What’s the Difference Between Self-Image and Self-Esteem? by John Cali


There was a Gallup poll a while back about the self-esteem of Americans. It concluded 2 out of 3 (almost 70 percent) suffered from low or no self-esteem. That’s a pretty sobering statistic.

What’s the difference between self-esteem and self-image?

Most of us at one time or another in our lives build up elaborate self-images. They’re usually based on externals—how physically attractive we are, how much money we have, how many friends we have, how much worldly power we command, how big our houses are, etc. etc. You know the litany.

We feel good about ourselves only when we have all the parts that go to create what society deems important. But all those parts are temporary and have little to do with who we really are. We’ve created our self-images, the masks we present to the world. But the masks must come off sooner or later.

Then, if we have little or no self-esteem, we’re lost, floundering around in a world that no longer makes sense. We cannot survive the stormy seas of life if we don’t even know who we are or why we are here.

Although the Gallup poll focused on Americans, I’m sure the problem exists in other countries too.

So what can we do to change this? Here are some of Spirit’s suggestions:

  • Eliminate all self-criticism and self-judgement. You deserve better than that.
  • Eliminate all thoughts that scare you. Remember, you are totally safe and secure in this present moment. And this present moment is all you have.
  • Fear is based on what might happen in the future. So focus fully right here, right now, in the present moment. You are safe here. There is nothing to fear.
  • Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to become perfect, however you or your society define that. You are perfect just as you are.
  • Take good care of yourself—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. You already know how to do this. Just do it. Love yourself as you would a beloved family member or friend.
  • Know you are a powerful, sovereign being. You need nothing, no one outside yourself. You are God.
  • Your most important relationship is the one between you and your spirit. That relationship will ensure all your other relationships are healthy and whole.
  • Don’t expect another person or your society to “complete” you or make you happy. No one can complete you because you are already whole and complete. No one can make you happy because happiness is always an “inside job.”
  • Your self-image, which is by nature temporary, will some day fade and go away. If you have not built it on a foundation of self-esteem and self-love, you will have no foundation, no reason for being.


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16 Responses

  1. David

    Hi All,

    In my previous post, I forgot to make my connection between my self-image, self-esteem and my mask

    The image I had of my ‘self’ was that I was a traitor to my true core ‘self’ and I had a very low opinion of myself for so easily allowing myself to trampled on by all the well-meaning dysfunctional folks in my life. I had a tinge of resentment towards them for trying mold me into just another version of them.

    The image of me that I projected toward everyone was quite different. I appeared to be happy to work for an idiot of a supervisor so we could almost afford to live in an apartment that my wife’s father picked out for us. I appeared to be content to go home after a grueling day and listen to my wife relive all the things that made her day miserable whilst our baby was selectively throwing up on various parts of me and the chair.

    John is absolutely right when he says, “masks must come off sooner or later”.

    Unconsciously, I began to think ‘MY’ thoughts again instead of ‘their’ thoughts, do things for ‘MY’ reasons instead of ‘theirs’, etc. Eventually, my mask started to dissolve bit-by-bit along with my marriage, regular employment, and my feelings of disconnection.

    What the heck, life is an adventure, even Indiana Jones had bad-hair days.

    Chieko, it is interesting that in one sense ” words don’t matter” as you said and in another sense how we define them and in what context we use them can make a difference.

    In my world, I now require the definitions, thoughts and beliefs I use to help me connect more pieces of the puzzle called ‘What is Life and why am I in it?’. If they don’t help me become more aware of of the broader scope of how life works and how I become the Master of my own life, then they are not of much use to me.

    I have read different definitions of the word ‘enlighten’ and forgot most of them because they did not serve me. The one that works for me involves ‘higher levels of awareness and greater clarity’.

    When I have a major decision to make I ask myself two basic questions:

    1. Which of the possibilities offers the best opportunity to achieve greater clarity of the
    Grand Scheme of things?

    2. What would Love do now?

    John, I appreciate you, Spirit, this blog and the all responders for the potential ‘enlightenment’ here. 🙂

    Thanks All,


  2. Chuck

    Thanks a lot John for Spirits suggestions.

    I have been trying to do my best to set aside ego-ic or lower-self interpretations or self-esteem based thinking. I can see and feel that i made lot of progress since a year although its hard to remove fully. At least i have been trying at a level i never ever did before. Example – before i used to workout so i look good and gain an advantage over others maybe, now i still do the workout but because i love being fit and like to look good just cause i love it and nothing to do with anything else or anyone else etc or for any other self-esteem issue. And when i know thats why i am doing it feels peaceful and rightful.
    Its a great feeling when you follow the Spirits suggestions you listed.

  3. David

    I think self image and self-esteem are the causes for creating our masks but not the masks

    Here is how I perceive the difference between self-image and self-esteem.

