Part 1: Definitions of, Effects of, Characteristics of and Factors that Influence Self-Esteem

Licenses: Creative Common

A Definition of Self-Esteem

What is self-esteem? What does it mean to “Believe in yourself”? And how often have you come across that message? In books, television shows, marvel comics, common myths and legends…

(Adler and Stewart, 2004) referred to self esteem as a person’s overall sense of his or her value or worth. It can be considered a sort of measure of how much a person values, approves of and appreciates, prizes or likes themselves (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991).

(Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991) considered self-esteem as the evaluative component of the self-concept, a more inclusive representation of the self, including behavioural, cognitive, evaluative or affective aspects.

The most broad and frequently cited definition of self-esteem within psychology is Rosenberg’s (1965, p.15) definition who described it as “a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self”.

An extremely popular construct within psychology, self-esteem has been related to virtually every other psychological concept or domain, including:

  • Personality – e.g. shyness
  • Behavioural – e.g. task performance
  • Cognitive – e.g. attributional bias
  • Clinical – e.g. anxiety and depression

(Adler and Stewart, 2004)

The term self esteem is often used to refer to a general sense of self-worth, and other terms such as self-confidence or body-esteem are used to imply a sense of self-esteem in more specific areas (Adler and Stewart, 2004).

(Robins and Trzesniewski, 2005) found that most people’s self-esteem has rank order stability, generally remaining stable. However, research has indicated that self-esteem is in indeed changeable (e.g. Anusic and Schimmack, 2016). Specifically with regards to teenagers, (Haney and Durlak, 2010), in conducting a meta-analytic review of 116 studies, found that significant improvements in children and adolescent’s level of self-esteem had occurred with the use of specific programmes.

The Effects of Self-Esteem

We now know that believing in and accepting ourselves for who we are, having high self-esteem, is likely a vital constituent of success and health and thus key in living a flourishing life, as it has been linked with life and relationship satisfaction, physical health, academic and occupational success, and happiness (Zeigler-Hill, Jordan and Cameron, 2017). Implicit self-esteem has been associated with neural signals in reward related regions of the brain (Keise et al., 2018). Self-esteem has also been found to help buffer people from psychological consequences of negative events in life (Zeigler-Hill, Jordan and Cameron, 2017).

Self-esteem provides us with belief in our abilities, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, motivation to know and accomplish things and motivation to experience stimulation (Sari, Summani, Fikret and Ersin, 2014), thus allowing us to carry out our goals effectively and to ultimately reach fulfillment and thrive as we navigate through life with a positive outlook.

However, according to (Zeigler-Hill, Jordan and Cameron, 2017), the connection between self-esteem and ‘important life outcomes’ has yet to be made and additional attention from academics is required.

Numerous studies have confirmed that self-esteem has a direct relationship with our overall well-being in life (e.g. Deiner and Deiner, 1995; Zeigler-Hill, Jordan and Cameron, 2017); something that should be remembered well when dealing with others, and more importantly in interactions with children.

Characteristics of High Self-Esteem

Here are certain characteristics that distinguish how high someone’s self-esteem may be:

  • Being open to criticism
  • Acknowledging mistakes
  • Being at ease when giving and receiving compliments
  • Being consistent with what/how one speaks, does, looks, sounds, and moves
  • Unafraid to show curiosity
  • Enjoy growing as a person and finding fulfillment and meaning in their lives
  • Freely discuss their experiences, ideas, and opportunities
  • Enjoy the humorous aspects of life and are comfortable with social or personal assertiveness, according to Branden (1992)
  • Appreciate themselves and other people
  • Make their own decisions and conform to what others tell them to be and do only when they agree
  • Endeavor to make a constructive difference in other people’s lives
  • See the word in realistic terms, accepting other people the way they are while pushing them toward greater confidence and a more positive direction
  • Speak up and tell others their opinions, calmly and kindly, and share their wants and needs with others
  • Are able to dig deep within themselves and be creative
  • Can easily concentrate on solving problems in their lives
  • Have loving and respectful relationships
  • Know what their values are and live their lives accordingly

(Ackerman and Brown, 2018)

People with high levels of self-esteem act assertively without experiencing any guilt, and feel at ease communicating with others:

