The Truth About Self-Esteem

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Low self-esteem is one of the most common problems that many people have. It is associated with confidence, social skills, sexual performance, relationships, and other aspects of life. There are hundreds of books, video programs, audio courses that have been created to help people increase their self-esteem. One of the key areas in the self-help industry is teaching people different techniques that can help them boost their self esteem.

However, the problem with boosting self-esteem as a motivational intervention, is that there are almost no findings that self-esteem causes anything at all. 1 Rather, self-esteem is caused by a combination of successes and failures. What needs improving is not self-esteem but improvement of our skills for dealing with the world.

Increasing your self-esteem does not improve your social skills or job performance. Self-esteem is more of a scorecard or a scoreboard that shows how well or how poorly things are going. You can think of your self-esteem as mainly a consequence of increasing achievement-related successes and failures.

Increasing your self-esteem does not produce corresponding increase in your achievements; rather, increases in achievement produce corresponding increases in self-esteem. Self-esteem reflects how your life is going, but it is not the source of motivation that allows you to improve your life. There is simply no evidence that boosting people’s self-esteem will improve their functioning in life. The real benefit of high self-esteem is that it helps you cope better against negative mood states such as depression and anxiety.

People with inflated self-views are much more likely to display aggression and acts of violence when their favorable self-views are threatened.

Trying to be happy does not get you very far. Rather, happiness is a byproduct of life’s satisfactions, triumphs, and positive relationships. Self-esteem exists as an end product of your ability to be adaptive and productive. If you want to improve your self-esteem, focus on improving different areas of your psychological well-being:

  • Self-acceptance
  • Positive interpersonal relationships
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose in life
  • Personal growth

It is also important to understand that self-esteem is something that comes from within and that your physical attributes or material things can only create an illusion of self-esteem. Who you are as a person is more important than the kind of clothing you wear or the model of the car you drive. Here is a simple exercise that can help you improve your self-esteem. Make two lists:

List 1 - “I like myself because…”

  • Think about your internal qualities
  • What is unique about your personality
  • Are you kind, compassionate, persistent, intelligent, brace?
  • Are you a good friend, husband, mother, or father?

List 2 - “I like… about myself”

  • Think about your external qualities
  • What is something that you like about your body
  • Your behavior
  • Your hobbies, interests, talents, passions, skills
  • What do other people notice in you that is positive

This exercise is designed to help you reflect on yourself as a unique person with unique characteristics and skills. This can be a first step to accepting and appreciating yourself as you are. Here are some examples to get you started:

Example 1

Example 2


  1. Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 

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