Low Self Esteem

Low self esteem seems to be one of the most devastating psychological conditions alive. Millions of people struggle with low self esteem, as it sabotages their people skills, their social lives, their careers and almost every other area of their existence.

Overcoming low self esteem can be done successfully. I’m going to touch on this subject shortly, but first I want to help you get a better understanding of what self esteem is and what causes its altitude. I believe it is only armed with such knowledge that you can take effective action.

What Is Self Esteem?

Psychologists define self-esteem as a person’s overall evaluation of his or her own person and the resulting feelings towards his or her person.

Therefore, as one can deduce, low self esteem means a low evaluation of one’s own person and the associated negative feelings towards oneself.

If that doesn’t tell you much, don’t worry; it doesn’t tell anybody. The art is in the details of self esteem. One such essential detail relates to the sources and forms of self esteem.

Conditional Self Esteem

For many years, the dominating view in psychology was that as a personal evaluation, self esteem is dependent on a person’s competence, effectiveness and likeability. The subsequent consequences of this view were simple:

  • If you are a seasoned and competent professional, then you have high self esteem. If you are just a novice, then you have low self esteem.
  • If you achieve success and performance in what you do, then you have high self esteem. If you fail, then you have low self esteem.
  • If other people praise you and they like you, then you have high self esteem. If they criticize you and reject you, then you have low self esteem.

Self esteem is thus a slave to the external and internal conditions of our lives. The more we improve these conditions, the better we can see ourselves and feel about ourselves.

There is however an alternative view on self-esteem emerging in psychology in the last years, a view I am in consent with as a coach with a background in psychology. According to this view, what I have described above is just one side of self esteem, meaning conditional self esteem.

But, there is also another side: the unconditional one.

Unconditional Self Esteem

This is the real crown jewel. Unconditional self esteem is not dependent upon anything. You may change, your life may change, but it is not affected by any of this.

Unconditional self esteem is not based on your achievements, your skills or how other people see you. It comes from realizing and embracing your intrinsic value as a human being.

When you comprehend that your worth stretches beyond what you do, what you own, what you are capable of, and how others see you, than you have unconditional self esteem.

I believe confidently that this is a much more powerful form of self esteem to have. It’s an inner force and drive that you can always count on, no matter the stupid things that you sometimes do as a human or that sometimes happen in your life.

It’s like your very own 500HP car that never runs out of gas.

Low Self Esteem Redefined

Now, with this new understanding, let’s look at what is low self esteem again.

Through the conditional perspective, low self esteem means an evaluation of your own overall competence, effectiveness and likeability as being poor. Here’s the key point: conditional low self esteem is not all bad.

Many people horribly underestimate themselves and thus, they end up with low self esteem that damages their lives. This is bad. However, a very good but unrealistic image of yourself is also bad practically, as it leads to poor decisions and childish choices.

In addition, there is some solid research today that points out how people with high conditional self esteem are often narcissistic and antisocial in their behavior. Not the kind of folks you want at your Christmas table.

Low unconditional self esteem on the other hand is always bad. It is a reflection of your inability to see your inner worth.

When your unconditional self esteem is high though, it means you see your inner worth with clarity. A lot of scientific research links this to more success, to better health and in combination with good people skills, to better relationships.

Overcoming Low Self Esteem

All this discussion has also been a huge overture to a few key points I want to make on overcoming low self esteem:

1. Before anything else, think carefully if your low self esteem is based on a faulty self image or not. It may be just a sign that you’re not growing or that you’re selling yourself short.

2. If you conclude that your low self esteem is indeed based on a faulty self image, then you overcome it by becoming more aware of your strengths, your successes and the people who like you (the conditional side) or your intrinsic value (the unconditional side).

3. Changing a false self-image can only be done effectively by gradually changing your automatic thinking about yourself. This is what you want to focus on. When the way you talk to yourself habitually improves, your self esteem improves with it.

In whatever ways you handle low self esteem, do not ignore the unconditional side of it. Competence and performance are all good, but they do not define you. There is a deep bright light inside of you and it shines unconditionally.

Image courtesy of vernhart


  1. Great article Eduard. I think self-esteem also comes when we are more accepting of our shortfalls, but we also have faith that we can overcome these obstacles. By thinking of self-esteem in this way it becomes less outcome dependent, and more a state of mind.

    • Hey Steve,

      I frequently notice a correlation between low self esteem and the demand to be perfect, which is what usually makes people not accept their shortfalls. When this is the case, it is something that needs to be dealt with as well in overcoming low self esteem.

  2. Hi Eduard. The description of conditional self esteem doesn’t seem like high self esteem at all. I view high self-esteem as a view of yourself that is positive and accepting regardless of other people or external factors. That, of course, is what you’ve described as unconditional self-esteem.

    There are many successful people who are admired by others, yet they still suffer from low self esteem. On the other hand, there are people who are considered average (or underachievers) by society, yet their view of self (self-esteem) is great.

    • Hi Nea,

      Most of the time, I don’t really use the terms conditional and unconditional self esteem. I use ‘confidence’ for the first one and plain ‘self esteem’ for the second. In this view, confidence is dependent upon various factors (skills, approval etc) and can fluctuate with them, whereas self esteem is not.

  3. Hey Ed. I can agree with what your saying apart from the part on criticism. Criticism can be destructive whoever most of the time it’s not a personal attack.

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