There are many examples of words that mean one thing to us, and convey other meanings to others. The classic is the soundbite style sample from Star Trek, “It’s life, Jim, but not life as we know it”.

I believe that this has happened with the meaning of the word “self-esteem” and several similar sounding words. In fact, a search on Google shows that for many, ideas like self-esteem, self-image, self–confidence, are treated as if they are exactly the same thing.

I respectfully suggest we may now usefully differentiate these between the words of “self-esteem” and “self-worth”. Self-esteem is different to self-worth. Self-esteem means what we think of ourselves. Other-esteem means what others think of us. The waters can get muddied in that sometimes our self-esteem is not actually what we think of ourselves, but instead its actually our estimate of what others think of ourselves (or to put it another way, it’s our estimate of other-esteem).

For the moment though let’s assume self-esteem is simply what we think of ourselves.

Typically, people associate high self-esteem with more favorable results. Thus tactics to raise self-esteem are suggested as the way to raise financial status. Self-esteem tends to be buttressed by external attribute or external achievement. Self-worth however means an internal sense of worth that is independent of external achievement or attribute.

When you first look at the difference between self-worth and self-esteem, you can see there is often an overlap.  For example, are you going to the gym because of self-worth or because of self-esteem? The key may be the intention behind something. Self-esteem will be approval based on doing or being the right thing, something external. Self-worth is doing something because you want. A friend cites the difference as “Self-esteem is walking down the street like you own it, self-worth is walking down the street, and not caring who owns it.” The “not caring” is not meant as a wanton repudiation of societal norms, or deliberate anarchism. Instead it means deriving a sense self-worth that is rooted in a sense of inner worth that is unconditional.

In other words, doing something because of fear is likely be self-esteem, whereas doing it because you feel worth it, is more likely to be about self-worth. Discussion with others about the distinction has led to emerging ideas about what is important and what is not.