What is the Difference Between Self-Image and Self-Esteem?

Self-Esteem vs Self-ImageDeepak Chopra clarifies the difference between Self-Image and Self-Esteem: “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.” 

He has also stated that self-image is how we want others to see us. Either way, our self-esteem is more internal and our self-image is projected outwardly.

Let’s take a deeper look into the difference between self-image and self-esteem and how each affects our life.


The Difference Between Self-Image and Self-Esteem

Ever feel uncomfortable in a room filled with people you don’t know? Or being introduced to people who are important to someone special to you, such as your mate? The internal pressure or emotional discomfort you may experience is common when we are concerned about making a good impression on someone.

Our self-image is how we think others see us and self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Hopefully, this clarifies the difference between self-image and self-esteem.

Self-Image is an external process. We do not truly focus on who we are inside. Instead, we look at how we want to be seen by others. When we don’t feel good enough inside, we don’t want others to see that, so we present ourselves in a different way than what we believe to be inside us. We confuse this with our True Self. We will discuss this concept a bit later.

Projecting How We Want to Be Viewed by Others – Still Self-Image 

When we project outside ourselves we deny who we really are. And more importantly, we make a statement that who we are inside is not good enough. We fear people won’t like us if they see the true “us”, because early on we learned that the true “us” is somehow not good enough.

However, that comes from the child inside us who was unable to question the adult whom we felt was telling us in various ways that we were “not enough”.

What Is Self-Esteem?

The difference between Self-Esteem and Self-Image is that Self-Esteem expresses how we truly feel about ourselves inside. It has nothing to do with others, or how they might see us, as would Self-Image. It’s as if you put on blinders and earplugs to block out the awareness of others in terms of how they respond to you. It’s your own perception and experiences of yourself, rather than projecting how you want others to see you.

For example, do you see yourself as being intelligent? Kind? Talented in some way? Or do you see yourself as closed off from others, a slow learner, not easily sought after? Impatient, judgemental?

How we see ourselves determines how we function socially, professionally, with family and friends, as well as strangers. Do we feel confident in reaching out to strangers or speaking in public? Or do we shy away from others, thinking we have nothing valuable to offer?

Self-Esteem comes from our experiences and how we interpret these experiences. For example, when a child is bullied and no one is aware of this, the child easily believes that the bully must be right about him. 

Therefore we can easily pick up an inaccurate belief about ourselves, especially when we are very young and our brain has not fully developed. 

Or perhaps a parent has their own emotional challenges and may be grumpy with a child. A child is not yet able to think outside his own understanding of things. The brain does not fully develop until around 23-25 years of age. Therefore, the child is more likely to assume he must not be good enough, or his parents would be happy.

That’s how easy and common it is for a child to pick up negative and inaccurate beliefs about himself.


Finding Your True Self

Dr. Deepak Chopra, the foremost authority on this, makes a distinction between the everyday self-driven by the ego, and the True Self that comes from the Soul (as some call it), and the purest part of us. 

Chopra further states that you can learn to identify the more pure part of yourself by looking inside you and identifying those qualities that are truly good and don’t come from things other than who you truly are. He further states “If you can experience these qualities, repeat them, learn to cultivate them and finally make them a natural part of yourself, the true self has come to life.” 

This takes time and practice to accomplish. See my article 6 Ways to Find Your True Self. Become aware over time what part of you that you use to present yourself. Remember, the difference between Self-Esteem, Self-Image and True Self is that the first two processes can be influenced by external factors. The True Self is purely inside you, void of external influences, such as “looking good” to others or trying to please them in order to be liked.  


Why The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Image is Important

If we live our life hanging onto what others think of us, we lose our True Self. And our sense of worth will always depend upon what others think of us. That would never take into account that someone’s opinion of us could really come from their own negative beliefs of themselves, and therefore taint our view of us. 

Here again, is the difference between Self-Esteem and Self-Image: If we focus on what others think of us we are in our Self-Image. We are more likely to portray what we think others would want from us in order to be liked. This view of Self becomes “other-oriented” in terms of defining us.

If we focus on how we view ourselves then we are more in touch with how we experience Us. That is our Self-Esteem. Still not necessarily an accurate view, but our view of Self all the same.


What if I Worry Too Much About How Others See Me?

Whether your worrying comes from Self-Image or Self-Esteem, it will not be productive. But you can do something about this. Let’s take a look at how this would work.


Is it Possible to Improve Your Self Image?

You “could” do this by looking for people today who seem to value you more than those in your past. However, this still has nothing to do with your real self-value which is your true and accurate Self-Esteem — your True Self. 


How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Can you improve your Self-Esteem and get back to your True Self? The answer is a resounding yes and yes! Once you can accept the idea that others don’t define you, then you can find a more accurate and positive view of yourself. The rest is much easier to do.

To find your more accurate Self-Esteem, your True Self, you need to go inside yourself. Look at your early experiences. Were you bullied? In looking back, but now through an adult’s perspective, did you misinterpret those experiences in early childhood that defined you? Was it really about you, or in reality, was it about the other person who didn’t feel good about himself?

Sometimes parents did not feel loved as a child and therefore as an adult didn’t know how to show love to their own children. This doesn’t mean they didn’t love their kids. They just didn’t know how to demonstrate their love for the child.

If that was the case in your childhood, how does that change your view of Self now? If your parents are still alive, perhaps you can talk to them about this. See if you misinterpreted the parent’s true feelings about you (through a child’s mind). But not with blame! Most often, parents do the best they can with what they have available as knowledge, their own self-esteem, adult duties (such as their work schedule competing with a child’s availability) or other factors. 

And it can be very helpful to find a psychotherapist who can guide you in understanding your past experiences and also help you rebuild a more positive and accurate view of your True Self. 



If your past led you to believe you were not “good enough”, you need to look inside for those good qualities and experiences you’ve always had, even if no one noticed or acknowledged them.

Remember, sometimes the people who influence us have their own agendas: jealousy, fear of being inadequate or fear of looking foolish to others. That in no way means what we have inside is not good enough. Find your True Self! It’s waiting to be discovered. 

Read more: 

How Your Self-Esteem Dramatically Affects How You Date


About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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