Self Esteem & Self Image—What’s The Difference & Why Does It Matter?

Self–esteem isn’t asserting my right to do whatever I want whenever I want it—it is instead reminding me that I am okay no matter what experience may be occurring in my life at any time!

SMART Living

Connecting to Self Esteem


Like many other women I was raised to be nice, polite and want people to like me.  By the time I was old enough to realize that those “other people” didn’t always have my best interests at heart, it was too late.  That habit of seeing my self worth reflected by other people was deeply entrenched in how I thought and often how I behaved.  And although I’ve made lots of progress during the last 25+ years or so—the truth is I still often take the opinions of others far too personally, and I frequently care too much what others think of me—especially when it has to do with something I hold dear to heart.  That’s why when I recently came across a discussion by Deepak Chropra explaining the difference between self-esteem and self-image, I discovered there was a difference.   More importantly, knowing that difference matters quite a bit.

For anyone who has never heard of Deepak Chopra, he is the author of 65 books, a doctor of internal medicine and endocrinology, and a worldwide speaker on a diverse range of topics dealing with health, philosophy, science, spirituality and all things connecting mind, body and spirit.   I have long appreciated his work and writing and happened across a short video where he was talking about his relationship with his wife of 40 years.  Chopra said of his wife Rita, “She is one of the most amazing people in that she has the highest self-esteem. She has such self-esteem that she is never insecure and I have learned that from her.”  Wow!  For Deepak Chopra to have learned about self-esteem from his wife is saying something.  While I have often admired his work, I’ve always considered him extremely detached and self-confident.  If he learned that awareness from his wife, then she had something I wanted to know more about.

So what is the difference?  Chopra says, “ There is a difference between self-esteem and self-image.  The reason people have all this plastic surgery is because they have actually forgotten themselves and are identifying themselves with their self-image.   The real Self within you is beneath no one.  It’s immune to criticism and it’s fearless. Do not confuse your image with your Self—your self-image is what other people think of you, and your Self (esteem) is what you think of you.”   Apparently, according to Chopra, when we focus our confidence or esteem on external or changing circumstances, experiences or people, each are impermanent and inevitably change.  Those external changes lead to a shifting or diminishing confidence and sense of self.  Instead, when we focus on the internal, timeless and the greater reality of our true being, then that Self is beneath no one, is fearless, and is immune to caring what others think of us.

Of course, Deepak Chopra isn’t the only one who thinks this about self-esteem.  Author and speaker Eckhart Tolle says, “True self-esteem goes much deeper. It’s finding the source of power and aliveness deep inside. Realizing that within the depth of your being, there is that continuous source of intense aliveness and power, which is the stillness out of which everything comes.”  Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements says, “When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”   Marianne Williamson suggests that rather than looking to things and people outside ourselves to confirm our worth, we achieve self-esteem through self-awareness and cultivation of a relationship with God.  Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “My self-esteem comes from myself. As a child of God, my worthiness is a given.”  Regardless of how you view God or a Greater Reality, your connection to something bigger than yourself defines you, and that definition translates to your self-esteem.

After giving that explanation some thought I realized that any time I am overly concerned about what other people think, whether they like me or not, how they see me, and how they are acting or reacting to me—I am stuck in self-image.   Unfortunately, focusing on self-image as I’m describing it presents six big problems:

  • Trying to control or predict with any certainty what others think about me is completely impossible.   Yet, if I’m determined to try to win other people’s approval or admiration, I am certain to experience frustration and unhappiness. Not only do trends and perceptions change, but so do each and every one of us.   Obviously our bodies are not the same as when we were 20 (no matter how much we try to cut and paste them), and hopefully neither are our minds, our intelligence or our consciousness.
  • Self-image is a focus on the superficial and impermanent.  Money, status and possessions are all material and shallow ways to judge and relate to the human experience.   Do I, or you, really want to surround ourselves with other people who believe that those surface level and transient elements are vitally important to living a quality life?
  • Obsession with self-image leads to a life of constant comparison.  As I’ve written about before, there will always be someone richer, thinner, more intelligent, more spiritual, more etc.  A life of constant comparison is a competition we can never win over the long run.
  • If all we care about is our self-image then we are extremely susceptible to being manipulated by others and the media.  If we end up chasing after things that others tell us is important, (i.e. pure white teeth, a wrinkle free face, or the latest big-screen TV) then we will never arrive because there will always be something else that we need to make us happy.
  • A focus on the external world of self-image is a sure guarantee that we will experience dissatisfaction with who we are and what we have over and over again.   It’s been proven repeatedly that hedonistic pleasures have limited staying power.
  • Self-image is related to needs that are based on fear.   Whenever we seek outward approval, attempt to control, or strive toward external power we are acting in fear.  That fear can be based on the idea that we aren’t good enough or that the world is a scary place that need to be controlled and or dominated. Whatever the basis of the fear—if it is unresolved and externally focused it will never go away.

