This article is about the psychological concept. For the music single from Offspring, see Self Esteem (song).
For other uses of "Esteem", see Esteem (disambiguation).
Self-esteem reflects an individual's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is the decision made by an individual as an attitude towards the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself, (for example, "I am competent", "I am worthy"), as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame. Smith and Mackie (2007) defined 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 attractive as a social psychological construct because researchers have conceptualized it as an influential predictor of certain outcomes, such as academic achievement,happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, and criminal behaviour. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, "I believe I am a good writer and 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 many things: self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, and self-integrity.
The identification of self-esteem as a distinct psychological construct is thought to have its origins in the work of philosopher and psychologist, William James (1892). James identified multiple dimensions of the self, with two levels of hierarchy: processes of knowing (called the 'I-self') and the resulting knowledge about the self (the 'Me-self'). Observation about the self and storage of those observations by the I-self create three types of knowledge, which collectively account for the Me-self, according to James. These are the material self, social self, and spiritual self. The social self comes closest to self-esteem, comprising all characteristics recognized by others. The material self consists of representations of the body and possessions, and the spiritual self of descriptive representations and evaluative dispositions regarding the self. This view of self-esteem as the collection of an individual's attitudes toward oneself remains today.
In the mid-1960s, sociologist Morris Rosenberg defined self-esteem as a feeling of self-worth and developed the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES), which became the most-widely used scale to measure self-esteem in the social sciences.
In the early 20th century, the behaviorist movement 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. In the mid-20th century, the rise of phenomenology and humanistic psychology led to renewed interest in self-esteem. Self-esteem then took a central role in personal self-actualization and in the treatment of psychic disorders. Psychologists started to consider the relationship between psychotherapy and the personal satisfaction of a person with high self-esteem as useful to the field. This led to new elements being introduced to the concept of self-esteem, including the reasons why people tend to feel less worthy and why people become discouraged or unable to meet challenges by themselves.
Currently, 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 job satisfaction and job performance. Self-esteem may be essential to self-evaluation.
Effect on public policy
The importance of self-esteem has gained endorsement from some government and non-government groups starting around the 1970s, such that one can speak of a self-esteem movement. This movement can be used as an example of promising evidence that psychological research can have an effect on forming public policy. The underlying idea of the movement was that low self-esteem was the root of the problem for individuals, making it the root of societal problems and dysfunctions. A leading figure of the movement was psychologist, Nathaniel Branden who was quoted as saying, "[I] cannot think of a single psychological problem – from anxiety and depression, to fear of intimacy or of success, to spouse battery or child molestation – that is not traced back to the problem of low self-esteem".:3
Self-esteem was believed to be a cultural phenomenon of Western individualistic societies since low self-esteem was not occurring in collectivist countries such as Japan. The idea of low self-esteem and its many negative consequences led California assemblyman John Vasconcellos to work to create and fund the Task Force on Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility in California in 1986. Vasconcellos argued that this task force could combat many of the state's problems from crime and teen pregnancy to school underachievement and pollution. He compared increasing self-esteem to giving out a vaccine for a disease: it could help protect people from being overwhelmed by life's challenges.
The task force created committees in many California counties and compiled a committee of scholars to review the available literature on self-esteem. This committee found very small associations between low self-esteem and its assumed consequences, ultimately showing that low self-esteem is not the root of all societal problems and not as important as the committee had originally thought. However, the authors of the paper that summarized the review of the literature still believe that self-esteem is an independent variable that affects major social problems. The task force disbanded in 1995, and the National Council for Self-Esteem and later the National Association for Self-Esteem (NASE) was established taking on the task force's mission. Vasconcellos and Jack Canfield were a part of its advisory board in 2003, and members of its Masters' Coalition included Anthony Robbins, Bernie Siegel, and Gloria Steinem.
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 human needs. He described two different forms of "esteem": the need for respect from others in the form of recognition, success, and admiration, and the need for self-respect in the form of self-love, self-confidence, skill, or aptitude. Respect from others 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. Maslow also states that the healthiest expression of self-esteem "is the one which manifests in respect we deserve for others, more than renown, fame and flattery". 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.
Self-esteem is important because it shows ourselves how we view 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.
Carl Rogers (1902-1987), an advocate of humanistic psychology, theorized the origin of many people's problems to be that they despise themselves and consider themselves worthless and incapable of being loved. This is why Rogers believed in the importance of giving unconditional acceptance to a client and when this was done it could improve the client's self-esteem. In his therapy sessions with clients, he offered positive regard no matter what. 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.||”|
Self-esteem is typically assessed using self-report inventories.
