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],

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!
Be sure to check out Dr. Hibbert’s Amazon Bestseller, This is How We Grow
available now on!



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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?

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[1] Gordon B. Hinkley, I Believe, in Ensign, Aug. 1992.

5 Reasons “Self-Esteem” is a Myth

5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth, www.drchristinahibbert.comFor years, I have noticed that almost everyone who walks through my private practice door is really dealing with the same core issue: poor “self-esteem”. Whether struggling through depression, anxiety, addiction, relationship issues, parenting challenges, or even life stress, when we get to the core of the issue, it almost always has to do with some false feeling or belief about oneself.


This has had me wondering: “Why is it so hard to feel “self-esteem?” After all, it’s a hot topic; a Google search will return 76, 200,000 results! There is plenty of advice out there on how to “understand” self-esteem, “evaluate” self-esteem, and “improve” self-esteem, on teaching self-esteem to kids, teens, women, couples, grandparents! (OK, I didn’t see any on grandparents, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere). As one major psychology site said, “Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.”[1] And I agree.


Self-Esteem is a Myth

So, if we know “self-esteem” is a problem and we know there’s plenty out there to teach us how to overcome the “problem,” then, why does the problem so strongly persist? I see people all the time who have read these books and articles and have really tried; yet they still don’t feel self-esteem. They don’t believe they’re of worth.


Could the fact that so many people are struggling to feel “self-esteem” be a clue that something is not right? Because I can tell you, something isn’t right. In fact, I’ve come to see that the entire concept of “self-esteem” is not right. And that is the real problem: The very thing we are trying to pursue is a myth.


Allow Me to Explain

You may be thinking, “But wait?! Aren’t we supposed to pursue self-esteem? Aren’t we supposed to teach it to our kids and make sure we help others pursue it too? Isn’t it the way we learn to love ourselves?” Certainly, that’s what we’ve been taught. But what we’ve been taught is wrong. Allow me to explain.


First, let’s define “self-esteem”. According to dictionaries and even psychologists, Self-Esteem means:

1)   Belief in oneself; self-respect; undue pride or conceit[2]

2)   One’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth

3)   A judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self

4)   Encompasses beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and power of conviction about oneself[3]

5)   “Self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it.”[4]


Reading these definitions, it’s easy to see that “self-esteem,” while it sounds like a valuable and worthy goal, is based on one’s own thinking, perceptions, and emotions related to one’s own performance and behavior. And that’s where the problem lies.


5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth

We can never build a permanent sense of our own worth if we base our worth on things that are bound to change. This is why Self-Esteem is a myth:


1)   Self-esteem is based on what we do and how we behave.

If our worth is based on our performance or behavior, then we are bound to feel poorly about ourselves when our performance or behavior drops; and it will drop—it’s human nature. We are more than what we do and how we behave.


2)   Self-esteem is based on how we feel about ourselves.

Basing our worth on our emotions can never succeed, because emotions are fickle. Like clouds in the sky, they come and go according to the pressure in the air. Our emotions can also be false. We can feel like a “bad” person when that’s absolutely not the case. We are more than how we feel about ourselves.


3)   Self-esteem is based on what we think about ourselves.

While I believe self-evaluation is a positive tool for personal growth, we mustn’t base our worth on our thoughts and evaluations. Most of us have flawed thoughts running through our minds all day long, and many times we don’t even know they’re there! We are definitely more than what we think about ourselves.


4)   Self-esteem is based on how we’re doing compared to others.

We don’t just evaluate ourselves on how well we’re doing compared to our own potential (which is healthy); with self-esteem, we compare ourselves to others. It’s fine to compare to others at times if it helps us see something to work on or inspires us to grow, but usually comparing to others just makes us feel worse about ourselves. The truth is, no matter how great we are at any given thing, there will always be somebody smarter, faster, skinnier, braver, kinder, and more “talented”. That’s when the identity crisis hits. “I thought I was good at that, but now I’m not so sure.” We absolutely cannot base our own worth on what others do or don’t do.


5)   Self-esteem is based entirely on judgments, whether from others or from ourselves.

And nothing good can come of that. We are certainly more than we or anyone else judges us to be.



If Not Self-Esteem, Then What?

I hope it’s easy to understand, now, why self-esteem is so hard to obtain, why, like a sand castle, it’s so hard to maintain and so easy to 5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth, www.drchristinahibbert.comdestroy. It looks beautiful and sturdy, but one shift of the wind or tide and down it crashes.


Yes, we need to feel good about ourselves. Yes, we need to love ourselves. Yes, we deserve both of these. But the answer is not to be found in what we do, what we say, how we look, how we perform, what others or we believe, or how we feel. For, when we base our worth and love for ourselves on anything external, we will always fail. It may not happen right away, but it will.


Yes, “self-esteem” is a myth. What we really need to work for is discovering what is already within, discovering our self-worth.



Be sure to Check Out Part 2: “If Self-Esteem is a Myth, then what is the Truth?”: Understanding Self-Worth


Self-Esteem & Self-Worth

Discovering Self-Worth: Why is it so hard to Love Ourselves?

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

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


5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth, www.drchristinahibbert.comFor more on self-esteem & self-worth, join my  This is How We Grow Personal Growth Group!

FREE. Online. Growth. What more could you ask for?

Don’t miss a thing! 

SUBSCRIBE, below, “like” my Facebook pages (Dr. Christina HibbertThis Is How We Grow) and follow me on Twitter,Pinterest, & Instagram!

You may manage your subscription options from your profile



Related Posts/Articles:

[2] Webster’s Dictionary

[4] E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (2007), p. 107.