Self-esteem is shaped by your thoughts, relationships and experiences. Understand the ranges of self-esteem and the benefits of promoting healthy self-esteem — including mental well-being, assertiveness, resilience and more. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you honestly feel about your abilities and limitations. When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and see yourself as deserving the respect of others. When you have low self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You might constantly worry that you aren't "good enough."

Discussions about self-esteem often are centered on children. However, many adults could benefit from improving their self-esteem. Here's how to tell if your self-esteem needs a boost and why it's important to develop a healthy sense of your own worth.

Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:

  • Your own thoughts and perceptions
  • How other people react to you
  • Experiences at school, work and in the community
  • Illness, disability or injury
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Role and status in society

Relationships with those close to you — parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts — are especially important to your self-esteem. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you've received from these people over time. If your close relationships are strong and you receive generally positive feedback, you're more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have healthier self-esteem. If you receive mostly negative feedback and are often criticized, teased or devalued by others, you're more likely to struggle with poor self-esteem.

Still, your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact on self-esteem — and these thoughts are within your control. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can learn to reframe negative thoughts and focus instead on your positive qualities.

Self-esteem tends to fluctuate over time, depending on your circumstances. It's normal to go through times when you feel down — or especially good — about yourself. Generally, however, self-esteem stays in a range that reflects how you feel about yourself overall. Consider how to recognize the extremes, as well as a healthy balance somewhere in between:

  • Overly high self-esteem. If you regard yourself more highly than others do, you might have an unrealistically positive view of yourself. When you have an inflated sense of self-esteem, you often feel superior to those around you. Such feelings can lead you to become arrogant or self-indulgent and believe that you deserve special privileges.
  • Low self-esteem. When you have low or negative self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You focus on your perceived weaknesses and faults and give scant credit to your skills and assets. You believe that others are more capable or successful. You might be unable to accept compliments or positive feedback. You might fear failure, which can hold you back from succeeding at work or school.
  • Healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem lies between these two extremes. It means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws. When you understand your own worth, you invite the respect of others.

When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile and have generally positive relationships with others. You feel confident about your abilities and tend to do well at school or work. You're also open to learning and feedback, which can help you acquire and master new skills.

With healthy self-esteem you're:

  • Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions
  • Confident in your ability to make decisions
  • Able to form secure and honest relationships — and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
  • Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others
  • More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks
  • Less likely to experience feelings such as hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and shame
  • Less likely to develop mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, addictions, depression and anxiety

Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn't about blowing your own horn. It's about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all.

Jul. 23, 2011