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The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Selfishness

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Selfishness vs. Self-Esteem

Some people erroneously equate having a healthy self-esteem with selfishness. This can be easily confused when you consider many regard selflessness as positive and may not understand that self-esteem relates to the opinion one has of oneself. An individual with a healthy self-esteem would be realistic and appreciative of who they are. Their self-image would be accurate and honest.

Selfishness on the other hand means you are only caring about yourself and working towards meeting your own needs and wants without any regard for others. Selfishness is an extreme position. It is important for our survival to meet our own needs and care about ourselves. What makes selfishness negative is this leads one to harm others or neglect others and perpetuates one-sidedness.

Self-esteem allows a person to care about themselves and meet their own needs yet someone with healthy self-esteem shows more regard for others then someone who does not.


The Purpose of Self-Esteem

 The purpose of self-esteem is more sophisticated than simply measuring how much energy we put into ourselves versus others the way selfishness and selflessness are. 

The purpose of self-esteem is to transcend the self.  Self-consciousness is a painful situation that keep one's focus inward.  Healing the pain with love enables one's focus to expand outward, making one freer to love others and enjoy life.  The person with healthy self-esteem loves by choice from a secure base.  This is in direct contrast with the codependent person who lacks self-esteem and demonstrates what appears to be love out of obligation and not choice.

Below are some concepts defined that relate to self-esteem and help you understand the overall concept of self-esteem.


Identity provides a sense of oneself and one's individuality. This answers the questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What defines me?
  • What describes my overall character and essence?

It is not enough to identify ourselves in terms of the roles we play. A woman can be a mother, a wife, a teacher, a daughter, etc. yet her true identity is defined not by what she does or who she is in relation to others but is defined by her true or inner self.


To think well of, to value and to enjoy. To recognize gratefully, to accurately estimate the quality or worth of someone or something. When we appreciate ourselves, we are able to appreciate others for who they are.


To approve; to receive with pleasure; to believe in. Self-acceptance is believing in oneself and receiving oneself favorably. We may accurately acknowledge our weaknesses yet we are also determined to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.


A belief in oneself as a person, leading to a general sense of "I can do it." Self-confident people understand that hard work, practice, and determination will get them to achieve just about anything they want. They do not feel failure when success is not achieved instantly. They understand that they may achieve what they wish in time- even if it means putting in more time then they originally anticipated. Self-confidence is more than just competence. Someone who can do something well still may not have self-confidence. A self-confident person understands they are worthy and still keeps themselves in high regard even when they fail.


Self-defeating pride is the attitude that one is superior, more valuable, or ore important as a person than others. This is often the definition in a person's mind when they view pride as a negative attribute. They equate pride with arrogance, conceit, pretentiousness, vanity, narcissism. Self-defeating pride is not healthy and is not equated with healthy self-esteem. Self-defeating pride is typically a reaction to deep-rooted fears and insecurity. It is a front they use to protect themselves. They are defensive and overcompensating for a feeling of vulnerability and insecurity.

Healthy pride is a realistic sense of one's own dignity or worth; self-respect; gratitude and joy in one's achievements, talents, etc.

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Self-defeating humility is a lack of self-respect. This person feels worthless. Being humble does not mean feeling defeated or embarrassed as many would believe.

Healthy humility involves the recognition of one's imperfections and weaknesses; consciousness of one's own shortcomings and ignorance. It is the realization that all are of equal worth. The truly humble person does not believe they are more worthy than another nor do they believe others are more worthy than themselves. A demonstration of humility is mild, patient behavior that is not easily reactionary or stirred to anger.

Self-Esteem- Where both healthy humility and healthy pride coexist.

Self-esteem, in part, is the balance of both healthy humility and healthy pride. Someone with self-esteem not only realizes they have much to learn, they recognize the dignity and worth they share worth all other people.

Schiraldi, Glenn R. PhD, The Self-Esteem Workbook, New Harbinger Publications, 2001

Merriam-Webster Dictionary online


Sriparna from New Delhi on July 03, 2011:

Very useful and well explained hub. We need to have high self-esteem and accept and respect ourselves for what we are and as we would like to be respected and treated worthily, we would do the same for others. People with low self-esteem are the ones who are self-obssessed. Thanks for sharing!

Sue B. (author) on May 20, 2011:

fuscia, thank you for your feedback. I am fascinated that when we speak with each other in general we can use the same words yet mean completely different things. Many people lose the meaning of humility and would say "I was humbled" to mean embarrassed or put in their place. All of these concepts can be so confusing. Self-esteem is often equated with being full of one's self which isn't true at all. It actually is the opposite. The person who appears full of themselves is putting up a front because they are insecure and lack self-esteem.

It's interesting how what seems to be is not what is all the time! Thanks for reading!

fucsia on May 20, 2011:

I am agree with your words and I find this page very well written and interesting. I like particularly when you talk about humility. Many times it is confused with a lack of self-esteem: it is the contrary! When , as you wrote, humility is a healthy humility it is an important part of the personality of those who have a high self-esteem.


Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on May 20, 2011:

hmmmmmmmmmm, , ,very well written indeed, I book marked this to re-read while giving more thought , , ,it has more to say than what is read , , ,great writing, great hub , , ,thank you, :) smile

Berga from SKIEN on May 19, 2011:

thank you for clarity .

karlastegui from California on May 18, 2011:

Great Article Thanks a lot!

Eileen Spencer on May 18, 2011:

I like the point about transcending self. This is the real point. The self is really a prison which can define us too narrowly. If we change our point of view and see our selves as part of the whole of humanity, the whole of creation, no better or worse than any other part, then success or failure of our selves as individuals is no longer important. Obsession with self is the sickness of our age.

Sue B. (author) on May 07, 2011:

Thanks, kentuckyslone.

I actually think I tend to see the opposite happening more often as well although perhaps I see it later on when children have grown into adults. I notice a lot of people (my opinion would be more women than men) struggle with feeling guilty when caring for themselves and attending their own needs. Certainly ensuring you suffer does not help your fellow neighbor. Life is about balance and I find it interesting that many of us vascilate between being completely selfless and completely selfish without striking a healthy balance in the middle ensuring we care for ourselves without losing sight of the welfare of others around us.

My opinion is if we tend to be too far on one side, we may have a tendency to raise our children too far on the opposite side in reaction. That often happens- in an attempt to avoid repeating something we have found is negative, we overreact and act in the opposite extreme. We avoid what we wanted yet we create a new problem!

How did life get so complicated? :)

kentuckyslone on May 07, 2011:

Very nice how you laid this out and differentiated two things that are so often confused! Self Esteem and confidence are good things and great values to pass on to your children. Selfishness - ie 'self centered' living is not good at all. Yet so many people seem to be teaching their children to be selfish and self centered and thinking that is good.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on May 07, 2011:

Excellent hub about the difference between healthy self-esteem and selfishness. The two are often confused and it's good to see a clearly outlined article about them. Thanks for sharing.

B A N K A I guy on May 07, 2011:

no problem :)

Sue B. (author) on May 07, 2011:

Thanks so much for commenting! I appreciate it.

B A N K A I guy on May 07, 2011:

Very nice

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