Part 3: Relationship to Health, Esteem in Maslow’s Theory and Self-Esteem in Positive Psychology

A large portion of the research about the relationship between self-esteem and health appears to have been done with relation to the influence that self-esteem has on health-related behaviours (Adler and Stewart, 2004).

Self-esteem has been related to such health practices as the use of birth control (Herrold, Goodwin and Lero, 1979), doing breast self-exams (Hallal, 1982) and exercise (e.g. Liao, Hunter and Weinman, 1995; Vingerhoets, Croon, Jeninga and Menges, 1990).

Self-efficacy has been linked to smoking cessation, pain management, weight control and adherence to health prevention programmes (Pervin,1993).

Rodin and McAvay (1992) found that older adults’ decline in perceived health was associated with decreased self-efficacy (Rodin and McAvay, 1992).

At least one study did not find a linear relationship between self-esteem and health behaviours (Adler, Stewart, 2004).

Hollar and Snizek (1996) found that young adults with high self-esteem and high levels of knowledge about AIDS employed safer practices during non-conventional sexual practices than those with lower self-esteem, however they were riskier than those with lower self-esteem when it came to more conventional sexual practices.

Abood and Conway (1992) observed a relationship between self-esteem and health values, and between self-esteem and general wellness behaviour, but no relationship between self-esteem and tobacco or alcohol use (Abood and Conway, 1992). The relationship between self-esteem and general wellness behaviour stayed significant even when health values were controlled for.

Rivas Torres and colleagues (Rivas Torres and Fernandez, 1995; Rivas Torres, Fernandez and Maceira, 1995) examined the relationship among self-esteem, health values and health behaviours observed in adolescents, and found a significant relationship between self-esteem and general health behaviour for the entire range of adolescents, and that self-esteem accounted for a significant percent of the variance in social health behaviour, mental health behaviour and total health behaviour.

Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger and Vohs (2003) in a review of the self-esteem literature conclude that the benefits of high self-esteem fall into two categories: enhanced initiative and pleasant feelings. On the contrary, they noted that self-esteem has little association with health behaviour and high self-esteem does not appear to prevent children from drinking, taking drugs, smoking or engaging in early sex. In fact, they even suggest that high self-esteem tends to encourage experimentation possibly leading to early initiation of sexual activity or drinking but that in general the effects of self-esteem are negligible with the one exception being a reduction in chances of bulimia in females in the presence of high self-esteem.

The work of Brown and McGill (1989), DeLongis, Folkman, and Lazarus (1988) and Lyons and Chamberlain (1994) found a direct correlation between self-esteem and health at two time periods in their study, they found no influence of self-esteem on minor events for any health outcome.

Lyons and Chamberlain (1994) expected that self-esteem would mediate the relationship between minor life events and health. While they found a direct correlation between self-esteem and health at two time periods in their study, they found no interaction of self-esteem and minor events for any health outcome (Lyons and Chamberlain, 1994).

The well established relationship between self-esteem and psychological well-being (e.g., depression, social anxiety, loneliness, alienation) (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991) may be an important factor in understanding the self-esteem/health relationship (Adler and Stewart, 2004).

Bernard, Hutchison, Lavin, and Pennington (1996) found high correlations among self-esteem, self-efficacy, ego strength, hardiness, optimism and maladjustment, and all of these constructs were significantly related to health (Bernard, Hutchison, Lavin and Pennington, 1996).

As stated prior, numerous studies have shown us that it is possible to build self-esteem, especially in children and young people (see for example Nassar-McMillan and Cashwell, 2011; Baccus, Baldwin andPacker, 2004)

A correlation between self-esteem and optimism was found by researchers with university students from Brazil (Bastianello, Pacico and Hutz, 2014). A compelling result came from cross-cultural research on life satisfaction and self-esteem conducted in 31 countries. Researchers found that people in collectivist cultures had lower self esteem than in individualistic cultures. Expressing personal emotions, attitudes, and cognitive thoughts are highly associated with self-esteem, people in collectivist cultures seem to exhibit lower self-esteem because of a lack of those characteristics (Diener and Diener 1995).

China, a collectivist culture, discovered that self-esteem was a significant predictor of life satisfaction (Chen, Cheung, Bond and Leung, 2006). Similarly to other collectivist cultures, they found that self-esteem also had an effect on resilience in teenagers. Teenagers with low self-esteem had a higher sense of hopelessness and had low levels of resilience (Karatas, 2011).

In more individualistic cultures, teenagers who were taught to depend on their beliefs, behaviours and felt invited to express their opinions had more resilience and higher self-esteem (Dumont and Provost, 1999).

School based programs that pair students with mentors and focus on things like goal setting, relationship building, enhancing self-esteem and academic assistance have been proven to enhance student’s self-esteem, improve relationships with others, reduce depression and bullying behaviours (King, Vidourek, Davis and McClellan, 2009).

Similarly, elementary school programs that focus on improving self-esteem through short, classroom based sessions were also shown to have a positive impact on student’s self-esteem, as well as reducing problematic behaviours and strengthening connections between peers (Park and Park, 2014).

Comparing ourselves to others is a trap that is extremely easy to fall into in today’s age, especially with the prevalent use of social media and the ability to project a polished, perfected appearance. (Grohol, 2011) state that the only person you should compare yourself to is you.

An effective way to build confidence is through failure, using it as an opportunity to learn and grow. One should seek out failure by trying new things and taking calculated risks (Laurinavicius, 2017).

Esteem in Maslow’s Theory – Maslow’s Pyramid or Hierarchy of Needs

The term esteem may trigger a reminder of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for some.

Although these needs and the concept of self-esteem are correlated in Maslow’s Pyramid, McLeod (2017) states that Maslow’s esteem needs are more focused on external measures of esteem, such as respect, status, recognition, accomplishment and prestige (McLeod, 2017).

Maslow put an emphasis on things such as respect by and for others, indicating that he placed a significant amount of value, in terms of the different needs required to be met for complete fulfillment of an individual, on the views and opinions of the other people surrounding an individual in their life.

Self-Esteem and Positive Psychology

Dr. Martin Seligman is somewhat opposed to openly accepting self-esteem as part of positive psychology. He worries that people live in the world where self-esteem is injected into a person’s identity, and people do not care how it is done, as long as the image of “confidence” is acquired (Ackerman and Brown, 2018).

He expressed the following in 2006: “I am not against self-esteem, but I believe that self-esteem is just a meter that reads out the state of the system – it is not an end in itself. When you are doing well in school or work, when you are doing well with the people you love, when you are doing well in play, the meter will register high. When you are doing badly, it will register low.”

Here at Conquering Life, we understand this viewpoint, and to an extent Maslow’s, as leaning towards ‘externality’/external validation (more in further modules). The research mentioned hitherto and further, and our experiences as psychologists at Conquering Life, indicate to us without a doubt that the benefits of high, internally validated self-esteem are worth pursuing.

While some researchers have been mainly focused on the task of understanding the nuances of the self-esteem construct, others have concentrated on the adaptive and self-protective functions of self-esteem (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991).

Self-esteem, as well as self-efficacy, has been related to socioeconomic factors as well as various aspects of health and health related behaviour (Adler and Stewart, 2004). More on both constructs as they relate to SES (Self Esteem Scale) and to health will now follow.

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