Defining self-esteem

Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall self-appraisal of their own worth.

Self-esteem encompasses positive beliefs in oneself for example, “I am competent”, “I am a good writer” as well as negative beliefs such as I don’t look good or I am a bad person. Behavioural attributes such as assertiveness and confidence reflects self-esteem.

Psychologists usually regard self-esteem as an enduring personality characteristic. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example: “I believe I am a good writer, and feel proud of that in particular”) or have global extent (for example: “I believe I am a good person, and feel proud of myself in general”).

Synonyms or near-synonyms of self-esteem include:

  • self-respect
  • self-worth
  • self-regard
  • self-love
  • self-confidence

Self-worth comprise thosequalities a person believes he or she must have in order to class as a person of worth and value; proponents claim the contingencies as the core of self-esteem. Individuals who base their self-worth in a specific domain, e.g academic success, leave themselves much more vulnerable to having their self-esteem threatened when negative events happen to them within that domain, such as when they fail a test at school. Researchers believe that people confuse the boosts to self-esteem resulting from successes with true human needs, such as learning, mutually supportive relationships.

Prevalence of the concept of self-esteem

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of the word “self-esteem” in English back as far as 1657. Self-esteem has become the third most frequently occurring theme in psychological literature: as of 2003 over 25,000 articles, chapters, and books referred to the topic.

Definitions of self-esteem

Given a long and varied history, the term has, unsurprisingly, no less than three major types of definitions in the field, each of which has generated its own tradition of research, findings, and practical applications:

  • The original 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.
  • In the mid 1960s social-learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, measurable by self-report testing.
  • Nathaniel Branden in 1969 briefly defined self-esteem as “The experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness”. This double-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. This definition of self-esteem includes the following primary properties:
  • self-esteem as a basic human need.
  • 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 individual’s thoughts, feelings and actions.

Measuring self-esteem

Most of us recognise just “high” self-esteem and “low” self-esteem.

For the purposes of empirical research, psychologists typically assess self-esteem by a self-report questionnaire yielding a quantitative result.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow described two kinds of esteem needs ? the need for respect from others and the need for self-respect. Respect from others entails recognition, acceptance, status, and appreciation. Without the fulfillment of these needs, an individual feels discouraged, weak and inferior.

Quality and level of self-esteem

Level and quality of self-esteem, though correlated, remain distinct. Level-wise, one can exhibit high but fragile self-esteem or low but stable self-esteem, as in humility. However, investigators can indirectly assess the quality of self-esteem in several ways:

  • in terms of its constancy over time
  • in terms of its independence of meeting particular conditions (non-contingency)
  • in terms of its ingrained nature at a basic psychological level (implicitness or automaticity).

Religion and self-esteem

Students active in religious organizations, along with those who read sacred texts or attend religious services, were found to have heightened emotional and mental health, according to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Women and self-esteem

Self-esteem has a major impact on well-being for men and women. Physical appearance is just one factor influencing self-esteem. Self-esteem is a factor in women with anorexia nervosa.Body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for depressive mood and low self-esteem in both young men and women.Lower scores for self-esteem are found in pregnant women who feel fat and self-esteem scores are higher in pregnant women who feel attractive.Improving attractiveness can enhance self-esteem in women. Trauma affecting physical ability and attractiveness can has been shown to lower self-esteem. Psychological well-being, including self-esteem of adolescent women is more related to body satisfaction than actual and perceived weight status. Higher Self-Esteem is associated with better health than in those men and women with chronic conditions or disability.

Infertility has an adverse effect on women and men. Low self-esteem may be factor in men and women who practice unsafe sex. Women who have had gynaecological cancer are more prone to lower self-esteem.

Middle-aged women may enhance certain aspects of physical self-esteem by participating in physical excercise. Self-esteem mediates the relationship between disordered eating and problem solving ability in an anorexic women. Treatment implications include support for programmes emphasising increasing self-appraisal and self-efficacy. It has been shown in France that young women with anorexia show low social, familial and general self-esteem.

Fewer young women than men report high self-esteem. Adults may foster self-esteem in adolescents by providing positive communication through supportive and caring relationships.