One of the most widely used instruments, the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES) is a 10-item self-esteem scale scores 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.
Implicit measures of self-esteem began to be used in the 1980s. 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 the process of assessment. When used to assess implicit self-esteem, psychologists feature self-relevant stimuli to the participant and then measure how quickly a person identifies positive or negative stimuli. For example, if a woman was given the self-relevant stimuli of female and mother, psychologists would measure how quickly she identified the negative word, evil, or the positive word, kind.
Development across lifespan
Experiences in a person's life are a major source of how self-esteem develops. In the early years of a child's life, parents have a significant influence on self-esteem and can be considered a main source of positive and negative experiences a child will have. Unconditional love from parents helps a child develop a stable sense of being cared for and respected. These feelings translate into later effects on self-esteem as the child grows older. Students in elementary school who have high self-esteem tend to have authoritative 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 (mainly authoritative and permissive) with children having high self-esteem, these parenting styles 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.
During school-aged years, academic achievement is a significant contributor to self-esteem development. A student consistently achieving success or consistently failing will have a strong academic effect on their individual self-esteem. Social experiences are another important contributor to self-esteem. 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. Adolescents make appraisals of themselves based on their relationships with close friends. Successful relationships among friends are 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.
Adolescence shows an increase in self-esteem that continues to increase in young adulthood and middle age. A decrease is seen from middle age to old age with varying findings on whether it is a small or large decrease. Reasons for the variability could be because of differences in health, cognitive ability, and socioeconomic status in old age. No differences have been found between males and females in their development of self-esteem. Multiple cohort studies show that there is not a difference in the life-span trajectory of self-esteem between generations due to societal changes such as grade inflation in education or the presence of social media.
High levels of mastery, low risk taking, and better health are ways to predict higher self-esteem. In terms of personality, emotionally stable, extroverted, and conscientious individuals experience higher self-esteem. These predictors have shown us that self-esteem has trait-like qualities by remaining stable over time like personality and intelligence. However, this does not mean it can not be changed. Hispanic adolescents have a slightly lower self-esteem than their black and white peers, but then slightly higher levels by age 30. African Americans have a sharper increase in self-esteem in adolescence and young adulthood compared to Whites. However, during old age, they experience a more rapid decline in self-esteem.
Shame can be a contributor to those with problems of low self-esteem. Feelings of shame usually occur because of a situation where the social self is devalued, such as a socially evaluated poor performance. A poor performance leads to higher responses of psychological states that indicate a threat to the social self namely a decrease in social self-esteem and an increase in shame. This increase in shame can be helped with self-compassion.
Real self, ideal self, and dreaded self
There are three 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 children in a sequential pattern on cognitive levels.
- Moral Judgment Stages: Individuals describe their Real, Ideal, and Dreaded Selves with stereotypical labels, such as "nice" or "bad". Individuals describe their Ideal and Real Selves in terms of disposition for action or as behavioral habits. The Dreaded Self is often described as being unsuccessful or as having bad habits.
- Ego Development Stages: Individuals describe their Ideal and Real Selves in terms of traits that are based in attitudes as well as actions. The Dreaded Self is often described as having failed to meet social expectations or as self-centered.
- Self-Understanding Stages: 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.
This development brings with it increasingly complicated and encompassing moral demands. Level 3 is where individuals' self-esteem can suffer because they do not feel as though they are living up to certain expectations. This feeling will moderately effect one's self-esteem with an even larger effect seen when individuals believe they are becoming their Dreaded Self 
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.
- Understand how 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.
Threatened egotism is characterized as a response to criticism that threatens the ego of narcissists; they often react in a hostile and aggressive manner.
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 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.
Individuals with low self-esteem tend to be critical of themselves. Some depend on the approval and praise of others when evaluating self-worth. Others may measure their likability in terms of successes: others will accept themselves if they succeed but will not if they fail.
The three states
This classification proposed by Martin Ross distinguishes three states of self-esteem compared to the "feats" (triumphs, honors, virtues) and the "anti-feats" (defeats, embarrassment, shame, etc.) of the individuals.
The individual does not regard themselves as valuable or lovable. They may be overwhelmed by defeat, or shame, or see themselves as such, and they name their "anti-feat". For example, if they consider that being over a certain age is an anti-feat, they define themselves with the name of their anti-feat, and say, "I am old". They pity themselves. They insult themselves. They feel sorry. They may become paralyzed by their sadness.
