Low Self Esteem
Saul McLeod published 2012
Self-esteem should be viewed as a continuum, and can be high, medium or low, and is often quantified as a number in empirical research.
When considering self-esteem it is important to note that both high and low levels can be emotionally and socially harmful for the individual. Indeed it is thought an optimum level of self-esteem lies in the middle of the continuum. Individuals operating within this range are thought to be more socially dominant within relationships.
Research has shown key differences between individuals with high and low self-esteem. For example, people with high self-esteem focus on growth and improvement, whereas people with low self-esteem focus on not making mistakes in life.
Low self-esteem has been shown to be correlated with a number of negative outcomes, such as depression (Silverstone & Salsali, 2003).
Rosenberg and Owen (2001) offer the following description of low self-esteem people based on empirical research. People with low self-esteem are more troubled by failure and tend to exaggerate events as being negative.
For example, they often interpret non critical comments as critical. They are more likely to experience social anxiety and low levels of interpersonal confidence. This in turn makes social interaction with others difficult as they feel awkward, shy, conspicuous, and unable to adequately express themselves when interacting with others (p. 409). Furthermore, low self-esteem individuals tend to be pessimistic towards people and groups within society.
Research has also shown that low self-esteem has to linked to an increased risk of teenage pregnancy.
Guindon (2002) asked school counsellors to list five characteristics that best describe students with low self-esteem. Over 1000 words were used and the most common are listed below:
- Negative (attitude)
- Socially inept
- Poor self-image
- Lacks self-confidence
- Poor communication
- Acts out
Low Self-Esteem in Children
It should be noted that on average self-esteem during childhood is found to be relatively high. However, there are individual differences and some children are unfortunate to experience feelings of low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem in children tends to be related to physical punishment and withholding of love and affection by parents. Carl Rogers would describe this as conditional positive regard, whereby individuals only receive positive attention from significant others (such as parents) when they act in a certain way. This reinforces to the child that they are only a person of value when they act a certain way (e.g. achieving A grades on a test).
Children with low self-esteem rely on coping strategies that are counterproductive such as bullying, quitting, cheating, avoiding etc. Although all children will display some of these behaviors at times, low self-esteem is strongly indicated when these behaviors appear with regularity.
Socially children with low self-esteem can be withdrawn or shy, and find it difficult to have fun. Although they may have a wide circle of friends they are more likely to yield to group pressure and more vulnerable to being bullied. At school they avoid trying new things (for fear of failure) and will give up easily.
Low Self-Esteem in Teenagers
Self-esteem continues to decline during adolescence (particularly for girls). Researchers have explained this decline to body image and other problems associated with puberty.
Although boys and girls report similar levels of self-esteem during childhood, a gender gap emerges by adolescence, in that adolescent boys have higher self-esteem than adolescent girls (Robins et al., 2002).
Girls with low self-esteem appear to be more vulnerable to perceptions of the ideal body image perpetuated in western media (through methods such as airbrushing models on magazine covers).
References and Further Reading
Abraham, T. (1988). Toward a Self-Evaluation Maintenance Model of Social Behavior. In L. Berkowitz (Ed), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 181–227).Academic Press.
Coopersmith, S. (1967). The Antecedents of Self-esteem. Freeman.
Harter, S. 1993. Causes and Consequences of Low Self-esteem in Children and Adolescents. In Baumeister, R.F. (Ed.) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-regard (pp. 87-116).
Mruk, C. (1995). Self-Esteem: Research, Theory, and Practice. Springer.
Guindon, M. H. (2002). Toward Accountability in the Use of the Self‐Esteem Construct. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 204-214.
Robins, R.W., Trzesniewski, K.H., Tracy, J.L., Gosling, S.D., & Potter, J. (2002). Global self-esteem across the lifespan. Psychology and Aging, 17, 423-434.
Rosenberg, M. (1976). Beyond Self-Esteem: The Neglected Issues in Self-concept Research.Paper presented at the annual meetings of the ASA.
Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the Self. Basic Books.
