Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent", "I am worthy") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. 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 have global extent (for example, "I believe I am a bad person, and feel bad about myself in general").
Psychologists[who?] 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. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, "self-love" is "the instinct or desire to promote one's well-being".
- 1 Basics
- 2 Definitions
- 3 Measurement
- 4 Positive self-esteem
- 5 Low self-esteem
- 6 Theories
- 7 Grades and relationships
- 8 Parental influence
- 9 Criticism and controversy
- 10 False stereotypes
- 11 In Buddhism
- 12 History
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
The capacity to develop healthy confidence and respect for oneself [and for others] is inherent to human nature, since the mere fact of being able to think is the base of its suitability, and the mere fact of being alive is the base of the right to make an effort to achieve happiness. Thus, the natural state of human being should correspond to a high self-esteem. Nonetheless, the fact is that there is a lot of people who, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they admit it or not, have a level of self-esteem below the theoretically natural.
That is due to the fact that, during development, and through life itself, people tend to move away from positive self-conceptualization [and conceptualization], or even not to approach to it. The reasons why this happens are diverse, and they can be found in negative influence from other people, self-punishment for breaking one's values [or one's social group's values], or shortage of understanding or compassion for one's actions [or others' actions].
|“||John Powell, a known psychology popularizer, confesses in one of his books that, when somebody sincerely praises him, instead of toning down his own merits, as used, he replies: “go ahead, please, go ahead”. It is a reply that is unusual and makes an audience laugh when told in public. It is also a reply that makes you think.||”|
The original normal definition presents self-esteem as a ratio found by dividing one’s successes in areas of life of importance to a given individual by the failures in them or one’s “success / pretensions”. Problems with this approach come from making self-esteem contingent upon success: this implies inherent instability because failure can occur at any moment. In the mid 1960s, Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of 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 judgement that every person does about, on one side, his/her ability to face life's challenges, that is, to understand and solve problems, and, on the other side, his right to achieve happiness, or, in other words, to respect and defend his own interests and needs. This two-factor approach, as some have also called it, provides a balanced definition that seems to be capable of dealing with limits of defining self-esteem primarily in terms of competence or worth alone.
Branden’s description of self-esteem includes the following primary properties:
- self-esteem as a basic human need, i.e., "...it makes an essential contribution to the life process", "...is indispensable to normal and healthy self-development, and has a value for survival."
- self-esteem as an automatic and inevitable consequence of the sum of individuals' choices in using their consciousness
- something experienced as a part of, or background to, all of the individuals thoughts, feelings and actions.
Branden's concept of self-esteem is graduated, involving three main levels:
- To have a high self-esteem is to feel confidently capable for life, or, in Branden's words, to feel able and worthy, or to feel right as a person.
- To have a low self-esteem corresponds to not feeling ready for life, or to feeling wrong as a person.
- To have a middle ground self-esteem is to waver between the two states above, that is, to feel able and useless, right and wrong as a person, and to show these incongruities in behavior, acting at times wisely, and at rashly others, thus reinforcing insecurity.
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. Implicit self-esteem is assessed using indirect measures of cognitive processing, 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 letters in one's name.
Level and quality of self-esteem, though correlated, remain distinct:
- in terms of its constancy over time (stability)
- in terms of its independence of meeting particular conditions (non-contingency)
- in terms of its ingrained nature at a basic psychological level (implicitness or automatized)
For the purposes of empirical research, psychologists typically assess self-esteem by a self-report inventory yielding a quantitative result. They establish the validity and reliability of the questionnaire prior to its use.
Whereas popular lore recognizes just "high" self-esteem and "low" self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (1965) and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (1967/1981) both quantify it in more detail, and feature among the most widely used systems for measuring self-esteem. The Rosenberg test usually uses a ten-question battery scored on a four-point response system that requires participants to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements about themselves. 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.
Self-esteem is a graduated concept. Taking this into consideration, people may essentially have three main degrees of self-esteem:
- To have a high self-esteem is to feel confidently capable for life, or, in Branden's words, to feel able and worth, or to feel right as a person.
- To have a low self-esteem corresponds to not feeling ready for life, or to feeling wrong as a person.
- To have a middle ground self-esteem is to waver between the two states above, that is, to feel able and useless, right and wrong as a person, and to show these incongruities in behavior, acting, at times, wisely, and rashly at others, thus reinforcing insecurity.
In practice, and according to Nathaniel Branden's experience, everybody is able to develop positive self-esteem, and nobody has a totally undeveloped self-esteem. The more flexible is a person, the better he can resist everything that would otherwise make him fall into failure or desperation.
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 don't 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 with.
- 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.
