Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect person‘s overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent,” “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. Smith and Mackie define it by saying “The self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it.”:107 Self-esteem is also known as the evaluative dimension of the self that includes feelings of worthiness, prides and discouragement. One’s self-esteem is also closely associated with self-consciousness.
Self-esteem is a disposition that a person has which represents their judgments of their own worthiness. In the mid-1960s, Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists defined self-esteem as a personal worth or worthiness. Nathaniel Branden in 1969 defined self-esteem as “the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.” According to Branden, self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence (a feeling of personal capacity) and self-respect (a feeling of personal worth). It exists as a consequence of the implicit judgment that every person has of their ability to face life’s challenges, to understand and solve problems, and their right to achieve happiness, and be given respect.
As a social psychological construct, self-esteem is attractive because researchers have conceptualized it as an influential predictor of relevant outcomes, such as academic achievement or exercise behavior (Hagger et al. 1998)[full citation needed]. In addition, self-esteem has also been treated as an important outcome due to its close relation with psychological well-being (Marsh 1989)[full citation needed]. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, “I believe I am a good writer and I feel happy about that”) or a global extent (for example, “I believe I am a bad person, and feel bad about myself in general”). Psychologists usually regard self-esteem as an enduring personality characteristic (“trait” self-esteem), though normal, short-term variations (“state” self-esteem) also exist. Synonyms or near-synonyms of self-esteem include: self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, and self-integrity.
- 1 Theories
- 2 Development
- 3 Types
- 4 Measurement
- 5 Importance
- 6 Criticism and controversy
- 7 History
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Many early theories suggested that self-esteem is a basic human need or motivation. American psychologist Abraham Maslow included self-esteem in his hierarchy of needs. He described two different forms of esteem: the need for respect from others, and the need for self-respect, or inner self-esteem. Respect from others entails recognition, acceptance, status, and appreciation, and was believed to be more fragile and easily lost than inner self-esteem. According to Maslow, without the fulfillment of the self-esteem need, individuals will be driven to seek it and unable to grow and obtain self-actualization.
Modern theories of self-esteem explore the reasons humans are motivated to maintain a high regard for themselves. Sociometer theory maintains that self-esteem evolved to check one’s level of status and acceptance in ones’ social group. According to terror management theory, self-esteem serves a protective function and reduces anxiety about life and death.
The importance of self-esteem lies in the fact that it concerns to ourselves, the way we are and the sense of our personal value. Thus, it affects the way we are and act in the world and the way we are related to everybody else. Nothing in the way we think, feel, decide and act escapes the influence of self-esteem.
Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of human needs, describes the “need for esteem,” which is divided into two aspects, the esteem for oneself self-love, self-confidence, skill, aptitude, and respect receives from other people recognition, success, etc. The healthiest expression of self-esteem, according to Maslow, “is the one which manifests in respect we deserve for others, more than renown, fame and flattery”.
Carl Rogers, the greatest exponent of humanistic psychology, exposed that the origin of problems for many people despise themselves and they consider themselves to be unvaluable and unworthy of being loved; thus the importance he/she gave to unconditional acceptance of client. Indeed, the concept of self-esteem is approached since then in humanistic psychology as an inalienable right for every person, summarized in the following sentence:
|“||Every human being, with no exception, for the mere fact to be it, is worthy of unconditional respect of everybody else; he deserves to esteem himself and to be esteemed.||”|
By virtue of this reason, even the evil human beings deserve respect and considered treatment. This attitude, nonetheless, does not pretend to come into conflict with mechanisms that society has at its disposition to prevent individuals from causing hurt – of any type – to others.
Experiences in a person’s life are a major source of self-esteem development. The positive or negative life experiences one has, creates attitudes toward the self which can be favourable and develop positive feelings of self-worth, or can be unfavourable and develop negative feelings of self-worth. In the early years of a child’s life, parents are the most significant influence on self-esteem and the main source of positive and/or negative experiences a child will have. The emphasis of unconditional love, in parenting how-to books, represents the importance of a child developing a stable sense of being cared for and respected. These feelings translate into later effects of self-esteem as the child grows older.
During the school years, academic achievement is a significant contributor to self-esteem development. A student consistently achieving success or consistently failing, strongly affects their individual self-esteem. Social experiences are another important contributor. As children go through school they begin to understand and recognize differences between themselves and their classmates. Using social comparisons, children assess whether they did better or worse than classmates in different activities. These comparisons play an important role in shaping the child’s self-esteem and influence the positive or negative feelings they have about themselves. As children go through adolescence peer influence becomes much more important, as adolescents make appraisals of themselves based on their relationships with close friends. Successful relationships among friends is very important to the development of high self-esteem for children. Social acceptance brings about confidence and produces high self-esteem, whereas rejection from peers and loneliness brings about self-doubts and produces low self-esteem.
