Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q & A with Dr. Christina Hibbert [plus video]

First, I want to thank all who have joined the discussion on self-esteem and self-worth. You’ve had a lot to say, and I still do too!

I’ve received several questions over the past couple of weeks, so, to ensure we’re all on the same page before we move on, today’s post is a Q & A. If you haven’t read the first two posts, “5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth,” and “If Self-Esteem is a Myth, then what is the Truth?: Understanding Self-Worth,” I suggest you do. And be sure to watch my “Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: 3-Minute Therapy” video, below–I ask a very important question that will make it worth your 3 minutes!

 

What’s the difference between “high self-esteem” and a sense of self-worth?

Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing “I am greater than all of those things”. It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth. It is possible to feel “high self-esteem,” or in other words, to think I’m good at something, yet still not feel convinced that I am loveable and worthy. Self-esteem doesn’t last or “work” without self-worth. That’s why I believe the pursuit of self-esteem is a myth.

 

But having self-esteem means “feeling good about ourselves.” Isn’t it good to feel good about ourselves?

It’s definitely a good thing to think and feel good about ourselves. But, what happens when we don’t? Does that mean we’re no longer valuable? Absolutely not. Yet many people believe, at least on some level, that it does. Buying into the lie that my “self” is based on those good thoughts or feelings is the problem. Rather than trying so hard to just “feel good” about ourselves, isn’t it better to actually know our “self” is good? That’s what self-worth is: a deep knowing.

 

Everywhere I look I’m being told to work on my self-esteem. Isn’t it a good thing to work on increasing self-esteem?

When we focus on building self-esteem, we work on being better at this or that—at losing weight, becoming healthier, thinking more positively, developing healthy personality traits. And all of these things are good. But what happens when we place our entire value in them? What happens when those “good” things change or come crumbling down? Our value crumbles right along with it. I’ve seen so many people who have gotten caught in this trap; never seeing the fruits of their labors, they determine they have absolutely no value and believe they never will. That’s the worst lie we could possibly believe. Focusing on “increasing self-esteem” alone, unfortunately, reinforces that lie. If, however, I know that I am of great worth–no matter what I think, feel, or do–then, whether I “succeed” or “fail,” that core knowledge does not change. Even though I feel the pain of failure, if I have self-worth, I still know I am valuable, capable, and “good”. That’s why I believe we need to work on knowing our self-worth rather than increasing our “self-esteem”.

 

Are you saying that all those “self-esteem techniques” and books out there don’t work?

Self-esteem techniques can and do help, but only if there’s already a foundation of self-worth. What I see all the time in my practice is people–women and men–who have worked hard on “self-esteem,” have found great success in their work, but go home each night feeling like they’re not good enough. Or, they feel great about their talents and abilities, then get in a relationship and can’t let the other person in because they don’t believe they’re worthy of love. That’s the trouble with self-esteem techniques. They only work once we really know and embrace our true worth.

 

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When you define “self-worth,” you say we need to understand “who we really are.” What exactly do you mean by “who we really are?”

Think of a child. You know how they just believe they’re good and loveable and valuable? They “know who they really are.” I was at a field trip yesterday and the leader asked, “Are there any artists in the room?” Almost every hand went up. That’s not because they have had experiences that tell them they’re good artists or even because they’ve somehow proven it to the world—they’re only 5! They believe they’re artists because they simply know they are of worth and have great potential. They haven’t had a chance yet to believe otherwise. We need to get back to that childlike sense of who we are, that deeper knowing that we matter just because we are.

 

“You can’t just tell someone they’re of worth and think they’ll believe you, though.”Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth-Q & A w:Dr. Christina Hibbert [plus video], www.drchristinahibbert.com

You’re right. That’s what I’ve struggled with most as a psychologist: “How do I help someone feel their true value when they don’t feel it?” As I continue to write on this topic I hope to share several of the ideas I use to help people not just hear they’re of worth, but really feel and know it.

 

What would you say to those who have a history of abuse and struggle with self-esteem and self-worth?

I say it’s completely understandable why you would feel this way. When you’ve been abused, you’ve been given the message that you’re “not of worth” way too many times. It’s hard to counteract a lifetime of hearing that message. However, I also say that it’s possible to discover your true worth. Your value is not based on someone else’s misuse of you. It’s not based on their opinion of you or their words about you or their wrong actions. You are of deep, infinite worth. You may not feel it yet, but you are. And discovering it for yourself starts with simply opening up to the possibility. Ask yourself, “What if I really were of worth? What if I could feel that I am valuable and lovable and good, deep down?”  It’s not easy, but don’t let someone who hasn’t been living up to their potential prevent you from living up to yours. Let yourself begin to believe. (There is a lot more to be said on this topic and I hope to address it in a future post).

 

Don’t get me wrong.

