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Unlocking self-esteem: How salary shapes your confidence

Written by:
Staff Writer

Love it or hate it, there can be a strong relationship between salary and self-esteem. How you perceive yourself and your community can be influenced by the connection between these two things. In this article, we’re examining the dynamics between salary and self-esteem and how to improve it.

The relationship between salary and self-esteem

It’s impossible to speak to the relationship between two things before getting clear on what each thing is. There’s no need to define what salary is, but self-esteem is more nuanced. For clarity’s sake, let’s all use Mariam Webster‘s definition so we’re all on the same page as to what is meant by the term self-esteem in this piece. They define self-esteem as. “being confident and satisfied in one’s self and capabilities.”

There’s lots of research showing that a correlation exists between self-esteem and how much a person makes. One study published in PubMed found that people with higher self-esteem were more productive than people with low self-esteem. Being more productive typically means that someone has the opportunity to raise their salary or get a higher promotion.

In a recent study done by the Canadian government, it was found that people with lower incomes tended to suffer from mental health issues and reported having reduced life satisfaction. 

Studies such as these leave little room for debate about whether there is a correlation between earnings and self-esteem. However, it’s debatable if top earners have good self-esteem because of their salary or if people with high self-esteem typically are top earners.

Salary comparison and its impact on self-esteem

In North America, we tend to place great importance on achieving career advancement and wealth. The downfall to this way of being is that comparing salary is one of the biggest killers of self-esteem. Comparing salaries can leave some feeling stressed and pressured to keep up with others. Sometimes to tragic levels. In fact, Global News found that increasing the minimum wage actually reduces suicide rates.

Here is what you can do if you feel like your salary comparison is hurting your self-esteem: 

Put things into perspective

Many people have an inclination to equate net worth with self-worth. If that’s the case for you, working on disconnecting those two things will be well worth the effort. Remember a big bank account doesn’t equal a big heart. Ask yourself which is truly more valuable to the world.

Aim for financial health

Just because someone may have a higher salary than you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are better off financially. Investing, saving for retirement, or storing money away in an emergency fund are all components of good financial health. Sometimes, someone making less money makes wiser financial decisions. Remember, at the end of the day, good financial health is not about how much money you have it is all about what you do with the money you have.


Envious of someone’s salary? Use it to motivate you. Whether. that means working towards a promotion, learning a new skill, or even a new career altogether, let the motivation carry you to meet your financial goals instead of bring you down.

Cultivating a healthy mindset regardless of income level

Increasing your salary doesn’t guarantee more life and workplace satisfaction. Even those who earn six figures sometimes feel their salary isn’t enough. The good news is, that you don’t have to earn more to change beliefs around finances that erode self-esteem. Here are some common ones you can start working on changing now, no matter your income.

Buying new things will fix self-esteem

In North America, we are inundated with so many commercials that tell us to buy the latest car, the latest fashion, and the latest tech. This mass commercialization is shoved in our faces almost every day. By giving into this pressure to buy new items, we may lack the appreciation for the things we already possess. When you appreciate the things that you already have, it will contribute to boosting your overall self-esteem.

Giving in to lifestyle creep

It can be highly tempting to boost your lifestyle after getting a raise or a promotion. However, you should hold your horses. When you get a pay raise, it is a perfect opportunity to start thinking about your financial future. Consider saving for retirement, setting up an emergency fund, and if you have children, putting some money away for their education. 

Not exploring other options

Regardless of your salary, spending your money wisely is a good idea. When you buy an item,  shop around for deals or the best value because this will help you save money. 

Seeking professional support and guidance

If your perception of your salary affects your self-esteem and mental health to the detriment of your quality of life, it is time to ask for help. Speak with a mental health professional. A newer area in mental health is financial therapy. These professionals specialize in helping those whose mental health is greatly impacted by financial issues. 

They can help you get your life back on track to feel confident about yourself again. As the old saying saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Changing a long-term, socially normative, mindset like equating salary with self-esteem takes time, but it can be done. 

Final thoughts

There is a strong correlation between salary and self-esteem. However, remember that your salary does not define who you are as a person and what you are capable of. 

Instead of focusing on increasing your salary to boost your self-esteem, prioritize self-care and look for ways to enhance your overall financial health. This means using your current salary to help plan for financial goals. These goals may include saving for retirement, enhancing your emergency fund, and learning about ways to help you get out of debt so that you can put more money toward your financial goals. 
If having a lot of credit card debt is weighing you down, speak to one of our expert credit counsellors. They can set you up with a debt relief plan that will work for you and your budget.

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