    The definitions I have seen of self-esteem say it is regard and respect for one’s self and relates to self-worth.

    Self-image is about how we perceive ourselves as Human Beings/persons (good person,
    bad person, lazy, good hearted, selfish, loser, failure, successful, behind the 8-Ball, etc.)

    A good example of how self-image can act as a template for our behavior is in Maxwell Maltz’s book, “Psycho-Cybernetics”.

    Maltz explains that we have a psychological mechanism that is like the autopilot in commercial airplanes. The airline pilots tell the autopilot about the destination, speed, altitude, etc. and the autopilot automatically manipulates all the controls to compensate
    for changes in wind speed,wind direction, loss of altitude and the like while keeping it’s
    focus on the destination (or goal).

    Maltz says that our psychological autopilot uses our self-image as it’s goal and automatically
    manipulates aspects of our thinking, perceiving, interpreting,etc. to influence our mental,
    emotional, and physical behavior so that we act in accordance with who and what kind of person we believe we are.

    Maltz cites a study done by a university. One of the experiments involved a salesperson who
    perceived himself to be a simple $5,000/year salesperson.
    He was given extremely ‘barren’ territory to work in for a year. He worked very hard scraping
    for every possible lead and worked at the peak of his charm to convince his potential customers that he was there to solve all their problems with his products. After all that, he
    managed to earn around $5,000 for the year.

    Then he was given very “lush” territory where he ought to be able to earn many times his
    previous income with ‘his hands tied behind his back’.
    His effort was very different. Even though leads were plentiful and easy to get, he didn’t
    follow up on every one as he had previously done. He got out of bed and went to work when
    he felt like it and followed leads more as a whim than a necessity. At the end of the year, he
    earned around $5,000.

    As a teenager, I never really got into the mode of caring what folks thought about me. I had
    my own self-derived sense of self. I was a very creative and (according to Mom) ingenious
    kid who experienced great joy thinking of things to invent. I might not have any idea how to go about making my imagined gizmo but part of the joy was reading and learning about the
    possible ways it might be done. Getting parts, materials, tools and trying various
    experiments was absolute joy. Failure did not exist. Every experiment was a success even if
    the result was the opposite of my expectations because it inspired new thoughts about what
    to try next.

    Every day was a new and wondrous exploration. I felt alive! I was too busy being me and
    following my bliss to even think about someone else’s view of me or of life, let alone care.
    The expression Self-worth was not in my vocabulary. I was not comparing myself to anyone
    else. My sense of self was not influenced and corrupted by the well-ment brainwashing
    associated with peer pressure, ‘fatherly’ advice about making personal sacrifices to please
    our mates and properly raise our children, Yada Yada Yada…………………………….

    Then, I became an employee, a husband, a father, a relative and the purity of my sense of
    self became more and more diluted and corrupted. I learned to pay attention to those external expectations and adopt them as my new template for daily operation.

    I was not following the blissful Divine nudges any more and becoming an automaton molded
    by the needs and expectation of others who were happy that I now ‘saw the light’.

    MY light became dimmer and I began to feel a sense of ‘something is wrong’; “I” am dying.

    I no longer had my sense of self and I became pissed at myself for letting all these fearful, victim role-playing folks overpower me. That is when I learned the meaning of ‘low self-esteem’.

    That all changed when I started realizing that the reason we all are here in the ‘physical’
    is to experience things that we cannot experience while back ‘home’ in the non-physical.

    Our universe is a Grand Theme Park where we can do more than choose the rides we
    go on. We get to design and custom create the basics of our rides while allowing life to
    add all the bells, whistles and thrills to our experience.

    These days, I am learning to allow myself to be the very best ME I can BE in this “NOW” and
    I allow everyone else to be the best ‘them’ they can be in this ‘NOW’. Each of us is doing the
    best we can, given our particular model of Life. Our growth is through the expansion of our

    I have noticed that the more I “Let go and let God”, as they say, the more I love the FEELING
    of loving and the more I love the the sense of connection I experience when I am rolling
    around on the floor with my kitties and hearing Purrrrrr Purrrrrrrr Purrrrrrrr.

    My sense of worthiness comes from my sense of connection.

    I don’t think about self-worthiness or self-esteem any more.

    I just live it.

    Grace has no thought, no ego and makes no effort.
    Grace is joyful acquiescence to the Divine Breeze…………

    • Chieko

      Hi David,

      I think the same word can mean different things in different contexts. But I see you and John (and Spirit) are actually talking about the same theme. As it’s mentioned on this website (“Home”), the two important purposes of this blog post seem to be “to empower you on your spiritual path” and “to help you live your life with joy, to be so filled with the glory and divinity of who you are, you will literally fall “head-over-heels” in love with yourself.”

