A Brief Introduction to Self-Esteem

Self-esteem means different things to different people.  Even among psychotherapists, there is no universal definition of self-esteem.

My personal definition of self-esteem is one that I hope registers as self-evident and natural.  By “self-esteem”, I mean much more than that innate sense of self-worth that presumably is our human birthright – that spark that psychotherapists and teachers seek to fan in those they work with.  That spark is only the anteroom to self-esteem.

Self-esteem, fully realized, is the awareness that we are equal to the obstacles placed in front of us.  Self-esteem is confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life, and confidence in our right to be successful and happy.  People with appropriate levels of self-esteem are assured in their right to feel worthy, enjoy the fruits of their efforts, and assert their needs and wants.

Happy Young Man

While lacking among far too many people in our society, self-esteem is not merely a luxury- it is a need.  A need is something we require to function effectively.  We do not merely want food and water, we need them; without them, we die.

At the same time, we have other nutritional needs (such as the need for calcium) with less dramatic impacts on our lives. In some regions of Mexico, the soil contains no calcium; the inhabitants of these regions do not perish outright, but their growth is stunted, they are generally debilitated and they are prey to many diseases to which the lack of calcium makes them highly susceptible.  They are impaired in their ability to function.

Self-esteem is a need analogous to calcium, rather than food or water.  Lacking it to a serious degree, we do not necessarily die, but we are impaired in our ability to function.  We may not need self-esteem to survive, but we do need it to thrive. 

To say that self-esteem is a need is to say that it makes an essential contribution to the life process.  That it is indispensable to normal and healthy development.  That it has survival value.