The individual has a generally positive self-image. However, their self-esteem is also vulnerable to the perceived risk of an imminent anti-feat (such as defeat, embarrassment, shame, discredit), consequently they are often nervous and regularly use defense mechanisms. A typical protection mechanism of those with a Vulnerable Self-Esteem may consist in avoiding decision-making. Although such individuals may outwardly exhibit great self-confidence, the underlying reality may be just the opposite: the apparent self-confidence is indicative of their heightened fear of anti-feats and the fragility of their self-esteem. They may also try to blame others to protect their self-image from situations which would threaten it. They may employ defense mechanisms, including attempting to lose at games and other competitions in order to protect their self-image by publicly dissociating themselves from a 'need to win', and asserting an independence from social acceptance which they may deeply desire. In this deep fear of being unaccepted by an individual's peers, they make poor life choices by making risky choices.
People with strong self-esteem have a positive self-image and enough strength so that anti-feats do not subdue their self-esteem. They have less fear of failure. These individuals appear humble, cheerful, and this shows a certain strength not to boast about feats and not to be afraid of anti-feats. They are capable of fighting with all their might to achieve their goals because, if things go wrong, their self-esteem will not be affected. They can acknowledge their own mistakes precisely because their self-image is strong, and this acknowledgment will not impair or affect their self-image. They live with less fear of losing social prestige, and with more happiness and general well-being. However, no type of self-esteem is indestructiblecitation needed, and due to certain situations or circumstances in life, one can fall from this level into any other state of self-esteem.
Contingent vs. non-contingent
A distinction is made between contingent (or conditional) and non-contingent (or unconditional) self-esteem.
Contingent self-esteem is derived from external sources, such as (a) what others say, (b) one's success or failure, (c) one's competence, or (d) relationship-contingent self-esteem.
Therefore, contingent self-esteem is marked by instability, unreliability, and vulnerability. Persons lacking a non-contingent self-esteem are "predisposed to an incessant pursuit of self-value." However, because the pursuit of contingent self-esteem is based on receiving approval, it is doomed to fail. No one receives constant approval and disapproval often evokes depression. Furthermore, fear of disapproval inhibits activities in which failure is possible.
Non-contingent self-esteem is described as true, stable, and solid. It springs from a belief that one is "acceptable period, acceptable before life itself, ontologically acceptable". Belief that one is "ontologically acceptable" is to believe that one's acceptability is "the way things be without contingency". In this belief, as expounded by theologian Paul Tillich, acceptability is not based on a person's virtue. It is an acceptance given "in spite of our guilt, not because we have no guilt".
Psychiatrist Thomas A Harris drew on theologian Paul Tillich for his classic I'm OK – You're OK that addresses non-contingent self-esteem. Harris translated Tillich's "acceptable" by the vernacular "OK", a term that means "acceptable". The Christian message, said Harris, is not "YOU CAN BE OK, IF", It is "YOU ARE ACCEPTED, unconditionally".
A secure non-contingent self-esteem springs from the belief that one is ontologically acceptable and accepted.
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.
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. Roy Baumeister 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 as a result of 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 has a high correlation to 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.
High self-esteem does not prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in early sex. One important exception is that high self-esteem reduces the chances of bulimia in females.
In a 2014 research conducted by Robert S. Chavez and Todd F. Heatherton, it was found that self-esteem is related to the connectivity of the frontostriatal circuit. The frontostriatal pathway connects the medial prefrontal cortex, which deals with self-knowledge, to the ventral striatum, which deals with feelings of motivation and reward. Stronger anatomical pathways are correlated with higher long-term self-esteem, while stronger functional connectivity is correlated with higher short-term self-esteem.
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.
- "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 persons with low self-esteem, any positive stimulus will temporarily raise self-esteem. Therefore, possessions, sex, success, or physical appearance will produce development of self-esteem, but the development is ephemeral at best.
Such attempts to raise one's self-esteem by positive stimulus produce a "boom or bust" pattern. "Compliments and positive feedback" produce a boost, but a bust follows a lack of such feedback. For a person whose "self-esteem is contingent", success is "not extra sweet", but "failure is extra bitter".
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).:270 However, 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 courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable. . . . This is the Pauline-Lutheran doctrine of 'justification by faith.'" Paul Tillich
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Low Self Esteem
Saul McLeod published 2012
Self-esteem should be viewed as a continuum, and can be high, medium or low, and is often quantified as a number in empirical research.