Parenting style can also play a crucial role in self-esteem development. Students in elementary school who have high self-esteem tend to have parents who are caring, supportive adults who set clear standards for their child and allow them to voice their opinion in decision making. Although studies thus far have reported only a correlation of warm, supportive parenting styles and children having high self-esteem it could easily be thought of as having some causal effect in self-esteem development.
Childhood experiences that contribute to healthy self-esteem include being listened to, being spoken to respectfully, receiving appropriate attention and affection and having accomplishments recognized and mistakes or failures acknowledged and accepted. Experiences that contribute to low self-esteem include being harshly criticized, being physically, sexually or emotionally abused, being ignored, ridiculed or teased or being expected to be “perfect” all the time.
A study done by Ruth Yasemin Erol and Ulrich Orth from the University of Basel examined the development of self-esteem in adolescence and young adulthood. The aim of the study was to determine the trajectory of self-esteem development; as in when does self-esteem development occur in life and in what direction. Another aspect of the study was to discover potential modifiers to individual differences in self-esteem development after recording trajectories. It was expected that self-esteem development would continuously increase during adolescence and young adulthood as per previous studies’ results.
Erol and Orth found that self-esteem increases moderately through adolescence and continues to increase in young adulthood at a slower rate. A high sense of mastery, low risk taking and better overall health predicted higher self- esteem in participants at each age level. Emotionally stable, extroverted and conscientious participants experienced higher self-esteem as well. An individual’s sense of mastery proved to be an important moderator of self-esteem trajectory for all participants. In the case of ethnicity playing a role in self-esteem differences, Hispanics had a lower rating of self-esteem in adolescence than Blacks and Whites but then increased to having a stronger, higher self-esteem than Whites by the age of 30. This study showed no results depicting a significant difference between self-esteem trajectories of men and women. The findings of this research, in regards to self-esteem trajectory, is consistent with what is known about the life span development of self-esteem. Erol and Orth’s study documents the importance of adolescence as a possible critical period for self-esteem development. This studies results can lend itself to the implementation of self-esteem improvement interventions in young children.
Self-esteem requires “a self-evaluation process in which individuals compare their description of themselves as they are (Real Self) with their description of themselves as they would like to become (Ideal Self) and as they fear becoming (Dreaded Self).” Self-esteem depends on living up to one’s ideals.
Self-evaluation is important because the subject is able to assess what they know, what they do not know and what they would like to know. They begin to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and will be able to set goals that they know they can attain with the new knowledge they have about themselves.
There are four levels of self-evaluation development in relation to the Real Self, Ideal Self, and the Dreaded Self. The Real, Ideal, and Dreaded Selves develop in a sequential pattern on cognitive levels (moral judgment stages, ego development stages, and self-understanding).
- Individuals describe their Real, Ideal, and Dreaded Selves with stereotypical labels, such as “nice” or “bad”. Individuals describe their Ideal and Real Selvesin terms of disposition for action or as behavioural habits. The Dreaded Self is often described as being unsuccessful or as having bad habits
- Individuals describe their Ideal and Real Selves in terms of traits that are based in attitudes as well as actions. The Dreaded Self are often described as have failed to meet social expectations or as self-centered.
- Individuals describe their Ideal and Real Selves as having a unified identity or character. Descriptions of the Dreaded Self focus on a failure to live up to one’s ideals or role expectations often because of real world problems
Development brings with it increasingly complicated and encompassing moral demands. As individuals develop their depiction of their Dreaded Selves become increasingly more realistic and more plausible.
People with a healthy level of self-esteem:
- Firmly believe in certain values and principles, and are ready to defend them even when finding opposition, feeling secure enough to modify them in light of experience.
- Are able to act according to what they think to be the best choice, trusting their own judgment, and not feeling guilty when others do not like their choice.
- Do not lose time worrying excessively about what happened in the past, nor about what could happen in the future. They learn from the past and plan for the future, but live in the present intensely.
- Fully trust in their capacity to solve problems, not hesitating after failures and difficulties. They ask others for help when they need it.
- Consider themselves equal in dignity to others, rather than inferior or superior, while accepting differences in certain talents, personal prestige or financial standing.