Abraham Maslow states that no psychological health is possible unless the essential core of the person is fundamentally accepted, loved and respected by others and by 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 oneself to be more ambitious, but not with respect to possessions or success, but with respect to what one can experience emotionally, creatively and spiritually. To develop self-esteem is to widen the capacity to be happy; self-esteem allows people to be 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.
José-Vicente Bonet reminds that the importance of self-esteem is obvious when one realizes that the opposite of it is not the esteem of others, but self-reject, a characteristic of that state of great unhappiness that we call “depression”.
A person with low self-esteem may show some of the following symptoms:
- Heavy self-criticism, tending to create a habitual state of dissatisfaction with oneself.
- Hypersensitivity to criticism, which makes oneself feel easily attacked and experience obstinate resentment against critics.
- Chronic indecision, not so much because of lack of information, but from an exaggerated fear of making a mistake.
- Excessive will to please: being unwilling to say "no", out of fear of displeasing the petitioner.
- Perfectionism, or self-demand to do everything attempted "perfectly" without a single mistake, which can lead to frustration when perfection is not achieved.
- Neurotic guilt: one is condemned for behaviors which not always are objectively bad, exaggerates the magnitude of mistakes or offenses and complains about them indefinitely, never reaching full forgiveness.
- Floating hostility, irritability out in the open, always on the verge of exploding even for unimportant things; an attitude characteristic of somebody who feels bad about everything, who is disappointed or unsatisfied with everything.
- Defensive tendencies, a general negative (one is pessimistic about everything: life, future, and, above all, oneself) and a general lack of will to enjoy life.
Many early theories suggested that self-esteem is a basic human need or motivation. American psychologist Abraham Maslow, for example, 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.
Self-esteem is the sum of attitudes which depend on perceptions, thoughts, evalutations, feelings and behavioral tendencies aimed toward ourselves, the way we are and behave, and our body's and character's features. In short, it's oneself's evaluative perception.
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, etc.), and respect and esteem one 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 is that they despise themselves and they consider themselves to be unvaluable and unworthy of being loved; thus the importance he 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 most evil human beings deserve a human 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.
Grades and relationships
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.
"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. However, it is not clear which, if either, necessarily leads to the other. 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.
Parental habits, whether positive or negative, can influence the development of those same habits of self-perception in their children.
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.
Comfort is not self-esteem
For a person with low self-esteem —or “wrong”, according to Branden's terminology—, any positive stimulus or incentive will make him feel comfortable, or, at most, better with respect to himself/herself for just some time. Therefore, properties, sex, success, or physical appearance, by themselves, will produce comfort, or a false and ephemeral development of self-esteem, but they won't really strengthen confidence and respect to oneself.
Self-esteem and culture
Branden has claimed that “self-esteem can be better understood as a sort of spiritual achievement, that is, a victory in pysche's evolution”.  More recent studies demonstrate correlation between self-esteem and life satisfaction, and that levels of correlation are culturally relative.
Self-esteem is not narcissism
A common mistake is to think that loving oneself is equivalent to narcissism. However, narcissism is a symptom of low self-esteem, that is, lack of love to oneself. A person with a healthy self-esteem accepts and loves himself/herself unconditionally. He knows his virtues, but also his faults. In spite of everything, he is able to acknowledge and accept both all virtues and faults and live loving himself. On the contrary, a narcissistic person is not able to acknowledge and accept his faults, which he always tries to hide. At the same time, the narcissistic emphasizes his virtues in the presence of others, just to try to convince himself that he is a valuable person and try to stop feeling guilty for his faults.
- The construct of self-esteem (or self-concept) dates back to William James, in the late 19th century, who, in his work Principles of Psychology, 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 to place psychology as an experimental science, similar to chemistry or biology. As a consequence, clinical trials on self-esteem were overlooked, since it was considered a 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 psychic disorders' treatment. Personal satisfaction and psychotherapy started to be considered, and new elements were introduced, which helped to understand the reasons why people tend to feel less worthy, discouraged and unbable to understand challenges by themselves.
- Carl Rogers, 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 considers that self-esteem is a collection of the individual's attitudes toward himself. The human being senses himself at a sensorial level; thinks about himself and about his behaviors, and evaluates them and himself. Consequently, he feels emotions related to himself. That starts in him behavioral tendencies aimed to himself, to his way to be and behave, and to his body's and character's features, and, in turn, that forms the attitudes which, globally, we call self-esteem. Thus, self-esteem, for Burns, is the evaluative perception of oneself. In his own words: "individual's behavior is the result of his environment's particular interpretation, whose focus is himself".
- Body image
- Dunning–Kruger effect
- Eating disorder
- Emotional competence
- Emotional intelligence
- Gumption trap
- Implicit self-esteem
- Optimism bias
- Outline of self
- Performance anxiety
- Self-evaluation maintenance theory
- Self-esteem functions
- Self-esteem in humanistic psychology
- Self image
- Social anxiety
- Social phobia
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