Self-Worth vs. Self-Esteem

The words self-worth and self-esteem are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Self-esteem is what we get from other people. We determine how we feel about ourselves based on the feedback other people give us and also the messages we take away from that feedback. If you walk into a room and someone immediately starts shouting at you, instead of thinking, “Whoa, they’re having a bad day,” or some other appropriate response, the first thing we automatically do is a quick mental check to see if we can determine what we did wrong. In other words, even though whatever upset them is the other person’s problem, we immediately assume it’s ours. If enough people respond to us in the same manner, we begin to believe there is something wrong with us.


If enough people respond to us in the same manner, we begin to believe there is something wrong with us.


Sometimes we get negatively branded by other people, and we live up to their expectations for us. I knew a young boy who was coming into a class I taught. He was 5 years old, but the teachers who had worked with him before all told me he was a terrible child, a troublemaker, and predicted that he would be the worst kid in my class. The first day I taught the class, sure enough, this little boy began to act out. I asked him to come with me outside the room. The expression on his face showed that he expected he was in trouble, and he looked belligerent.

I knelt down to his level, and said, “I know you’re a good boy. I know you’re really smart, and probably already know everything I’m teaching, but some of the other kids in the classroom don’t know as much as you do. Would you please be my helper and help me teach the other children?”

Delighted and relieved, he agreed.

The change that came over him was remarkable. Keeping his behavior under control always remained a struggle for him, but all I had to do was look him in the eye and gently ask, “Do you remember our agreement?” and he would settle down and become very helpful. That question still worked when he was age 12 and again at age 16 in other classes I was teaching. The other teachers were unable to figure out why he was so good in my class, and was a handful in theirs.


The way we feel about ourselves can resemble a roller coaster based on the feedback of others – some days we feel OK or good about ourselves, and some days we feel really bad.


That’s an example of how self-esteem is guided by the input of other people. The way we feel about ourselves can resemble a roller coaster based on the feedback of others – some days we feel OK or good about ourselves, and some days we feel really bad. Our self-esteem is constantly changing.

Our self-worth, on the other hand, never changes. Your value as a person is immeasurable. You are unique and priceless. There is not anyone else in the world that is quite like you. You are a precious creation, just because you’re you.

As an example, most of us would be thrilled if we found a $100 bill in our pocket. We would most likely wonder where it came from, but we would not look at it and think, “Oh, I don’t want this filthy old thing. What if someone used it for a drug deal once upon a time, or to purchase something illegally? It’s not worth anything to me because of what it’s been through in the past.”

We would not judge the $100, or wonder if it has any value – we would be excited and happy and it would be worth $100 to us. Even if it had been used for something we don’t approve of once, it doesn’t lower the value. It isn’t suddenly worth only $25 because of what it was used for.


No one can put a price tag on a person, because our value cannot be purchased with anything on earth.


That’s what our self-worth is like. No one can put a price tag on a person, because our value cannot be purchased with anything on earth. You are the most valuable person in the world – as is everyone else in the world. You may have made mistakes, but you can always choose to change and be a better person. Once you truly understand that you are precious and priceless, no one can rattle the way you feel about yourself. You will understand that you and everyone around you are of inestimable value, and it will change your life. It will change the way you treat yourself, and the way you interact with others.

It is the most empowering knowledge in the world.

About the Author

Michelle Nagel

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Michelle Nagel is the founder and president of Soul Shift, Inc and the author of Out of the Darkness, Into the Light. Michelle travels widely, sharing her profound insights about moving beyond the invisible thoughts that keep us stuck.