- Take for granted that they are an interesting and valuable person for others, at least for those with whom they have a friendship.
- Resist manipulation, collaborate with others only if it seems appropriate and convenient.
- Admit and accept different internal feelings and drives, either positive or negative, revealing those drives to others only when they choose.
- Are able to enjoy a great variety of activities.
- Are sensitive to feelings and needs of others; respect generally accepted social rules, and claim no right or desire to prosper at others’ expense.
- Can work toward finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others when challenges arise.
Secure vs. defensive
A person can have a high self-esteem and hold it confidently where they do not need reassurance from others to maintain their positive self view, whereas others with defensive, high self-esteem may still report positive self-evaluations on the Rosenberg Scale, as all high self-esteem individuals do; however, their positive self-views are fragile and vulnerable to criticism. Defensive high self-esteem individuals internalize subconscious self-doubts and insecurities causing them to react very negatively to any criticism they may receive. There is a need for constant positive feedback from others for these individuals to maintain their feelings of self-worth. The necessity of repeated praise can be associated with boastful, arrogant behavior or sometimes even aggressive and hostile feelings toward anyone who questions the individual’s self-worth, an example of threatened egotism.
Implicit, explicit, narcissism, and threatened egotism
Implicit self-esteem refers to a person’s disposition to evaluate themselves positively or negatively in a spontaneous, automatic, or unconscious manner. It contrasts with explicit self-esteem, which entails more conscious and reflective self-evaluation. Both explicit self-esteem and implicit self-esteem are subtypes of self-esteem proper.
Narcissism is a disposition people may have that represents an excessive love for one’s self. It is characterized by an inflated view of self-worth. Individuals who score high on Narcissism measures, Robert Raskin’s 40 Item True or False Test, would likely select true to such statements as “If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place.” There is only a moderate correlation between narcissism and self-esteem; that is to say that an individual can have high self-esteem but low narcissism or can be a conceited, obnoxious person and score high self-esteem and high narcissism.
Low self-esteem can result from various factors, including genetic factors, physical appearance or weight, mental health issues, socioeconomic status, peer pressure or bullying.
A person with low self-esteem may show some of the following characteristics:
- Heavy self-criticism and dissatisfaction.
- Hypersensitivity to criticism with resentment against critics and feelings of being attacked.
- Chronic indecision and an exaggerated fear of mistakes.
- Excessive will to please and unwillingness to displease any petitioner.
- Perfectionism, which can lead to frustration when perfection is not achieved.
- Neurotic guilt, dwelling on and/or exaggerating the magnitude of past mistakes.
- Floating hostility and general defensiveness and irritability without any proximate cause.
- Pessimism and a general negative outlook.
- Envy, invidiousness, or general resentment.
- Sees temporary setbacks as permanent, intolerable conditions.
When given negative feedback, individuals with low self-esteem often take it personally, and can be devastated by it. This damage can be much more severe if the feedback is harsh or directly criticizes the individual’s worth, moral character, achievements, etc. Individuals with low self-esteem are very critical of themselves and depend on the approval and praise of others for their own evaluation of self-worthiness. They believe that a person’s approval of them is dependent on their performance, whether it be academic, relationship, etc. People with low self-esteem view their likeability in terms of successes: others will accept them if they succeed but will not if they fail.
Self-esteem is typically assessed using a self-report inventory yielding a score on a continuous scale from low to high self-esteem.
Among the most widely used instruments, the Rosenberg (1965) 10-item self-esteem scale scores each item on a four-point response system that requires participants to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements about themselves. An alternative measure, The Coopersmith Inventory uses a 50-question battery over a variety of topics and asks subjects whether they rate someone as similar or dissimilar to themselves.
If a subject’s answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the scale regards them as well adjusted. If those answers reveal some inner shame, it considers them to be prone to social deviance.
More recently,[when?] implicit measures of self-esteem have begun to be used. These rely on indirect measures of cognitive processing thought to be linked to implicit self-esteem, including the Name Letter Task Such indirect measures are designed to reduce awareness of, or control of, the process of assessment. When used to assess implicit self-esteem, they feature stimuli designed to represent the self, such as personal pronouns (e.g., “I”) or characters in one’s name.
Abraham Maslow states that psychological health is not possible unless the essential core of the person is fundamentally accepted, loved and respected by others and by her or his self. Self-esteem allows people to face life with more confidence, benevolence and optimism, and thus easily reach their goals and self-actualize. It allows a person to be more ambitious, but not with respect to possessions or success, but with respect to what they can experienceemotionally, creatively and spiritually.
