Can high self-esteem actually be a bad thing?

Guys walking confidently down the street

So is there such a thing as too much self-esteem? The two previous posts have been about low self-esteem, but this week I want to talk about the flip side of that. The quick answer to the question is that self-esteem is about achieving a healthy balance.

Last week I gave you 23 strategies to help you boost your self-esteem, but I want you to understand that the purpose of building up your self-esteem isn't to become so overconfident that you get yourself into trouble.

Some people will say that self-esteem isn't even a thing. The fact of the matter is that we all form opinions of ourselves and those opinions influence our behaviors. As such, I would argue that we do need to focus on this thing we call self-esteem and understand that too much of it can be just as bad as too little of it.

If you go from an opinion of yourself that is too low to one that is too high, you risk going from not liking yourself to others not liking you. High self-esteem is not the answer.

A study published in 2008 distinguished between high self-esteem and healthy self-esteem.

The researchers looked at high self-esteem as being either secure or fragile. Secure high self-esteem was described as,

Favorable feelings of self-worth that arise naturally from successfully dealing with life challenges, being authentic and expressing one’s true self in everyday life, and having relationships in which one is valued for whom one is and not for what one achieves.

Fragile high self-esteem was described as,

Favorable, but shallow, feelings of self-worth that often fluctuate a good deal from day to day or within a given day.

Also, those with secure high self-esteem were said to not need validation from others, while those with fragile high self-esteem typically do in order to avoid losing their high self-esteem.

Results from the study showed that those with secure high self-esteem were less verbally defensive than those with fragile high self-esteem. This seemed to indicate that those with fragile high self-esteem were less "secure" about themselves and their abilities than those with secure high self-esteem.

The researcher even went so far as to say that those with fragile high self-esteem are no better off than those who have low self-esteem.

Studies have also shown high self-esteem to be linked to criminality. 

It was believed that low self-esteem led to criminal behavior, but recent research is suggesting that high self-esteem is just as likely to be a cause. Given the two types of high self-esteem described above this would make sense for those who have fragile high self-esteem since they were shown to be more verbally defensive. More research still needs to be done, however, to help us better understand the relationship between high self-esteem and criminal behavior.

Below are some other ways high, but not healthy, self-esteem can be bad for you.

Reasons Too Much Self-Esteem Can Be Bad
  • Doesn't earn you respect.  If you act overconfident and arrogant then others are not going to like or respect you very much. They are going to think that you are just full of yourself.
  • Can't learn from your failures.  If you think so highly of yourself that you think you can do no wrong, then you're not going to be open accepting mistakes or, much less, learning from them.
  • Difficult to form or keep relationships.  Let's face it, if you're full of yourself then who is going to want to be around you? It's not easy for someone who thinks too highly of themselves to maintain relationships.
  • Lack of empathy.  Because someone with an unhealthy high self-esteem thinks only of themselves, it's almost impossible for them to have empathy for others.

As you can see, too much self-esteem can be bad for you and for those around you.

Final Thoughts

A major takeaway here is not to mistake high self-esteem for healthy self-esteem. Based on the study I described above, you want to have secure high self-esteem rather than fragile high self-esteem. It's fragile high self-esteem that is unhealthy and can get you into trouble.

Unhealthy high self-esteem is basically narcissism. When people talk about high self-esteem being different from narcissism, they are talking about health high self-esteem.

So there's good news and bad news. The good news is that high self-esteem can be good for you if it's the healthy kind; the bad news is that high self-esteem can be bad for you if it's the unhealthy narcissistic kind.

Your self-esteem will naturally fluctuate, but the important thing is to get it to a place where it's relatively stable and you genuinely feel good about yourself. Be confident but also be humble. Be secure in who you are so that you don't feel threatened by others and feel the need to lash out.

It takes time and practice to have a healthy high self-esteem but you can get there. I hope this post has helped to clarify the difference between high self-esteem that's good and high self-esteem that's bad, as well as answer the question in the title of this post.

Do you agree that high self-esteem is either good or bad depending on the type? Let me know in the comments below.  
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photo credit: Joris_Louwes via photopin cc


  1. Great post Melissa! You made a great point and I couldn’t agree more with the statement that if we are our genuine selves, feel good about ourselves, we’re confidence and humble, than I do believe we will display the proper high self-esteem versus the not so good and welcoming fragile self-esteem. Great info here as always, thanks!

    • Thanks Mike! I really like this distinction between fragile and secure high self-esteem from the study I mentioned and I believe that being genuine and confident will serve us well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I think you made it pretty clear. In my opinion, self-esteem is good and important for a person to have when he can control it. We ought to know the limit and shouldn’t cross the healthy line. For some people, modesty and self-esteem are considered to be the opposites in these times, aren’t they? That’s why people get more confident than it’s needed and suddenly they appear to be narcissistic. Thank you for a good description about the difference!

    • Thanks for the comment, Julie. I think you’re absolutely right that high self-esteem is good if we can control it and not appear to be narcissistic. Modesty and self-esteem do seem to be considered opposites. It’s hard to be confident while still coming across as modest, unfortunately. Glad you thought my description of high and healthy self-esteem made sense!

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