Perceived parental empathy is associated with healthy self-developmentand hence self-esteem. Not surprisingly, women who suffer domestic violence are prone to low self-esteem.

Improving self-esteem

As poor health and reduced attractiveness reduce self-esteem, every effort should be made to improve health. A health diet is an important start. Exercising regularly is also beneficial.

We all need help with our self-esteem. It is the way of the world that we should be pleasant to others and boost their morale. Religions invariably support this as a character-trait to be developed. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abraham is sited as the example par excellence. The support and love of those closest to you whether family, friends or peers all help to enhance self-esteem. This must be a reciprocal process. Those who offer their support need the support from others. For those with low self-esteem, there is a danger that they become so obsessed with their own plight that they become insulated and fail to recognise the needs of those closest to them. By providing support to those who matter to them, they will in turn receive the support they themselves require.

Dyslexia and associated reading and learning difficulties may cause reduced self-esteem. Sometimes simple measures, such as coloured tinted lenses may help. These lenses may sometimes assist with photosensitive migraine and epilepsy.Information on visual stress treatment with coloured tinted glasses.

Excessive self-esteem

Humans have portrayed the dangers of excessive self-esteem and the advantages of more humility since at least the development of Greek tragedy. Ongoing social concern with too much perceived self-esteem reflects in everyday language: we speak of the need to “take a person down a peg or two”. Spiritual practices which de-emphasize the self may lead to a more socially acceptable balance in the personal self-esteem stakes.

Self-esteem, grades and relationships

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s 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. Given this assumption, many American groups created programs which aimed to increase the self-esteem of students, assuming that grades would increase, conflicts would decrease, and that this would lead to happier and more successful lives. Until the 1990s little peer-reviewed and controlled research took place on this topic.

The concept of self-improvement has undergone dramatic change since 1911, when self-esteem was mockingly defined as “an erroneous appraisement.” Good and bad character are now known as “personality differences”. Rights have replaced responsibilities. A revolution has taken place in the vocabulary of self. Words that imply responsibility or accountability ? self-criticism, self-denial, self-discipline, self-control, self-effacement, self-mastery, self-reproach, and self-sacrifice, are no longer fashionable. Self-expression, self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-realization, self-approval, self-acceptance, self-love, and the self-esteem are now the order of the day.

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. High self-esteem correlates highly with self-reported happiness. However, it is not clear which, if either, necessarily leads to the other.

Self-Esteem, Bullying, violence and murder

Some of the most interesting results of recent studies centre on the relationships between bullying, violence, and self-esteem. It was assumed that bullies acted violently towards others because they suffered from low self-esteem, although supporters of this position offered no controlled studies to back up this belief. Recent research, however, indicates that bullies act the way that they do because they suffer from unearned high self-esteem.

The findings of this research do not take into account that the concept of self-esteem lacks a clear definition and that differing views exist of the precise definition of self-esteem. In his own work, Baumeister often uses a “common use” definition: self-esteem is how you regard yourself (or how you appear to regard yourself) regardless of how this view was cultivated. Other psychologists believe that a “Self-Esteem” that depends on external validation of the self (or other people’s approval), such as what seems relevant in the discussion of violent people, does not, in fact, e quate to “true” self-esteem.

Hiding in the Shadows – A Self Esteem Poem

by Ellen Bailey*

Do not stand in the shadow of someone else
When you can cast a shadow of yourself
A shadow is your reflection on the ground
It must be distinct if it is to be found

Step out of the darkness and into the light
Display your personal talents without fright
A day will come when you are called to lead
Do not shrink from your chance to succeed

Move to the forefront and take control
Seize the challenges of life and be bold
Don’t let someone else can take your place
You are a unique member of the Human Race

Little Things in Life – A Self Esteem Poem

by Regina Riggs*

Too often we don’t realize
what we have until it is gone;
Too often we wait too late to say
“I’m sorry – I was wrong”

Sometimes it seems we hurt the ones
we hold dearest to our hearts;
And we allow foolish things
to tear our lives apart

Far too many times we let
unimportant things into our minds;
And then it’s usually too late
to see what made us blind

So be sure that you let people know
how much they mean to you;
Take that time to say the words
before your time is through

Be sure that you appreciate
everything you’ve got
And be thankful for the little things
in life that mean a lot