Self-Worth & Self-Esteem: Siblings, Not Twins
Updated: Feb 23
Although they are related ideas, self-worth and self-esteem speak of slightly different things. Self-worth refers to a person's sense of intrinsic worth and deservingness. It is typically considered to be a more stable and long-term component of self-evaluation (Crocker & Park, 2004). On the other hand, self-esteem describes how a person feels about their skills and personality traits in the present moment. It is more closely related to an individual's perception of themselves and is subject to change depending on their external experiences and relationships with others (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger & Vohs, 2003). In this sense, self-worth is the value you attach to yourself as a person across time and circumstances while self-esteem is how you currently feel about yourself.
When conceptualizing these ideas, it is important to keep in mind not just their differences, but their interrelatedness as well. Research suggests that there is a positive correlation between self-worth and self-esteem — people with high self-worth are likely to also have high self-esteem, more positive self-image, feel more in control of their lives, and have better relationships (Baumeister et al., 2003; Crocker & Park, 2004). Hence, a person's sense of self-worth serves as the basis for their self-esteem – people are more likely to view themselves in a positive light when they believe that they have inherent value and worth (Sheldon & Elliot, 1998).
Furthermore, self-worth can be conceptualized as including one’s self-esteem and their level of self-acceptance. If an individual tends to feel positively about their external accomplishments and relationships while also accepting themselves in an unconditional non-judgemental way, they are likely to have high self-worth. However, since these are still distinct constructs, a person may have a high sense of self-worth but a low sense of self-esteem, or vice versa. People with high self-esteem may also have high self-worth but have exaggerated or inaccurate perceptions of themselves (Baumeister et al., 2003). Further, an individual might have high self-esteem, but be extremely low on self-acceptance. It is important to consider all these components when we are trying to work on our relationship with ourselves.
These distinct constructs not only play differing roles in our lives but have varying impacts on us. While an individual’s self-worth typically impacts their self-image, sense of control, relationships, resilience, and tendency to engage in destructive behaviors (Crocker & Park, 2004), one’s self-esteem can affect their ability to cope with stress and adversity, motivation and performance in various facets of life, ability to set and achieve goals, and their likelihood to be affected by the opinions of others (Baumeister et al., 2003).
People who lack self-worth or self-esteem may experience a range of difficult feelings, including anxiety, depression, and shame. Additionally, they might also struggle with concerns like substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm (Sheldon & Elliot, 1998). Further, research suggests that feeling negatively about oneself impacts your ability to regulate your emotions and deal with stress on a neurological level. Brain regions that help with emotional regulation and stress management have more gray matter in people with higher levels of self-acceptance (Pillay, 2016). Therefore, one’s self-worth, self-esteem, and self-acceptance have significant impacts on their mood, biology, behaviors, mental health, and resilience.
When working on our relationship with ourselves, we typically tend to focus on improving our self-esteem without keeping in mind the aforementioned nuances. There is also often a focus on external accomplishments to help us with our self-esteem without an adequate focus on building self-worth and unconditional self-acceptance. While it is important to feel validated and accepted by the community around us, we must also focus on our inherent sense of value and deservingness as human beings, outside of societal norms, perceptions, and expectations. In order to create a sustainable healthy relationship with ourselves, equal importance must be given to our self-esteem, self-acceptance, and overall self-worth.
By: Nethra Palepu
Mental Health Counseling Intern
Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392-414.
Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1-44.
Pillay, S. (2016). Greater self-acceptance improves emotional well-being. Journal of Medical School, 1(1), 1-13.
Self-Esteem. Self-esteem, self-image and self-worth. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2023, from http://davetgc.com/SelfEsteem.htm
Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1998). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: The self-concordance model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 752-762.