The Problem with Self-Esteem and Why You Should Focus on Self-Worth Instead


In this episode of The Unconditionally Worthy Podcast, I explain the difference between self-esteem and self-worth and why that’s an important and impactful distinction. I share my experience with high self-esteem and low self-worth so that you might be able to recognize if you’re facing some of the same challenges that duo causes. Then, I provide you with a powerful strategy you can use to practice connecting with your self-worth. 

With all of this societal focus on self-confidence and self-esteem, there’s not enough emphasis on the importance of focusing on how we actually feel about ourselves. Self-worth helps us to explore those deeper feelings. 

For me, I was super comfortable and confident in academics. I did well, so my self-esteem was high. Though, when I didn’t do well, I was crushed because I didn’t have that foundation of strong self-worth to support my sense of self. It was hard to move on from failure and mistakes because those moments made me feel unworthy of success and achievement. 

To get into graduate school, I needed to take the GRE test. As much as I prepared, when it came to test day, I was extremely anxious. All of my high-self esteem did not carry over to this moment, which was very distracting! Once I got my score, I did not have a good feeling about being able to get into grad school. I felt upset and like I needed to give up that goal. In a way, I felt like that score reflected who I was. Yikes!

One challenge with self-esteem is that when we accomplish something, we feel on top of the world… but this feeling never lasts because it’s not supported by the power of self-worth. So, you end up pursuing one accomplishment after another, like running on a treadmill with self-worth dangling in front of you, just barely out of your reach. It’s exhausting!

Another challenge is when we rely on our self-esteem, we end up in a toxic, conditional relationship with ourselves. We like ourselves when we’re succeeding, but when we’re struggling, we become harsh and self-critical. Who wants to be in a relationship like that?!

Have you experienced something similar?

Self-esteem vs. Self-worth

Self-esteem is based on our abilities, accomplishments, social position, and things we believe we can achieve. We can bolster self-esteem by learning new skills and improving our performance and it goes up and down based on how we’re doing in certain areas of our life. Self-esteem has a place in our lives, but it’s on the surface of how we see ourselves and what we do in the world. 

Unconditional self-worth is distinct from our abilities and accomplishments. If we never accomplish anything or never reach our goals, unconditional self-worth remains. It’s not about comparing ourselves to other people. You can’t have more or less of self-worth. Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for, and to take up space just because you’re human.

Tending to and strengthening your unconditional self-worth is making sure you are grounded and nourished where you need it most. That way, even in the winter months of your life when you can’t bear fruits, you still stand tall and strong, knowing you are worthy.

When I learned to connect to my unconditional self-worth, I no longer relied on my self-esteem to bolster my confidence. I was more resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks and I was able to focus more on who I wanted to be in the world, rather than what I wanted to do. I now have a foundation of self-assurance and calmness that was always missing on the rollercoaster of self-esteem.

Do I still get disappointed if something doesn’t go well? Yes, I’m human! Even though I feel disappointed, I don’t feel crushed by it because I do not feel my worth is dependent on me getting everything right. I have developed a loving and supporting relationship with myself no matter what is going on in my life… and you can too! 

“Right now, can you make an unconditional relationship with yourself – just at the height you are, the weight you are, with the intelligence that you have, and your current burden of pain – can you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?” – Pema Chödrön

When you have unconditional self-worth, you have the freedom to be.

We are human beings, not human doings.

The sense of presence and being alive comes from just being. Of course, you can’t stop doing things, but you can shift your focus from the outcome to the process. 

One way I connect to my unconditional self-worth is through meditation. The beauty of meditation is that you don’t have to do it right or be an expert at it, you just have to show up and be there. It’s about creating space to be in the present moment without effort, struggle, striving, or judgement. 

Let’s practice together!

Tune in to this episode at [19:20] to join me in a short mindfulness meditation practice.


Insight Timer is a great app WITH thousands of free guided meditations if you’d like to further explore meditation:

Blog Post: 5 Strategies to Tap into the Transformative Power of Meditation 

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