We all know people who struggle with poor self-esteem. They are always down on themselves, unsure if they’re good at anything. They can’t take a compliment.

They always give in to what other people want, even allowing others to take advantage of them. This seems like the opposite of pride, so it must be humility, right?

If it sounds mentally unhealthy, it’s because it is. Self-loathing or self-debasement might look like humility on the surface, but it misses the mark just as much as pride does.

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook contrasted the two this way: “Humility is associated with spiritual perfection. When humility effects depression, it is defective; when it is genuine, it inspires joy, courage, and inner dignity.”

Joy, courage, and inner dignity are hardly the hallmarks of a person with low self-esteem.

I don’t want to diminish what someone suffering from low self-esteem might be going through. The past two years have been especially difficult for many, with social distancing, isolation, and sporadic employment contributing to depression and other mood disorders. However, it is important to distinguish feeling bad about ourselves from genuine humility—the two are worlds apart, and if we can nurture the latter, it can help us deal with the former.