I agree that it’s valuable to learn to think positively, to create positive emotion, to go for our dreams and believe in ourselves. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts or articles, you’ll know I believe in this. But I believe we sell ourselves short when we base our worth on anything external and changeable. Our goal shouldn’t be to “feel good about ourselves.” Our goal should be to be able to know and say, like this man I admire greatly: “I believe in myself. I do not mean to say this with egotism. But I believe in my capacity and in your capacity to do good, to make some contribution to the society of which we are a part, [and] to grow and develop. … I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world, be it ever so small.”[1]

 

Share your thoughts on self-esteem vs. self-worth with us by leaving a comment below!

#1 Amazon Bestseller, This Is How We Grow, by Dr. Christina Hibbert, Available now on Amazon.com! www.ThisIsHowWeGrow.com
Be sure to check out Dr. Hibbert’s Amazon Bestseller, This is How We Grow
available now on Amazon.com!

 

 

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q & A w/ Dr. Christina Hibbert [plus video], www.drchristinahibbert.com

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Related Posts/Articles/ Videos:

Self-Esteem & Self-Worth

5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth

“If Self-Esteem is a Myth, then what is the Truth?”: Understanding Self-Worth

Discovering Self-Worth: Why is it so hard to love ourselves?

Personal Growth & Self-Actualization

10 Major Mistakes I’ve Made this Month (& Why It’s OK)

Slow Down & See: How to Appreciate Life’s Richness

Women’s Mental Health

Learning Self-Love: 5 Tricks for Treating Yourself More Kindly

The 3 Layers of Self-Care: Build a Healthier, Happier YOU!

40 Physical & Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

The 5 Love Languages: Improve Relationships & Feel the Love!

 

 


[1] Gordon B. Hinkley, I Believe, in Ensign, Aug. 1992. http://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/08/i-believe?lang=eng

About Dr. Christina Hibbert

Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. She really hopes you’ll join the Personal Growth Group and choose to grow together!

Comments

  1. I love that I found this. I had just started asking myself the other day what the difference was between the two. I had been working on self-esteem but something felt like it was leaving me short or leaving me wanting something more and now I know it’s my self -worth I need to be working on. I look forward to reading more by you!

  2. Honestly I believe its self confidence aspect thinking about our abilities versus self esteem. Self esteem is very broad term, and self worth is integral part of it, more branch of it, how we feel about ourselves fundamentally, but yes this part is underrated and overlooked very often. You can find more cognitive aspects about ‘fixing’ in blogs, self books or web sites, it just only some pieces, but not the whole picture. Its misleading, because you push yourself away more than help ironically. So we become numb and with many defenses, but with new beliefs and affirmations. Cognitive part is ok in beginning, but its not the final path to the heart. Besides editing your thoughts on cognitive level, first you must EMBRACE emotions, not rationalize. Nathaniel B was writing about it very long time ago and mentioned its importance in self acceptance role as the most in self esteem, but maybe less clearly explained.

    • Thank you for your comments, Daniel. I agree with what you’re saying here–”self-esteem” as people think of it nowadays is more about self-confidence–the cognitive part of how we feel about ourselves–but without a deeper sense of self-worth, as you said, it’s “not the final path to the heart.” I also love Nathaniel Branden’s book on Self-Esteem; it’s one of the best as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Thank you too Christina ;) That’s amazing what you are doing, especially about pyramid conception of self worth. Very good and clear information. It seems you put a green light and rebooted what was missing. Topics like toxic shame what Brene Brown is writing and now you put your information are very important, cause these topics go hand in hand and are necessary to achieve real piece and stability :)

  4. Rida Zahid says:

    Ok so here I really found some good answers. Actually the topic being discussed here is my research topic or u can say a small research (thesis). As far as I think, self esteem is somehow dangerous or harmful to us as we it depends on how people assess us or what comments do we get from others. Its like if some one admires me,, then I feel real good and at the same time, if someone discourages or criticizes me, I feel horrible. So in both cases that is low and high self esteem where are my own believes and thoughts about myself? This is where I think self worth is more valuable, as it is not bases on satisfying ourselves by all means, in fact it is our acceptance to what we actually are either good or bad.. we accept ourslves and move on with it without thinking what others think of us.. Correct me If I m wrong anywhere.. It would be nice of you.. :)

    • Hello Rida, I apologize for not replying sooner. I’ve been swamped finishing my second book, on Self-Esteem actually, and haven’t replied in a while. Yes, I agree self-esteem can be harmful because when we “pursue” self-esteem, we focus on external, changeable things, like opinions of others or how we stack up against someone else. Self-worth is a deep sense of who we are and a knowledge that we are worthy and important, no matter what we say or do or others say about us. Yes, it is what we actually ARE, versus who we or others think we should be. You have definitely got it! I’m excited for your thesis research. I’d love to know if you come across any other material you find helpful in this area, or anything that might help me in my understanding and work with self-esteem. Best to you!

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