Self-esteem, self-worth, self-concept, self-confidence…how does one keep all the definitions straight? If we have children, we want the best for them. This includes wanting them to have a positive view of themselves as they develop and age. This post will educate parents, educators, and everyone on the difference between self-esteem and self-worth, and how our digital habits affect them.
By educating ourselves, we can tell the young people in our lives that they are worthy, no matter what, and their self-worth is not dependent on the clothes they wear or the choices they make. Self-worth is constant and unchanging! Our self-esteem, though, is constantly being challenged every day, and our social media, screen time, and devices feed into that challenge. Read on to find out more.
Self-Esteem Vs Self-Worth…Are They The Same?
This definition by Dr. Christina Hibbert, best-selling author, memoirist, and clinical psychologist who speaks on this topic regularly, defines these two phrases perfectly:
Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves.
Self-worth is recognizing “I am greater than all of those things”.
Said another way, self-esteem is how we evaluate ourselves; self-worth is our true belief of ourselves regardless of our evaluation.
So how does this work? Can we have one without the other?
Dr. Christina continues:
It is possible to feel “high self-esteem,”…yet still not feel convinced that I am loveable and worthy. Self-esteem doesn’t last or “work” without self-worth.
For further research on self-esteem vs self-worth, we suggest this article from Positive Psychology.
The Different Types of Self-Esteem
For the purposes of this article, we want to focus on self-esteem before we dig deeper into self-worth.
Many agree that self-esteem can be generally characterized into two categories: low or high.
A study in 2002 asked school counselors to list five characteristics that best describe students with low self-esteem. Over 1000 words were used and the most common are listed below:
- Negative (attitude)
- Socially inept
- Poor self-image
- Lacks self-confidence
- Poor communication
- Acts out
For high self-esteem, Positive Psychology says:
We know that people with high self-esteem:
- Appreciate themselves and other people.
- Enjoy growing as a person and finding fulfillment and meaning in their lives.
- Are able to dig deep within themselves and be creative.
- Make their own decisions and conform to what others tell them to be and do only when they agree.
- See the word in realistic terms, accepting other people the way they are while pushing them toward greater confidence and a more positive direction.
- Can easily concentrate on solving problems in their lives.
- Have loving and respectful relationships.
- Know what their values are and live their lives accordingly.
- Speak up and tell others their opinions, calmly and kindly, and share their wants and needs with others.
- Endeavor to make a constructive difference in other people’s lives (Smith & Harte, n.d.).
What Affects Our Self-Esteem?
Many things can affect our self-esteem: our childhood, society, acne, our weight, and yes, even our social media.
But what affects one person’s self-esteem might not affect another, or another as much. Your self-esteem might fluctuate too. It can change based on an experience, a trauma, or a season.
So how does social media play into this conversation? Let’s find out.
How Social Media Affects Our Self-Esteem…And Possibly Our Self-Worth
Social media fuels social competition. Competition creates winners and losers. The self-esteem of both suffers. -Quote Source
This transparent quote reminds us that we all have likely fallen for the myth of social media statistics equating our self-esteem, and in turn, our self-worth. Do a quick self-check and ask yourself the question “Does my social media have an impact on my self-esteem?”
- Have you ever posted a photo of yourself on social media and received a large amount of likes, as in more than a normal amount? How did you feel? How do you think your kids and/or young people in your life feel?
- What if that same photo only received a few likes, much less than usual? Would you remove the photo? What do you think your kids or young people in your life would do?
- Have you ever wondered if your followers just “didn’t see your post” because you received few likes? What do you think your kids wonder about?
- Do you regularly compare your follower count to other people’s? Do you think your kids do?
- Have you ever felt envious or jealous of certain people based on a post of theirs? What feelings do you think your kids have?
Now, reflect on your answers and ask yourself: Do my answers to the above questions make me feel less worthy? Make me feel that I have less value than say, someone else? This might take some thinking. This might make you uncomfortable. It might remind you of someone (a coach, a mentor, a therapist, a safe friend) who told you that you were valuable and special, and yet the inner voice in your head said it wasn’t true. This is an example of your self-esteem affecting your self-worth. We can do the same exercise answering the questions through the eyes of our kids or other young people in our lives.
If we remember back to the beginning of the article, self-esteem is based on what one thinks of oneself. It isn’t the same as what one’s actual worth is, but often they are intertwined.
What The Experts Say About Social Media’s Impact on Self-Esteem
Researchers have wondered, questioned, and analyzed social media’s impact on our self-esteem.
There are many studies to reference, but this study clearly states what many conclude: “Our findings indicate that social comparison [on Instagram] significantly decreases self-esteem….When users perceive that they are different from the norms, they are likely to have a negative evaluation of themselves, which motivates them to make changes to follow expectations and values of the referent group. Also, with the diffuse-avoidant style, social media users choose to ignore online voices, as a way to protect their self-images. However, such avoidance in the long term would isolate people from online communities, lowering their self-esteem.”
It is important to recognize that just because you are on social media or use social media platforms does not mean you are inherently going to develop low self-esteem or “catch a low self-esteem bug”. If your kids are on social media or have a device, this doesn’t mean they are inherently going to develop low self-esteem either. In fact, some people report feeling motivated by seeing other people’s success, and that it motivates them to improve themselves. Many “digital natives” (aka young people) explain how social media and the Internet have helped them form meaningful connections.
But, study after study has found a clear correlation between social media use and a decrease in self-esteem.
What About Other Types of Device Use (Besides Social Media)?
