The psychology term self-esteem or self-worth refers to one's self-image at an emotional level; circumventing reason and logic. The term differs from ego in that the ego is a more artificial aspect; one can remain highly egotistical, while underneath have very low self-esteem. The maintenance of a healthy degree of self-esteem is a central task within psychotherapy, where patients often suffer from excess degrees of self-criticism, hampering their ability to function.

Popularised in the 1970s as the cause of the ills of society and of individual humans, and written into Californian law as something to oppose, low self-esteem rapidly became a universal explanation for any personal failing and a staple target for personal development movements, sometimes resulting in narcissistic, over-confident individuals with excessive self-esteem.

Much debate about self-esteem centres on the definition of the term. New Age thought can provide self-serving views of the concept; other views can discount the existence or merely the usefulness of the idea.

Some see low self-esteem as a major predisposing factor for crime; others point out that high self-esteem equates with the risk-taking behaviour of criminals.

Compare hubris, megalomania.

External link:PSY: NYT: Deflating Self-Esteem's Role in Society's Ills