When considering self-esteem it is important to note that both high and low levels can be emotionally and socially harmful for the individual. Indeed it is thought an optimum level of self-esteem lies in the middle of the continuum. Individuals operating within this range are thought to be more socially dominant within relationships.
Research has shown key differences between individuals with high and low self-esteem. For example, people with high self-esteem focus on growth and improvement, whereas people with low self-esteem focus on not making mistakes in life.
Low self-esteem has been shown to be correlated with a number of negative outcomes, such as depression (Silverstone & Salsali, 2003).
Rosenberg and Owen (2001) offer the following description of low self-esteem people based on empirical research. People with low self-esteem are more troubled by failure and tend to exaggerate events as being negative.
For example, they often interpret non critical comments as critical. They are more likely to experience social anxiety and low levels of interpersonal confidence. This in turn makes social interaction with others difficult as they feel awkward, shy, conspicuous, and unable to adequately express themselves when interacting with others (p. 409). Furthermore, low self-esteem individuals tend to be pessimistic towards people and groups within society.
Research has also shown that low self-esteem has to linked to an increased risk of teenage pregnancy.
Guindon (2002) asked school counsellors to list five characteristics that best describe students with low self-esteem. Over 1000 words were used and the most common are listed below:
- Negative (attitude)
- Socially inept
- Poor self-image
- Lacks self-confidence
- Poor communication
- Acts out
Low Self-Esteem in Children
It should be noted that on average self-esteem during childhood is found to be relatively high. However, there are individual differences and some children are unfortunate to experience feelings of low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem in children tends to be related to physical punishment and withholding of love and affection by parents. Carl Rogers would describe this as conditional positive regard, whereby individuals only receive positive attention from significant others (such as parents) when they act in a certain way. This reinforces to the child that they are only a person of value when they act a certain way (e.g. achieving A grades on a test).
Children with low self-esteem rely on coping strategies that are counterproductive such as bullying, quitting, cheating, avoiding etc. Although all children will display some of these behaviors at times, low self-esteem is strongly indicated when these behaviors appear with regularity.
Socially children with low self-esteem can be withdrawn or shy, and find it difficult to have fun. Although they may have a wide circle of friends they are more likely to yield to group pressure and more vulnerable to being bullied. At school they avoid trying new things (for fear of failure) and will give up easily.
Low Self-Esteem in Teenagers
Self-esteem continues to decline during adolescence (particularly for girls). Researchers have explained this decline to body image and other problems associated with puberty.
Although boys and girls report similar levels of self-esteem during childhood, a gender gap emerges by adolescence, in that adolescent boys have higher self-esteem than adolescent girls (Robins et al., 2002).
Girls with low self-esteem appear to be more vulnerable to perceptions of the ideal body image perpetuated in western media (through methods such as airbrushing models on magazine covers).
References and Further Reading
Abraham, T. (1988). Toward a Self-Evaluation Maintenance Model of Social Behavior. In L. Berkowitz (Ed), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 181–227).Academic Press.
Coopersmith, S. (1967). The Antecedents of Self-esteem. Freeman.
Harter, S. 1993. Causes and Consequences of Low Self-esteem in Children and Adolescents. In Baumeister, R.F. (Ed.) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-regard (pp. 87-116).
Mruk, C. (1995). Self-Esteem: Research, Theory, and Practice. Springer.
Guindon, M. H. (2002). Toward Accountability in the Use of the Self‐Esteem Construct. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 204-214.
Robins, R.W., Trzesniewski, K.H., Tracy, J.L., Gosling, S.D., & Potter, J. (2002). Global self-esteem across the lifespan. Psychology and Aging, 17, 423-434.
Rosenberg, M. (1976). Beyond Self-Esteem: The Neglected Issues in Self-concept Research.Paper presented at the annual meetings of the ASA.
Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the Self. Basic Books.
Rosenberg, M., & Owens, T.J. (2001). Low self-esteem people: A collective portrait. In T.J. Owens. S. Stryker, & N. Goodmanm (Eds.), Extending self-esteem theory and research (pp. 400-436). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Silverstone, P. H., & Salsali, M. (2003). Low self-esteem and psychiatric patients: Part I–The relationship between low self-esteem and psychiatric diagnosis. Annals of General Psychiatry, 2(1), 2.
Viktor, G. (1982). The Self-Concept. Annual Review of Sociology, 8:1–33.
Viktor, G., & Schwalbe, M.L. (1983). Beyond the Looking-glass Self: Social Structure and Efficacy-Based Self-Esteem. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46:77–88.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2012). Low self esteem. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/self-esteem.html