self-Esteem and Self-Worth Are Both Necessary

Now, while self-worth should act as a foundation, as your mental armor during difficult times, this doesn’t mean that self-esteem is unnecessary or irrelevant. You can believe that you are lovable and good enough, but this is just one aspect of seeing things for how they really are. In all kinds of situations, be they work environments or relationships, having a down-to-earth view of yourself (healthy self-esteem) will allow you to be more honest about your qualities and, in turn, able to more effectively grow as a person. Indeed, self-esteem and self-worth are complementary when it comes to our wellbeing.

APA Reference
Woolfe, S. (2018, August 22). The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Sam Woolfe

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Laura Young
February, 26 2022 at 7:35 pm

How to build/create a healthier belief system about myself? How does a person who developed in a violent household devoid of actual love and attachment begin? There is no "Before time" to be recovered. Childhood experiences were founded on conditional acceptance, manipulation and fear tactics/ concrete threats. No trust was established between parents and children. No trustworthy adult figures outside the home environment. Ace score 9/10. Lifelong Depression and anxiety... Complex PTSD, Dissociation...After decades of therapy, this article is the first time I have heard about Self-worth being defined as seperate from Self-esteem. Important clarifications. I have a fairly realistic sense of my qualities and attributes and simultaneously believe that I am a fraud in my personal and professional identity. I find it best (most peaceful) to avoid people. I feel too pressured and vulnerable interacting or exposing my personality at this point in life. I absolutely believe that I am developmentally broken.
Something essential to my healthy growth never developed. How do I remediate that missed developmental step? How to I learn to discern what mature, healthy love is? And how to receive and give it? Without terror of being manipulated, used or deceived? I acknowledge that I have disordered attachment, which is a step, but what comes next? Is it possible to remediate avoidant attachment? -Regarding adult relationships especially. Decades of therapy have yet to help me resolve this foundational dilemma. Is there a "keystone"? Thank you for the article. It is a starting point. Best regards.

November, 13 2019 at 5:31 pm

Thank you

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 22 2019 at 12:03 pm

you're welcome, thank you for your comment

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