  • They avoid dwelling on the past and focus on the present moment
  • They believe they are equal to everyone else in their worth, no better and no worse
  • They reject the attempts of others to manipulate them
  • They recognise and accept a wide range of feelings, both positive and negative, and share them within their healthy relationships
  • They enjoy a healthy balance of work, play, and relaxation
  • They accept challenges and take risks in order to grow, and learn from their mistakes when they fail
  • They handle criticism without taking it personally, with the knowledge that they are learning and growing and that their worth is not dependent on the opinions of others
  • They value themselves and communicate well with others, without fear of expressing their likes, dislikes, and feelings
  • They value others and accept them as they are without trying to change them

(Ackerman and Brown, 2018)

Based on the above characteristics, we can demonstrate some good examples of what high self-esteem looks like:

  • Imagine a high achieving athletic student who takes a difficult test and doesn’t score high enough to make the team. If he has high self-esteem, he will likely put down his failure to factors like not training hard enough, a particularly difficult set of routines, or simply having an “off” day. What he doesn’t do is conclude that he must be a bad athlete and that he will probably fail all future line ups too. Having a healthy sense of self-esteem guides him toward accepting reality, thinking critically about why he failed and problem solving instead of wallowing in self-pity or giving up (Ackerman and Brown, 2018).
  • Think about a young girl out on a first date. She really likes the young man she is going out with, so she is eager to make a good impression and connect with him. Over the course of their discussion on the date, she learns that he is motivated and driven by completely different values and has very different taste in almost everything. Instead of going along with his expressed opinions on things, she offers up her own views and isn’t afraid to disagree with him. Her high self-esteem makes her stay true to her values and allows her to easily communicate with others, even when they don’t agree. To her, it is more important to behave authentically than to focus on getting her date to like her (Ackerman and Brown, 2018).Although low self-esteem has received more attention than high self-esteem, positive psychology has brought high self-esteem into attention – we now know more about what high self-esteem looks like and how to cultivate it (Ackerman and Brown, 2018).

Characteristics of Low Self-Esteem

  • They people please
  • They’re easily angered or irritated
  • They feel their opinion isn’t important
  • They hate themselves
  • What they do is never good enough
  • They’re highly sensitive to others opinions
  • The world doesn’t feel safe
  • They doubt every decision
  • They regularly experience the emotions of sadness and worthlessness
  • They find it hard to keep relationships
  • They avoid taking risks or trying new things
  • They engage in addictive avoidance behaviours
  • They struggle with confidence
  • They find it difficult to create boundaries
  • They give more attention to their weaknesses
  • They are often unsure of who they are
  • They feel negative experiences are all consuming
  • They struggle to say no
  • They find it difficult asking for their needs to be met
  • They hold a pessimistic or negative outlook on life
  • They doubt their abilities or chances of success
  • They frequently experience negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety or depression
  • They compare themselves with others and often they come in second best (Ackerman and Brown, 2018)

Some Factors that Influence Self-Esteem

  • Commitment to the roles of a worker, spouse and parent are positively linked to self-esteem (Reitzes and Mutran, 1994)
  • Worker identity meaning is positively related to improvements in self-esteem (Reitzes and Mutran, 2006)
  • Being married and older is linked to lower self-esteem (Reitzes and Mutran, 2006)
  • Higher education and higher income are related to higher self-esteem (Reitzes and Mutran, 2006)
  • Low socioeconomic status and low self-esteem are also related (von Soest, Wagner, Hansen and Gerstorf, 2018)
  • Living alone (without a significant other) is linked to low self-esteem (van Soest et al., 2018)
  • Unemployment and disability have been shown to contribute to lower self-esteem, and a more mature personality and emotional stability is linked to higher self-esteem (van Soest et al., 2018)
  • Social norms (the importance of the opinions of close to us) about one’s body and exercise habits were shown to be negatively linked to self-esteem, while exercise self-efficacy and self-fulfillment has been shown to be positively linked to self-esteem (Chang and Suttikun, 2017)
  • Studies have suggested that social media usage has a negative impact on self-esteem (Friedlander, 2016)

Further Factors Believed to Influence Self-Esteem

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Life experiences
  • Age
  • Health
  • Thoughts
  • Social circumstances
  • The reactions of others
  • Comparing the self to others

(Ackerman and Brown, 2018)

(Ackerman and Brown, 2018) further attest that it is important to note that self-esteem is not a fixed attribute, it is malleable and measurable, so we can test for and improve upon it

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