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9 Signs of Healthy Self-Esteem

high self-esteem jumperWhat do you think of a person who always speaks well of others? Does she have high or low self-esteem?

You could argue that in order to speak well of others, one must think highly enough of oneself not to be threatened by other people’s excellence. Such a person could be thought to enjoy healthy self-esteem.

On the other hand, you might say that a person who always speaks highly of others is a people-pleaser who suffers from low self-esteem. So which is it?

A single trait or behavior by itself isn’t a good indicator of self-esteem. But having said that, here are a few qualities to consider as at least potential signs of high self-esteem…

Possible Signs of High Self-Esteem

1. Inviting intimacy

I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about sharing our authentic selves.

Sharing ourselves with others feels dangerous if we fear we won’t measure up. Low self-esteem makes us feel too vulnerable to let others get close. But high self-esteem says it’s okay for people to see who we really are — we’re worth a look.

While many people with a poor self-image may fiercely pursue relationships, true intimacy is often lacking.

2. Actively seeking work you enjoy

There are reasons why people stay in jobs they hate. Most people will say they feel stuck, and for some, the options are genuinely limited by circumstances.

But for every person who is actually trapped in a job he or she doesn’t like, there are a dozen more who stay in unsatisfying jobs through sheer inertia.

High self-esteem encourages us to reach for the stars, not because we’re so great, or better than other people, but because we know it’s perfectly natural to want to be satisfied and productive at work.

3. Valuing honesty in self and others

People with low self-esteem may use dishonesty to protect themselves or others from some real or imagined consequence of telling the truth.

Those with high self-esteem know that they can hack the consequences of telling the truth, if need be. Dishonesty and self-esteem are like oil and water.

Being a basically honest person takes no effort when you have integrity, which correlates with healthy self-esteem.

4. Accepting responsibility for the quality of your life

People with high self-esteem tend to have what’s called an “internal locus of control.” This means that they believe in their own ability to influence the course and character of their lives.

The opposite of an internal locus of control is an external locus of control, which asserts that life is like a lottery; you just get sick, fired, or hit by a bus because of circumstance, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Obviously, sometimes bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own. But getting a flu shot, changing your work habits at the first sign that the boss is unhappy, and looking both ways before crossing the street are things you can do if you want to take responsibility for your life.

5. Caring about your physical health

Appropriate concern for your physical health is a sign of self-esteem because such concern is only possible if you value yourself.

To neglect, abuse or otherwise mistreat your own body is to refuse responsibility for the quality of your life.

Please note that you can’t always tell who cares about their health just by looking at them; some people who appear healthy are careless with themselves, and many people who don’t meet society’s standards for a “healthy” appearance are diligent in their self-care.

6. Liking children

This one’s complex and controversial. Some people who don’t like children might just be partial to logic, quiet, or germlessness.

But for many folks who don’t like kids, it’s because being around kids puts them in touch with parts of themselves that feel small, weak or vulnerable.

Often these people were treated without enough empathy when they were children themselves. They learned that kids don’t matter, or that they’re annoying, stupid, etc.

You can’t enjoy healthy self-esteem if you don’t value and embrace all parts of yourself, including the injured child inside.

7. Avoiding self-destructive behaviors

There are many ways to self-destruct. Addictions, poor financial decisions, reckless driving and dangerous relationships are just a few.

People who like themselves avoid situations and people that spell trouble, because inviting trouble doesn’t make sense to those who value themselves and their quality of life.

Poor self esteem, on the other hand, says, “Who cares? Not me. I’m not worth saving from trouble.” Or even, “I like trouble; at least it’s familiar.”

Self-destructive impulses can only exist where there’s not enough self-esteem. Who would want to destroy someone they truly cared for?

8. Taking calculated risks

Self-esteem seeks success, because success is a natural state for those who have a positive view of themselves and others.

To be successful, one sometimes has to take chances that can feel scary. People with healthy self-regard are able to press forward, even on an uncertain path, when the alternative is certain stagnation.

Their integrity demands that they strive to reach personal goals, even when the outcome isn’t guaranteed. They know that the biggest regrets in life are not the things we tried that didn’t work out, but the things we never tried at all.

9. Building up other people

High self-esteem is a gift to both ourselves and others. We don’t have to expend precious energy defending ourselves from imagined insults to our adequacy, or belittling other people to make us feel better about ourselves.

When we feel genuinely happy with who we are, we want other people to be happy with themselves, too. Validating others comes easily when we believe our own thoughts, feelings and opinions matter. (See my post on Validation for more on how to validate others to strengthen your relationships.)

The great news about these indicators of good self-esteem is that the signs and the self-esteem are mutually reinforcing: If you behave consistently as if you had high self-esteem, you will raise your self-esteem. But don’t take my word for it; try it yourself and see.

Can you think of some other possible signs of  high self-esteem? Please share them in the Comments.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting, and ReconnectionClub.com, an online support and information hub for parents. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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9 Responses to "9 Signs of Healthy Self-Esteem"

  • Anthony L
    May 13, 2016 - 2:03 pm Reply

    Such good good stuff here. I’m seeing that I have been healing and gaining self esteem. These signs are evident in my life way more now than when I entered recovery for these issues.

    Thanks, Tina.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 13, 2016 - 2:14 pm Reply

      You’re welcome, Anthony. I’m glad to know these are ringing true for you. It must feel good to be able to see that kind of change in yourself.

  • JulienD
    June 5, 2016 - 2:48 am Reply

    This insight is spot on: you pinpointed the problem exactly. Bravo en plein dans le mille.
    Ty so much for this great reading. Merci beaucoup Tina.
    La crème de la crème. The best of the best.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 6, 2016 - 3:52 pm Reply

      Why, merci beaucoup right back at you, Julien! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Chris McKee, MA, LPCC
    June 21, 2016 - 8:58 am Reply

    Thanks Tina. Great insight here and something for all of us to aspire to. I love the perspective that healthy self-image allows us to take risks and responsibility and be vulnerable.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 21, 2016 - 9:19 am Reply

      I see you’re a fellow therapist in Denver, Chris. I’m so glad you stopped by. Thanks for the generous comment.

  • Susan Sharpton
    May 5, 2018 - 8:55 am Reply

    I found this article very enlightening yet confusing. I didn’t consider myself a person with high self- esteem, but each of the descriptions in your article define me. Is self-confidence different from self-esteem?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 13, 2018 - 1:23 pm Reply

      Sorry for the confusion, Susan. I think of self-confidence as the natural outcome of healthy self-esteem. If you esteem yourself, you have a “self” you can have “confidence” in. When you don’t like or respect yourself, it’s very hard to feel confident. Thanks for your comment … and enjoy that high self-esteem and confidence!

  • Daniel Mohi
    May 13, 2020 - 3:57 am Reply

    7 of these I am always operating in.. I used to have low self esteem.. but over the years it improved through lots of hard work. I got a job teaching English in Vietnam. But because of the Coronavirus Lockdown I cant get out of New Zealand and I cant get into Vietnam so.. I’ve been working in multiple departments in Watties So I dont feel that I take enough responsibility for the position I’m in.. I have a Bachelors degree but I havent been able to put it to use in a job until I get to Vietnam and it has been 10 years

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