To develop self-esteem is to increase the capacity to be happy; self-esteem may make people convinced they deserve happiness. Understanding this is fundamental, and universally beneficial, since the development of positive self-esteem increases the capacity to treat other people with respect, benevolence and goodwill, thus favoring rich interpersonal relationships and avoiding destructive ones. For Erich Fromm, love of others and love of ourselves are not alternatives. On the contrary, an attitude of love toward themselves will be found in all those who are capable of loving others.Self-esteem allows creativity at the workplace, and is a specially critical condition for teaching professions.
José-Vicente Bonet claims that the importance of self-esteem is obvious as a lack of self-esteem is, he says, not a loss of esteem from others, but self-rejection. Bonet claims that this corresponds to Major depressive disorder. Freud also claimed that the depressive has suffered “an extraordinary diminution in his self-regard, an impoverishment of his ego on a grand scale….He has lost his self-respect”.
The Yogyakarta Principles, a document on international human rights law addresses the discriminatory attitude toward LGBT peoples that makes their self-esteem low to be subject to human rights violation including human trafficking. and World Health Organization recommends in “Preventing Suicide” published in 2000 that strengthening students’ self-esteem is important to protect children and adolescents against mental distress and despondency, enabling them to cope adequately with difficult and stressful life situations. How this might be done, and whether it would be effective is unclear.
Other than increased happiness, higher self-esteem is also known to be correlated with a better ability to cope with stress and a higher likeliness that the individual takes on difficult tasks relative to those with low self-esteem.
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s many Americans assumed as a matter of course that students’ self-esteem acted as a critical factor in the grades that they earn in school, in their relationships with their peers, and in their later success in life. Under this assumption, some American groups created programs which aimed to increase the self-esteem of students. Until the 1990s little peer-reviewed and controlled research took place on this topic.
Peer-reviewed research undertaken since then has not validated previous assumptions. Recent research indicates that inflating students’ self-esteem in and of itself has no positive effect on grades. One study has shown that inflating self-esteem by itself can actually decrease grades. The relationship involving self-esteem and academic results does not signify that high self-esteem contributes to high academic results. It simply means that high self-esteem may be accomplished due to high academic performance due to the other variables of social interactions and life events affecting this performance.
“Attempts by pro-esteem advocates to encourage self-pride in students solely by reason of their uniqueness as human beings will fail if feelings of well-being are not accompanied by well-doing. It is only when students engage in personally meaningful endeavors for which they can be justifiably proud that self-confidence grows, and it is this growing self-assurance that in turn triggers further achievement.”
High self-esteem correlates highly with self-reported happiness; whether this is a causal relationship has not been established. The relationship between self-esteem and life satisfaction is stronger in individualistic cultures.
Additionally, self-esteem has been found to be related to forgiveness in close relationships, in that people with high self-esteem will be more forgiving than people with low self-esteem.
People with high self-esteem are more likely to minimize the consequences of risky behavior rationalizing risky behavior convincing themselves that the behavior will not cause harm to themselves or others. This may contribute to behaviors like drinking, taking drugs and engaging in early sexual intercourse as well as other risk taking behaviors.
Criticism and controversy
The American psychologist Albert Ellis criticized on numerous occasions the concept of self-esteem as essentially self-defeating and ultimately destructive.Although acknowledging the human propensity and tendency to ego rating as innate, he has critiqued the philosophy of self-esteem as unrealistic, illogical and self- and socially destructive – often doing more harm than good. Questioning the foundations and usefulness of generalized ego strength, he has claimed that self-esteem is based on arbitrary definitional premises, and over-generalized, perfectionistic and grandiose thinking. Acknowledging that rating and valuing behaviours and characteristics is functional and even necessary, he sees rating and valuing human beings’ totality and total selves as irrational and unethical. The healthier alternative to self-esteem according to him is unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional other-acceptance. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is a psychotherapy based on this approach.
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and journalist John Tierney argue that the benefits of self-esteem can be significantly counter-productive, and that parental guidance towards self-esteem may thwart actual practices of self-control.
