If you had to choose in a fight of self care VS self love VS self esteem, which would you choose and why?
And just what is the difference between self love, self care and self esteem anyway?
Taken at face value, self love, self esteem, and self care seem like the same things. But under the microscope we can see that self love (or “self compassion”) and self esteem feature crucial differences. Specifically, they are different aspects of our relationship with ourselves.
And yes, one is better than the other.
The Difference Between Self Love, Self Care, And Self Esteem
Good self esteem is all about how highly you think of yourself. (read: 10 exercises for self worth)
Are you proud of your accomplishments? Do you consider yourself a valuable person? When you compare yourself to other people whom you respect, how do you stack up?
To say we respect and value someone means we hold them in high esteem. And if we hold ourselves in similarly high esteem, then we can say we have good self esteem.
Self love is different self esteem.
With self love we’re not focused just on our character strengths, we are also accepting of our character weaknesses.
Think about someone you love.
You love them because they are a good person with morals you agree with, and you see the good in them even if they have some character weaknesses, right?
Like my mother. Flies off the handle far too easily. Love her to bit anyway.
That’s the difference between self love and self esteem.
We can love someone even if we do not hold them in particularly high esteem. We all know people who perhaps are not overly successful or who have flaws but we love them anyway.
Similarly, we can recognise our own imperfections and love ourselves anyway.
If we love someone, there is a good chance we hold them in high esteem as well.
- We tend to love people who we see the good in. And when we see the good in people, we tend to hold them in high esteem.
- However, we can hold someone in high self esteem without loving them. We might respect the government, for instance, but few people love them.
The key difference between self esteem and self love is that self esteem is based on valuing your good points over your weak points, where self love is not.
If we have healthy levels of self esteem, we think we are good at important things. Maybe you hold yourself in high esteem when it comes to your work, but hold yourself in low esteem in terms of your social life.
Genuine self love, however, is not about whether we are good or bad at something. We don’t stop loving family members when they make a mistake. And if we have genuine self love we do not stop loving ourselves for mistakes, either.
When You Have Self Esteem But Not Self Love
I used to have self esteem but not self love. It was brutal
I used to think I was pretty awesome (well… I am pretty awesome, ha ha). I truly valued my sense of morals, as someone who spent a good portion of my life helping others. And I valued my body, being a guy who was in the gym 12 hours a week.
But I did not have self love.
I expected myself to be perfect. I was vicious to myself every time I made a mistake. I would actually punish myself badly for my mistakes.
That’s not self love.
In THE DAILY MEDITATION’s, definition of love, love is described as unconditional compassion.
This is vital because of how important compassion is in life.
We can have high self esteem and actually have zero self compassion. (if this is you, try Karuna meditation to massively increase your compassion).
While I thought highly of myself, I didn’t have self love.
Self love would mean I forgave myself for my mistakes and accepted both my strengths and weaknesses. I did not. And as a result, when things got bad I hit rock bottom and had to take massive steps to regain self confidence.
How To Know If You Have Self Love, Self Esteem, Or Both
It’s import to know whether you have self esteem, self love, or both. When you know what you’re lacking you can fill in the gap.
If you have high self esteem but no self love, you will be very aware of your character strengths but you will either hate or straight up try to reject all character weaknesses (which prevents you from growing because you need to accept your weaknesses in order to work on them).
At one point in my life I was extremely fit but also painfully shy. I would focus entirely on my fitness (my strength) and completely ignore my social life (my weakness).
That’s self esteem, not self love.
Self love is accepting both your strengths and your weaknesses.
On the other hand, you might find it very easy to forgive yourself of your weaknesses and to be proud of your strengths, but at the same time you might downplay your abilities In certain situations.
At another point in my life, I was very loving to myself, and forgave every weakness, but I also lacked the confidence to do certain things.
- When we have self love but not self esteem we do accept ourselves, but we also tend to think we are incapable.
The critical difference between self esteem and self love is compassion. If we have self love we are compassionate to ourselves, even when we made mistakes.
Self Esteem VS Self Love Test
Ask yourself these questions.
Answer out of 10 (10 is “absolutely true” 0 is “not at all true”)
- You value your strengths
- You accept your weaknesses
- You are happy to talk to others about your character strengths
- You are happy to talk to people about your character weaknesses
- Rate yourself out of 10
- You are compassionate to yourself
- You trust yourself implicitly
- You’re happy to ask for help when you need to
- If you were in a room full of people you value highly, you’d fit in
- If you made a terrible mistake, you would be able to forgive yourself
Answer all questions yes or no
- Add up your answers from questions 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. This is your self esteem, rated out of 50. If you have above 40, you have very high self esteem. Below 15 means you need to work on your self esteem.
- Add up the answers from questions 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. This is your self love, rated out of 50. If you have 40, you have very high self love. Below 15 means you need to work on your self love.
Which Is More Important, Self Love Or Self Esteem?
If we want to have mental strength and happiness, we need both self love and self esteem.
A lack of either self esteem or self love is linked to suicide, depression, negative thoughts, anxiety, anti-social lifestyle and other complications.
Now here’s the fascinating thing:
Some research suggests that self compassion might trump self esteem. One longitudinal study followed 2448 ninth graders and found that low self esteem did not cause mental health problems in those who had high levels of self compassion. Even if we suffer from low self esteem, its effects will be significantly reduced if we have self love.
While self esteem is very important, the research suggests self love is even more so.
How To Increase Self Esteem
As someone who has suffered from low self esteem, I wanted to help you if you are suffering from this issue.
I’ve written an in-depth guide to 10 psychologically tested ways of improving self esteem.
That guide is real life changer. Take a look.
How To Increase Self Love
One of the best ways to improve both self esteem and self compassion if through Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM)
Another way to improve self compassion is to practice a technique called ACT: Acceptance And Commitment Therapy.
Russ Harris has written an excellent guide to ACT on ActMindfully.com. I highly recommend you read Russ’s work. He is an expert in the field and the author of the transformative book, The Happiness Trap, a must-read for anyone who wants to change their thought habits and purse better mental health.
To briefly introduce ACT,
ACT is a process of accepting our thoughts and feelings.
How to do ACT:
- Take 30 mindful breaths
- Focus on your thoughts and feelings
- When you come across a core value (a moral code or something important to you) make a note of it
- Once you get to 5 core values, stop meditating
- Starting with your first core value, find one way to act it out.
- Now move on to the next, and so on.
Research has shown that ACT is a powerful way of boosting self compassion.
* I’ve modified this slightly to make it a meditative practice
The difference between self love and self esteem is that the former is about compassion, where the latter is about personal value.
We need self love, self esteem, and self care in equal measure.
Which do you think is most important?
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Mashall, S. et al. Self-compassion protects against the negative effects of low self-esteem : A longitudinal study in a large adolescent sample. Personality and Individual Differences. 74(2015): 116-121.