So does knowing that a focus on self-image creates such a wide set of problems lead me to chuck it all and not care what anyone ever thinks of me ever again?  If only it were that easy!  Besides, as social creatures most of us realize that it’s wise to compromise sometimes in order to live in harmony and peace with other beings.  That’s why the idea of self-esteem carries so much power for me.  Self–esteem isn’t asserting my right to do whatever I want whenever I want it—it is instead reminding me that I am okay (actually far more than merely okay) no matter what experience may be occurring in my life at any time!

In other words, when I live my life with a high degree of self-esteem, then I am deeply connected to my deepest internal Being.  I don’t need approval from you or anyone else for anything, because I’ve already received the ultimate confirmation from myself.  When that awareness becomes unquestionably real to me, then it won’t matter whether anyone likes me or judges me for my actions.   Even if what you believe in your heart of hearts is radically different from mine—that difference won’t ultimately affect me in any way.

So how do I, or any of us, get to the point where we completely, 100% accept and know that deep and True part of ourselves?   Deepak Chropra says the way to do it is to mediate on it every single day.  That makes sense to me because I know that as I continue to meditate daily, my true nature becomes more and more real and alive to me.  I also know that the more time, energy and resources I spend discovering the core of my Being and it’s relationship to the spiritual and material world, my life becomes more happy, peaceful and content.   Surely I am not better than anyone else.  Instead, I am connected and at One with all that Is—and that makes for a very healthy self-esteem.

Chances are good that if I had been taught this version of self-esteem when I was young I would have be less susceptible to the opinions of others.  Chropra actually recommends this.  There is also evidence from several popular physiologists like Dr. Martin Seligman who agree that an over emphasis on building up a child’s self-image can back fire.  While Seligman says that a high self-image can make children feel good about themselves for a while—unfortunately it doesn’t teach them to be independent, autonomous and responsible as they grow. In fact, too much emphasis on pseudo self-image based upon no tangible reality such as a talent, success or achievement ultimately feels false to the child and can lead to narcissism and/or depression.  On the other hand, teaching a young person about the true Nature of their Being can connect them to a Source that will empower them for a lifetime.

I now know that whenever I am overly concerned about what others think of me or am wondering whether or not others “like” me or approve of me, I am identifying with my self-image and looking to the material world outside myself.  Instead, by remembering that my self-esteem is one with the changeless nature of my Self, and by connecting to my core Being, I know that I am beneath no one, I am fearless, and I am immune to criticism.  Thank you Rita Chopra!


Filed under Aware, Responsible

24 Responses to Self Esteem & Self Image—What’s The Difference & Why Does It Matter?

  1. Murthy

    Nice one Kathy, I just started reading your blog posts and are connecting with current world.

    Two things I would like your thoughts:
    1) Self-Esteem vs Arrogance (and Ego). As sometimes self-esteem may lead to arrogance as well as there is a thin line between them.
    2) Lot of people nowadays talking about ‘Meditation’. May be you can shed your practices on meditation, the jumping mind monkey and what you do or how you focus on in simple ways might help people.


    • Hi Murthy! Welcome to SMART Living and thank you for sharing your thoughts. As far as your question about self-esteem vs arrogance, I believe this post explains it pretty well by saying that any arrogance we might feel by believing we are special at the exclusion of others is really just our self-image. Self-image is what we believe comes from others and that can lead to arrogance. Our self-esteem is our “true Self” that is eternally connect with God or Greater Reality. Self-esteem comes from within and is not reliant on what anyone outside ourselves thinks or does. Does that make sense?

      And as far as meditation goes, Thom and I meditate together for 15 minutes every day. Sometimes we use guided music and sometimes we sit in the silence. Some people go much longer but we have found 15 minutes works best for you. I really should write a more thorough blog post about this and just might do that soon. If interested, be sure and sign up for my blog posts and you’ll get it. Thanks again for stopping by. ~Kathy

  2. Hi Kathy ! looks like today is “SMART LIVING” Day for me … I am reading your posts moving on from one to another and so inspired.. its like I found something so valuable that I don’t mind looking for more of it…. you are truly sa .aging . I feel so privileged to have found your blog and there is so much learning happening. I liked this post on self esteem vs self image… I meet a lot of youngsters who worry so much about what others think, say etc.. and feel so low and incompetent, as the focus is so much on the external…I constantly keep reminding them that what they tell themselves is more important than what the “others” say..agree with you, self esteem comes from loving and accepting our selves every day, and some times even forgiving no matter what our experiences are… I was pleased to hear Deepak chopra’s acknowledging and appreciating his wife..
    G Angela recently posted…99 things I love…My Profile