For those who do not use social media apps, you might be surprised to learn about the concept called Problematic Smartphone Use, otherwise known as PSU. It is explained here:
The concept of PSU mainly derives from two similar concepts. “Problematic mobile phone use” is a term and concept found in recent literature and reports published before the smartphone boom, and “problematic internet use” or “internet addiction” is a concept that has provided theoretical and methodological support for studies on PSU -Source
Many studies, including this one by Chen Li, Dong Lui, and Yan Dong, explain PSU impedes healthy development in adolescence, and concerns are growing about the possible correlations on personality, emotion, and interpersonal relationships.
Further studies have linked self-esteem and PSU as follows:
- Low self-esteem is a risk factor of PSU
- PSU has adverse effects which can lead to low self-esteem
In other words, using a smartphone is considered an experiential avoidance strategy to divert aversive emotional content. However, experiential avoidance is ineffective for achieving that outcome, and, instead, it has adverse consequences (Kim et al., 2015; Chou et al., 2018).
Have you ever wondered if you have an appropriate level of attachment to your cell phone, devices, or screen time? We suggest taking our device control quiz below to find out.
How To Build Self-Esteem…Or Self-Worth
Looping back to Dr. Christina Hibbert’s interview which we opened the article with, building self-esteem is when we work on being better at this or that. And, if we succeed, our self-esteem should go up; if we fail, our self-esteem will go down.
Because of this, she suggests instead focusing on building our self-worth because it is not attached to successes or failures. We encourage you to work on this with your children too.
Even though I feel the pain of failure, if I have self-worth, I still know I am valuable, capable, and “good”. That’s why I believe we need to work on knowing our self-worth rather than increasing our “self-esteem”.
To build a stronger foundation of self-esteem, many people suggest the following:
- Self-help books,
- Self-help podcasts
- And more
And these are great initiatives.
But self-worth is a deeper part of ourselves. To build a stronger foundation of self-worth, try these things:
- Provide yourself (and others) unconditional love, respect, and positive regard
- Challenge your inner voice when it criticizes you
- Increase your self-understanding
You can find worksheets and activities for these things in this article by Positive Psychology.
If you are still confused about self-esteem vs self-worth, these myths might further your understanding. These myths are taken from Positive Psychology and they summarize what our self-worth is NOT based on:
- Your to-do list: Achieving goals is great and it feels wonderful to cross off things on your to-do list, but it doesn’t have a direct relationship with your worth as a human;
- Your job: It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you do it well and that it fulfills you;
- Your social media following: It also doesn’t matter how many people think you are worthy of a follow or a retweet. It can be enlightening and healthy to consider the perspectives of others, but their opinions have no impact on our innate value;
- Your age: You aren’t too young or too old for anything. Your age is simply a number and does not factor into your value as a human being;
- Other people: As noted above, it doesn’t matter what other people think or what other people have done or accomplished. Your personal satisfaction and fulfillment are much more important than what others are thinking, saying, or doing;
- How far you can run: Your mile run time is one of the least important factors for your self-worth (or for anything else, for that matter). If you enjoy running and feel fulfilled by improving your time, good for you! If not, good for you! Your ability to run does not determine your self-worth;
- Your grades: We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and some of us are simply not cut out for class. This has no bearing on our value as people, and a straight-A student is just as valuable and worthy as a straight-F student or a dropout;
- The number of friends you have: Your value as a human has absolutely nothing to do with how many friends or connections you have. The quality of your relationships is what’s really important;
- Your relationship status: Whether flying solo, casually dating, or in a committed relationship, your value is exactly the same—your relationship status doesn’t alter your worth;
- The money (or lack thereof) in the bank: If you have enough money to physically survive (which can, in fact, be $0), then you have already achieved the maximal amount of “worth” you can get from money (hint: it’s 0!);
- Your likes: It doesn’t matter if you have “good taste” or not, if your friends and acquaintances think you’re sophisticated, or if you have an eye for the finer things. Your worth is the same either way.
- Anything or anyone but yourself: Here we get to the heart of the matter—you are the only one who determines your self-worth. If you believe you are worthy and valuable, you are worthy and valuable. Even if you don’t believe you are worthy and valuable, guess what—you still are worthy and valuable!
We encourage you to think about other myths that you or your children might believe. Remember, your worth is constant and unchanging. Your children’s worth is constant and unchanging. It is our self-esteem which is constantly challenged.
Conclusion: Social media can affect your self-esteem. But your self-worth is what you should be aiming to improve. Your self-worth should be based on BEING rather than DOING.
Don’t take it from us though, Dr. Christina Hibbert concludes her interview with this beautiful statement:
Ask yourself, “What if I really were of worth? What if I could feel that I am valuable and lovable and good, deep down?” It’s not easy, but don’t let someone who hasn’t been living up to their potential prevent you from living up to yours. Let yourself begin to believe.
So next time you are on your device, take a moment to pause. Ask yourself how you are feeling about your self-worth, not just your self-esteem. Have this discussion with your children, with young people in your lives who are growing up in a digital world. When we recognize, understand, and tune into the deeper part of ourselves (our self-worth), we will develop a healthier and higher regard for ourselves (our self-esteem) and we can encourage others to do the same.
How To Evaluate Your Self-Worth
Measurement scales are available and valuable in certain settings and under the review of medical and psychiatric professionals, but your evaluation of self-worth can and should come from you and the safe people in your life. Ask those around you what they see in your habits and behaviors, and even what they see in your device-use. Self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth are measurable, and it starts with YOU.
If you enjoyed this article, you can continue to learn and explore by viewing all of iRespect&Protect’s Digital Wellbeing posts.
Guindon, M. H. (2002). Toward Accountability in the Use of the Self‐Esteem Construct. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 204-214.
McLeod, S. A. (2012). Low self esteem. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-esteem.html