Healthy Self-esteem vs. High Self-esteem — and what does it really mean?

Self-esteem is such a hot topic. How we let it affect our lives, how self-esteem is affected by social media and other mediums — this issue never seems to fade.

But let’s look at the greater importance of self-esteem in terms of a healthy self-esteem against a high self-esteem — what does it really mean?

To understand more about the journey of self-esteem let’s look back in history to not so long ago.

In the late 1960s, we saw the birth of the “self-esteem movement”. In 1969, American psychologist Nathaniel Branden wrote a pioneering paper entitled “The Psychology of Self-Esteem”. Branden’s idea was that high self-esteem was the most valuable gift we could give our children, and as this thought vaulted into our consciousness, the education system and parenting began to change.

Gaining global momentum by the eighties and nineties, the parents who embraced these efforts — myself included — did so with the best of intentions. We wanted to raise our children as far away from the strict discipline we had grown up with and loathed. They would have the best of both worlds. But at what cost?

Many children born in the eighties and nineties have grown up believing they can do no wrong. As parents, we tended to avoid criticism and looked for every possible reason, even no reason at all, to praise our children. For fear of damaging a child’s self-esteem, some schools even went as far as handing out ribbons to every child in a sports race so as not to offend the ones who did not win a place. This still happens in some schools to this day. With all good intentions, we shielded our children from the challenges of life and insulated them from experiences that encouraged growth and self-respect. They had high self-esteem, but was it healthy?

Jump forward another 20 years to the birth and subsequent obsession with social media. “Friends”, “followers”, and “likes” are taking over our lives. The cyber world is increasingly causing us to maintain a distorted sense of our own self-importance and relevance — the “selfie” epidemic has truly taken over. Ask yourself honestly, do you place value on how many people “like” a photo? Do you personally know all of your 2700 “friends”? Or is the number the important thing?

Does Facebook, for instance, enhance your self-esteem or does the popular method of connecting with people and “making friends”, actually detract from a strong sense of self and promote narcissistic behaviour? There appears to be conflicting perceptions and evidence regarding this all important question.

Leading Australian Clinical Psychologist and self-esteem advocate Dr Lars Madsen believes a healthy self-esteem is necessary for a person’s self-worth, and evidence suggests that too much artificial self-esteem (such as that provided through social media), can lead to depression and an overall decreased sense of self-worth. Research shows that high self-esteem can lead to the same pitfalls as low self-esteem. By taking high self-esteem bolstering efforts too far, such as praise not earned, it is possible for individuals to develop narcissism. Children should be taught motivation, dedication and perseverance in the development of a healthy self-esteem. By learning these skills, they can make themselves feel good instead of relying on outside sources to boost self-worth.

Dr Lars Madsen believes there are many benefits of having a Healthy Self-Esteem:

  1. You are more secure in who you are and what you have to offer the world.
  2. You are able to see the good in others and in the world around you.
  3. You are able to move on from the past and experience joy in the present.
  4. You are able to overcome adversity and setbacks more easily.
  5. You are able to forgive yourself and others.
  6. You have a clear sense of your own values, worth, integrity, and character.
  7. You take better care of your physical and mental health.
  8. You are able to develop a positive philosophy of life and live by that philosophy.
  9. You are more optimistic, happier, and able to give of yourself to others.
  10. You are able to take responsibility for your own thoughts, actions, and indeed, your life.

So where to from here? Anneli Rufus, author of Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, believes that we should all strive for compassionate, achievement-based, and reality-based self-acceptance. And like many others, Dr Lars Madsen also believes we should be striving for a healthy self-esteem — not a high self-esteem generated through artificial means.

Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation The MindShift Foundation. Resources about preventative mental health can be found on the MindShift website

Originally published at