    • Hi G Angela! How sweet of you! As you know it is music to a bloggers ears when someone appreciates our writing. I check in a lot with your blog too and always love what you share. I also love your photos on FB and appreciate the love and happiness you share through your photos. But ultimately, as much as we love to get feedback from others we must first generate appreciate, love and acceptance for ourselves right? May we both continue to remind others of how important that is! ~Kathy

  3. Self-image is truly one of the growing concerns of today’s generation.
    As you mentioned, people tend to be trapped in constant need of approval, comparison, and the endless need to want. Now that social media is also part of our society, its quite sad to see how 15 year olds are preoccupied by it a little bit too much feeling so insecure about other people’s opinions with things that they share over Facebook/Twitter. It seems to get more and more difficult to achieve self-esteem nowadays especially for the younger ones being exposed to television, social media and other trends and fads. Anyway thanks for another inspiring article Kathy, learned a lot for myself and really something to think about.

    • Hi Georgette! Yes self image is incredibly relevant these days isn’t it? And I think with all the constant barrage of advertisements in our lives it will only grow and get worse. And yes, definitely technology doesn’t help. It think it is so important for us to find our answers within but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Thanks for your thoughts on this as always. ~Kathy

  4. lynne

    Hi, a very motivating post. Sometimes we are so concerned of what others thinks about us, self esteem is really a very important factor in our life. Thanks for sharing. Great post.

  5. Hi Kathy!
    Excellent article. I like you how you put it here. Well, most people get lost with what others say about them and their own perception of who they are in front of the mirror. How others describe them oftentimes influence their way of thinking. Self esteem is how you value yourself. It reflects your overall emotional evaluation of yourself. Thanks for sharing this smart and interesting article.
    Jane Fielder recently posted…4 Unique Ideas On How To Truly Break Free From Binge EatingMy Profile

    • Hi Jane! Thanks for stopping by SMART Living and sharing your thoughts. It is so very important for each of us to come to as much understanding about our true nature as possible. And to the extent that we can separate that from how the world wants to see us–the better. Thanks again for your comment. ~Kathy

  6. Hi Kathy,

    This is a nice article! However, how hard you might try, people are generally obsessed about their self-image. Who in this world wants to live with “imperfections” and who wants to have an aging look? This actually contributes to the increased number of cosmetic surgeries worldwide and you cannot blame them. It is only the approach of the society that can help a person in putting their self-esteem much higher than their self-image however, at this point of time it is a distant dream!

    • Hi Dr. Souvik Adhikari! I know that it isn’t necessarily easy to put our self-esteem above our desire to have a high self-imagine but when if we can we will be free to be ourselves and accept the experience of life (instead of attempting to deny it as we go!) I am choosing to believe that there are enough of us who recognize the difference and are willing to stay true to ourselves rather than buy into whatever the culture is selling. Thanks for your comment. ~Kathy

  7. Hi Kathy,
    Great post,because it focuses on something vital to our happiness and emotional effectiveness.Whether old or young,weak or strong,most people are afflicted with the urge to seek approval,acceptance,and applause.Yet this is one of the biggest causes of misery in interpersonal relationships.

    Seriously,sometime soon, we need to sit down calmly and examine our proclivities.Why must we always be on “show”?Who are these people from whom we seek constant applause?How important is it really?What if we don’t get that approval and praise?What if we do,then what?Where is our genuine self hidden?How is this mindset contributing to our,or anyone else’s progress?
    These questions when answered lead you to understand the fact that there is an ephemeral air about most things in this world.Even the people whose approval we constantly yearn throughout life.
    richmiraclefiles recently posted…NATURAL URGE ,UNNATURAL RESULTS; CONSTANT SEARCH FOR APPROVALMy Profile

    • Hi Mona! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment here on SMART Living. I think I must check out your website too–love the title “Rich Miracle Files” 🙂

      And thank you for raising some really great questions? I agree that it would be good to sit down and ask ourselves these on a continual basis! I love the one, “Who are these people from whom we seek constant applause?”

      For me a big solution is to remember my true nature (as I expressed in my post) but I’m sure that other ways are equally beneficial and all are helpful. Certainly just questioning our motivations is an excellent start! ~Kathy

  8. Great post. Self esteem is important. Without it people are susceptible to mood disorders such as depression which ruins lives.

