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" or "I am incompetent") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. A person's self-esteem may be reflected in their behaviour, such as in assertiveness, shyness, confidence or caution. 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").
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, self-love (which can express overtones of self-promotion), and self-integrity. Self-esteem is distinct from self-confidence and self-efficacy, which involve beliefs about ability and future performance.
Given its long and varied history, the term has had no less than three major types of definition, each of which has generated its own tradition of research, findings, and practical applications:
Branden’s (1969) description of self-esteem includes the following primary properties:
Self esteem is a concept of personality, for it to grow, we need to have self worth, and this self worth will be sought from embracing challenges that result in the showing of success.
Compare the usage of terms such as self-love or self-confidence.
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. These include the Name Letter Task and the Implicit Association Test. 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.
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. Researchers are becoming more interested in measures of implicit self-esteem.
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.
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 why 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.
Level and quality of self-esteem, though correlated, remain distinct. Level-wise, one can exhibit high but fragile self-esteem (as in narcissism) or low but stable self-esteem (as in humility). However, investigators can indirectly assess the quality of self-esteem in several ways:
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. Given 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.
The concept of self-improvement has undergone dramatic change since 1911, when Ambrose Bierce mockingly defined self-esteem as "an erroneous appeasement." Good and bad character are now known as "personality differences". Rights have replaced responsibilities. The research on ego centrism and ethnocentrism that informed discussion of human growth and development in the mid-20th century is ignored; indeed, the terms themselves are considered politically incorrect. 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 in fashion. The language most in favor is that which exalts the self — self-expression, self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-realization, self-approval, self-acceptance, self-love, and the ubiquitous self-esteem.— Ruggiero, 2000
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.
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.
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.
Some of the most interesting results of recent studies center on the relationships between bullying, violence, and self-esteem. People used to assume 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).
These findings suggest that the low-esteem theory is wrong. But none involves what social psychologists regard as the most convincing form of evidence: controlled laboratory experiments. When we conducted our initial review of the literature, we uncovered no lab studies that probed the link between self-esteem and aggression.— Roy Baumeister, 2001
In contrast to old beliefs, later research indicates that violence is often linked to high self-esteem. In some cases, it is a reaction against someone who damages one's self-esteem, perhaps by way of an insult or a bad appraisal; the individual cannot tolerate the negative feelings it provokes and lashes out with anger. Individuals who have inflated self-esteem are especially likely to run into such "ego threats", because other people tend to find them less wonderful than they think they are.
The most hostile group was the one with high but unstable self-esteem. These people think well of themselves in general, but their self-esteem fluctuates. They are especially prone to react defensively to ego threats, and they are also more prone to hostility, anger, and aggression than other people. [...] The bully has a chip on his shoulder because he thinks you might want to deflate his favorable self-image.— Roy Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, 1997
Violent criminals often describe themselves as superior to others - as special, elite persons who deserve preferential treatment. Many murders and assaults are committed in response to blows to self-esteem such as insults and humiliation.—Rajbir Singh, Psychology of Wellbeing, 2007
Self-esteem issues also arise in studies of domestic abuse. Husbands who abuse their wives usually came from less affluent backgrounds, had poorer education or earned less money than their wives; they used violence as a way to assert their superiority and put their "uppity" wives in their place. Another study found that men who earned high academic qualifications but had poor careers were exceptionally violent as a group, perhaps because they were frustrated their lives didn't reflect their high opinions of themselves. By contrast, men who had poor education but nonetheless had very successful careers were six times less likely than average to be abusive.
Self-esteem can also lead to superiority complexes, wherein arrogant individuals feel no qualms about abusing someone they consider inferior. This, Baumeister argues, is the case with psychopaths or has been the case with groups such as the Nazis.
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, equate to "true" self-esteem. Nathaniel Branden labeled external validation as "pseudo self-esteem", arguing that "true self-esteem" comes from internal sources, such as self-responsibility, self-sufficiency and the knowledge of one's own competence and capability to deal with obstacles and adversity, regardless of what other people think.
Psychologists who agree with Branden's view dismiss Baumeister's findings. Such psychologists say that Baumeister mistakes narcissism as "high self-esteem" in criminals. They see such narcissism as an inflated opinion of self, built on shaky grounds, and opine that violence comes when that opinion comes under threat. Those with "true" self-esteem who valued themselves and believed wholly in their own competence and worth would have no need to resort to violence or indeed have any need to believe in their superiority or to prove their superiority.
The counter argument to this proposal is that many contemporary self-esteem building exercises do not link self-worth to actual achievement and so are promoting narcissism rather than true self-esteem.
Perhaps one of the strongest theoretical and operational critiques of the concept of self-esteem has come from American psychologist Albert Ellis who on numerous occasions criticized the philosophy as essentially self-defeating and ultimately destructive. Although acknowledging the human propensity and tendency to ego rating as innate, he has claimed that the philosophy of self-esteem in the last analysis is both 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, 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, unethical and absolutistic. The healthier alternative to self-esteem according to him is unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional other-acceptance and these concepts are incorporated in his therapeutic system Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. In 2005 he released a book with a detailed analysis of the concept of self-esteem titled "The Myth of Self-esteem".
In psychology, the term “self-esteem” was first used by William James in 1890 which makes it one of the oldest concepts in the field. In addition, self-esteem is the third most frequently occurring theme in psychological literature (Rodewalt & Tragakis, 2003) and has already resulted in over 25,000 articles, chapters, and books refer to the topic (Mruk, 2006). Given such a long history, it is not surprising to find three major types of self-esteem definitions in the field. The original definition presents self-esteem as a ratio that is found by dividing one’s successes in areas of life that are important to a given individual by the failures in them, which is to say one's “success / pretensions” (James, 1983/1890). A problem with this approach is that making self-esteem contingent upon success means that it is inherently unstable because failure can occur at any moment (Crocker and Park, 2004). In the mid 1960s Maurice Rosenberg and other social learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth that can be measured by self-report testing. This definition became the most frequently used one in the field. However, now it is known that feeling good about oneself in healthy ways is difficult to differentiate from such things as narcissism (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). Nathaniel Branden (1969) incorporated both elements of self-esteem when he defined it as a relationship between an individual’s competence and worthiness, especially in regard to how one handles the challenges of living when confronted by them. Research self-esteem based on this definition may be less prone to the limitations of the other approaches (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1893; Tafarodi & Milne, 2003). It is very important to realize when dealing with self-esteem that, although some definitions have been used more often than others in the field, each one is supported by a distinct body of quantitative as well as qualitative research and findings. Therefore, all of these approaches must be accounted for in any comprehensive understanding of self-esteem (Mruk, 2006).
Self-esteem is the way people think about themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. Psychologists use the word self-esteem to describe whether someone likes them self or not. Someone with high self-esteem might think that they are good at things and are worthwhile. Someone with low self-esteem might think that they are bad at things and worthless. Different psychologists have different ways of measuring self-esteem, and many people do not agree with what it means. Some people think that self-esteem is linked to depression, eating disorders and bullying. Some people may also injure themselves if they suffer from a low self-esteem.