- “There seem to be only two clearly demonstrated benefits of high self-esteem….First, it increases initiative, probably because it lends confidence. People with high self-esteem are more willing to act on their beliefs, to stand up for what they believe in, to approach others, to risk new undertakings. (This unfortunately includes being extra willing to do stupid or destructive things, even when everyone else advises against them.)…It can also lead people to ignore sensible advice as they stubbornly keep wasting time and money on hopeless causes”
For a person with low self-esteem any positive stimulus or incentive will make him feel comfortable, or, at most, better with respect to himself/herself for just some time. Therefore, possessions, sex, success, or physical appearance, by themselves, will produce comfort, or a false and ephemeral development of self-esteem, but they will not really strengthen confidence and respect to oneself.
Life satisfaction, happiness, healthy behavioral practices, perceived efficacy, and academic success and adjustment have been associated with having high levels of self-esteem (Harter, 1987; Huebner, 1991; Lipschitz-Elhawi & Itzhaky, 2005; Rumberger 1995; Swenson & Prelow, 2005; Yarcheski & Mahon, 1989).:270However, a common mistake is to think that loving oneself is necessarily equivalent to narcissism, as opposed for example to what Erik Erikson speaks of as “a post-narcissistic love of the ego”. A person with a healthy self-esteem accepts and loves himself/herself unconditionally, acknowledging both virtues and faults in the self, and yet, in spite of everything, is able to continue to love her/himself.
In Narcissists, by contrast, an “innate uncertainty about their own worth gives rise to…a self-protective, but often totally spurious, aura of grandiosity“ – producing the class “of narcissists, or people with very high, but insecure, self-esteem… fluctuating with each new episode of social praise or rejection.”:479 Narcissism can thus be seen as a symptom of fundamentally low self-esteem, that is, lack of love towards oneself, but often accompanied by “an immense increase in self-esteem” based on “the defense mechanism of denial by overcompensation.” “idealized love of self…rejected the part of him” that he denigrates – “this destructive little child” within. Instead, the narcissist emphasizes his virtues in the presence of others, just to try to convince himself that he is a valuable person and to try to stop feeling ashamed for his faults; unfortunately such “people with unrealistically inflated self-views, which may be especially unstable and highly vulnerable to negative information,…tend to have poor social skills.”:126
The construct of self-esteem (or self-concept) dates back to William James, in the late 19th century. In his work Principles of Psychology (1890), James studied the splitting of our “global self” into “knower self” and “known self.” According to James, from this splitting, which we all are more or less aware of, self-esteem is born.
In the 20th century, the initial influence of Behaviorism minimized introspective study of mental processes, emotions and feelings, which was replaced by objective study through experiments on behaviors observed in relation with environment. Behaviorism placed the human being as an animal subject to reinforcements, and suggested placing psychology as an experimental science, similar to chemistry or biology. As a consequence, clinical trials on self-esteem were overlooked, since behaviorists considered the idea less liable to rigorous measurement hypothesis.
In the mid-20th century, Phenomenology and humanistic psychotherapy made self-esteem gain prominence again, and it took a central role in personal self-actualization and in the treatment of psychic disorders. Psychologists started to consider personal satisfaction and psychotherapy, and new elements were introduced, which helped to understand the reasons why people tend to feel less worthy, discouraged and unable to understand challenges by themselves.
Carl Rogers (1902–1987), the greatest exponent of humanistic psychology, exposed his theory about unconditional acceptance and self-acceptance as the best way to improve self-esteem. Robert B. Burns regards self-esteem as a collection of an individual’s attitudes toward himself. The human being perceives itself at asensory level; thinks about itself and about its behavior, and evaluates both its behavior and itself. Consequently, humans feel emotions related to themselves. These emotions prompt behavioral tendencies aimed at oneself, at one’s behavior, and at the features of one’s body and character. These tendencies effect the attitudes which, globally, we call self-esteem. Thus, self-esteem, for Burns, is the evaluative perception of oneself. In his own words, an “individual’s behavior is the result of his environment’s particular interpretation, whose focus is himself”.
The core self-evaluations approach includes self-esteem as one of four dimensions that comprise one’s fundamental appraisal of oneself, along with locus of control, neuroticism, and self-efficacy. The concept of core self-evaluations as first examined by Judge, Locke, and Durham (1997), has since proven to have the ability to predict several work outcomes, specifically, job satisfaction and job performance. Self-esteem may, in fact, be one of the most essential core self-evaluation dimensions because it is the overall value one feels about oneself as a person.
- Body image
- Clinical depression
- Dunning–Kruger effect
- Eating disorder
- Emotional competence
- Gumption trap
- Optimism bias
- Outline of self
- Performance anxiety
- Suicide prevention
- Self-evaluation maintenance theory
- Self-esteem functions
- Self image
- Social anxiety
- Social phobia
- Inner critic
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