  9. Kathy, Thanks for sharing so many thoughtful words of wisdom. How amazing it is that Depak Chopra looks to his wife as his role model for self esteem! The older I get, the less I care about what other people think (although I must admit to feeling that yucky way on occasion and wanting to slap myself!)
    Sheryl recently posted…The Case of the Missing MojoMy Profile

    • Hi Sheryl…yes, I was pleased that Deepak made mention of his wife for such an important quality (she must be quite private because she is seldom mentioned). I agree that I’m getting better at it but I’m still a work in progress and I still see so many women (and men!) compromise themselves rather than tell the truth and risk rejection. And don’t even get me started on plastic surgery. Where I live there are more plastic surgeons that there are medical doctors and billions being spent on people our age trying to “recapture” that look of youth. While I’m all for looking as good as we can so we feel good–if we only feel good because of what others think about us then we’re likely going to end up being disappointed the longer we live. And YES! every now and then I too want to slap myself for something silly–but I don’t think that our TRUE Self who wants to do the slapping 😉 ~Kathy

  10. Hi Kathy, I have been learning better to take those quiet moments to meditate and reflect. I even listened to hypnosis mp3s on confidence building, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that the thing all of those things has in common is the seemingly *forced* time to sit back and breathe. There is so much power in our breathing and in simply remembering the basics of WHAT IT MEANS TO SIMPLY BE ALIVE. Breath. When we can get into that state where we’re relaxed and completely at peace with our surroundings and who we are…THAT is where confidence comes from.
    Bryan Thompson recently posted…Your Story Is NOT Your Legacy…And Legacies are a BEAST!My Profile

    • Hi Bryan….thanks for your ideas. Breathing is a GREAT way to get into the space of Being and an awesome way to connect to your inner Self. I agree that real confidence comes when we really know that space–and we all might access it and feel it in a slightly different way but I can’t help but believe we are all talking about the same thing–just using different words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this….~Kathy

  11. Kathy, here our elementary school has adopted self-esteem as the main focus of how to educate children. I see it backfire on a regular basis and many of the children get angry that they weren’t told when they made a mistake and were allowed to do it over and over again.

    Your post is something close to my heart. As you know I was raised by my grandparents who were strongly influenced by their generation. They felt they failed in their children and put a lot of pressure on me to be what they wanted me to be. It was very hard on me and I struggled for years trying to find that happy middle where I could express myself and have their acceptance. It never happened. The last time I saw my grandfather alive he told me he respected nothing about me. It hurt me deeply after everything I squelched inside myself trying to earn his love. But it was a turning point for me. I turned the anger around to give up on gaining acceptance. I got through this time by repeating a quote I read: “It is none of my business what others think of me”. Like you I am so much happier now that I have allowed myself to express my true self without questioning what others think of me.
    Lois recently posted…Bees and GarbageMy Profile

    • Hi Lois…thank you for your thoughtful comment. I know that it is popular today to lavish praise and esteem on young children…who didn’t love the lines in the book & movie “The Help” where the character Aibileen says to the young girl, “You is kind…you is smart…you is important.” It s-o-o sounds like the right thing to do for the child. And certainly your experience qualifies as one where an outsider would be tempted to shower you with similar affection.

      But if studies are now being done that show that repeating affirmations that are not as a result of some action or attention by the child #1 aren’t necessarily believed by the child so they secretly spend their life trying not to be “found out” or, #2 build a false sense of superiority and accomplishment in the child without any foundation–and then the child discovers that without any learned ability or effort toward discipline or education or talent they ultimately fall flat on their face or experience a life that never lives up to that perceived understanding.

      I am so glad to hear that you are an example of someone who rose above the treatment that you received as a child in a positive way. As I said in the post, I can’t help but believe that the best way to address the problem is to give a child a way to connect to their inner resources–their inner Being (in a way that is independent, resilient ant eternal) so that they/we are never dependent upon others for approval or commendation regardless of whatever life hurdles we encounter. ~Kathy

  12. Hi Katy, i think if you have a good self esteem you will automatically have a good self image of your self..

  13. karen crossett

    A great article. I know that I can fall into the trap of becoming the victim of what other people think of me and it is not a nice place to be. I believe in Wayne Dyers comment, God made me so I am awesome (everybody else just doesn’t know it yet!!!) And if they never do, it is ok. So Kathy due to your great article I will keep that self esteem and self image clear in my mind, and stop falling into illusion.

    • Hi Karen… Isn’t this topic so juicy and endless? I could have gone on and on and finally just had to STOP 🙂 I DO know that when I can go to that space in me that is connected to all that is, I’m much less concerned with the what ANYONE thinks….and like the old saying, “God doesn’t make junk” I’m reminded that everything and everybody is all Good. If this article helped you–and anyone else out there remember who they really are–then I’m overjoyed. 🙂 ~Kathy

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