      I see you living your life with joy, David. Nice example to show how words don’t matter. As some spirit guides said, there are many, many, many people on this planet who are extremely spiritual but have never, ever, ever heard the word “spiritual” — and have never used the word “metaphysical.” They live spiritual lives to the fullest but have never heard the expressions such as “aligning yourself with who you really are” or “guidance from your higher self” or “the law of attraction” etc. Also, there are people who live in total appreciation for everyone and everything in the world but use a word “gratitude” to mean complete “appreciation.” It seems all that matters is the end results. As Spirit said, “All paths lead home.”

      One spirit guide said “The difference in people’s opinions or ways of living is not even seen as a deviation from the point of view of the Great Universe.” I don’t think this statement depreciates our uniqueness, but makes me understand our difference, especially in our opinions, makes no difference in front of the unconditional love and acceptance of the universe.

      Really nice to know all “ways” are working perfectly. Thank you for sharing your great happiness and deep wisdom with us, David.


  4. Joseph

    I had the thought last night that Self Esteem and Self Image are the two sides of the coin we call EGO where Self Esteem is its’ PAST Perceptions (both positive and negative) of its’ self and Self Image is FUTURE Expectation of itself or how it wishes to be perceived. Both are illusions because the EGO is an illusion created by the soul to ‘play’ out a role it created for an experience, just like a playwrite creating a character in a play or novel.

  5. deborah

    Thank you for another great article and your wisdom. So many people don’t know how to love themselves and that’s very sad. I try to help where I can but ultimately it’s up to each person. Have a great day.

  6. Tom

    From a previous Spirit’s newsletter:

    Use what we call “the mirror technique” every day.
    First thing every morning simply look into your bedroom or bathroom mirror.
    Look deeply into your own eyes. Then say to yourself (and mean it!)
    “(Your name), I love you!” Say it 10 or 12 times.
    It takes only a few seconds, but you will reap rewards beyond your wildest dreams.
    Then you will fall head-over-heels in love with yourself.

    Cheers 🙂

  7. Stephanie

    I LOVE your description stating … self-image is the mask we present to the outer world. That is so right-on. Even the mask of being a ‘bully’ is often a protection so that others do not realize how mistreated and insecure they REALLY are.

    I greatly appreciate Spirit’s ideas and suggestions on how to improve self-esteem.

    Sincerely … Stephanie

  8. Joseph

    It is my feeling that self-esteem is rooted in the past and self image uses you past memories, combines them with current trends so you project into the future your perception of ideal/highest quality or what currently is socially acceptable so that you fit/blend in and even appear grander than you truly believe yourself to be. You are basing your self worth on the tangible, outward appearance rather than the inner spiritual nature of your being – which is already perfect.

    Self Esteem also is rooted in the illusions of the physical world but is heavily weighted by the negative beliefs of how one has failed to live up to the current perception of mass consciousness, thus leaving one feeling less than, lacking and even fearful because they see no way of changing their reality since their reality is solely based on the physical creations. Also unlearned past life lessons come into play as they are part of the old illusions feeding the mind unconscious information of past inadequacies, all in the hope that some Ah-ha moment will be reached where the illusionary perceptions of the past will be ‘healed’ and the truth of your true spiritual nature realized.

    The truth be known, buying into the illusion of separation – you are only a physical being, not a spiritual being, creates the plot for most, if not all, of the ‘plays’ we enter into in this school called Planet Earth. Or as Wayne Dyer puts it, “You are a spiritual being having a physical experience.”

      • Dan

        Another nicely written article , thank you John, and Spirit. I like the distinction you placed between image vs esteem – my take on Ego is more that it is our self image, and esteem (as you are using the term) is more about our grasp of our true nature which I tend to think is beyond ego since it is grounded in our eternal nature and beauty and not temporal – and when we grasp that and that we are all part of “all that is” (and all god) we should have no choice but to love others – of course as you have so eloquently been pointing out, it is not possible to do that very well with out loving one’s self first and foremost and completely.

        You have also pointed out why what should be easy is tough – we all have been programmed to do for others and put ourselves last – and unfortunately not only doesn’t it work, it often ends up being painful and we each have to learn it in our own way.

        Reading your articles for the last few years has been a wonderful boost to my level of joy and well being – it has always resonated with me – often seems like you are preaching to the choir – but feeling and intellectually knowing are two different things. And my happiness keeps growing all the time – regardless of my circumstances and that is a huge change.

        Thank you for sharing your wisdom, experience, and joy and to Spirit for sharing through you.

        • John Cali

          Hi Dan,

          Thanks very much. I did not say it as clearly or eloquently as you did — but that is exactly the distinction I wanted to make between image and esteem. Image is the mask we present to the world. Esteem is the knowing who we truly are.

          Thank you very much, Dan, for your kind words. We do preach to the choir — you’re absolutely right about that. I guess the choir (which includes me) needs preaching to. 🙂

          Many blessings to you,

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