Rosenberg, M., & Owens, T.J. (2001). Low self-esteem people: A collective portrait. In T.J. Owens. S. Stryker, & N. Goodmanm (Eds.), Extending self-esteem theory and research (pp. 400-436). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Silverstone, P. H., & Salsali, M. (2003). Low self-esteem and psychiatric patients: Part I–The relationship between low self-esteem and psychiatric diagnosis. Annals of General Psychiatry, 2(1), 2.
Viktor, G. (1982). The Self-Concept. Annual Review of Sociology, 8:1–33.
Viktor, G., & Schwalbe, M.L. (1983). Beyond the Looking-glass Self: Social Structure and Efficacy-Based Self-Esteem. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46:77–88.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2012). Low self esteem. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/self-esteem.html
In this world we live in, self-esteem is seen as a personal trait which tends to be enduring and stable and encompasses within itself a host of beliefs about one’ self. Self-esteem means different things to diverse people. To some it means feeling good and loving yourself unconditionally. To others it is a feeling which is at the center of ones being of self-confidence, self-worthy and respect. It is very vital for one to have high self-esteem as it paves the way for love and success in life (Bruceeisner, 2012).
People often overlook the importance for individuals to have a healthy or positive self-esteem. A healthy of positive self-esteem is delineated by various qualities such as being able to accept responsibilities for one’s own actions, respect and tolerance for others, being able to handle criticisms, being able to take charge of one’s own life, taking a great pride in your own achievements, possessing a great level of integrity and loving others and being loved. Majority of people in the community especially those in the business and entrepreneurial sectors believe that possessing a healthy or positive self-esteem will aid in being a successful professional in your field of work.
In the medical field of the economy, doctors, nurses and other people working in the medical community have a belief that possessing a positive self-esteem is very crucial in the maintenance of a healthy life by individuals. In contrast to the thought that a positive or healthy self-esteem is vital in an individual’s professional life, it also plays a very important role in alleviating a psychological disorder.
When an individual possess a low self-esteem, he or she tries to make impressing others or proving themselves to others a focal point in their lives. This is deemed to be a total waste of one’s time and energy and can even result in psychological disorders. A person without a healthy or positive self-esteem tends to have contempt towards people and usually acts arrogantly. They usually blame themselves for their actions and failures, lack confidence in themselves and mostly doubt their acceptability and self-worth (Reasoner, 2012). These elements does not only show the negative part of an individual’s life but also these elements are quiet unhealthy to the emotional well-being of an individual. This is because an unhealthy or negative self-esteem is very bad to an individual’s emotional health. This backs the fact that a healthy or positive self-esteem indeed can aid in alleviating psychological disorder.
One of the peculiar psychological disorders that are mostly stroked by self-esteem is known as Borderline Personality Disorder. Individuals are not willing to validate their feelings for other people or trust others when they usually do not feel good about themselves. People who possess borderline personality disorder coupled with a poor self-esteem can exasperate the anger which is mostly present with this type of psychological disorder. More often than not, a burst of angry tirade is as a result of a lot of unresolved issues which has not been solved. The only way a person with borderline personality to assert his or her feelings or thoughts is through anger. It can be noted that, having a healthy or positive self-esteem can help alleviate this issue and curtail the issue of anger associated with borderline personality.
An individual who possesses borderline personality psychological disorder most often associate some form of suspicion to people who want to be their friend. A person with this kind of psychological disorder have a feeling that their friendship with others will end as time goes on because they think they have nothing to offer in the new friendship, which is actually wrong. Possessing a healthy or positive self-esteem can aid an individual who has a psychological disorder like the borderline personality to comprehend the fact that they deserve to be happy and to achieve success in everything that they do, be it in their professional life or personal life and also to know their worth. A typical example of is when an individual gets a job that he or she has always wanted, let say a dream job, a person possessing a psychological disorder like borderline personality will position himself or herself for failure. They may vie the opportunity given them as a mistake and can even flare up at the employer for placing them in a position to fail. On the other hand, an individual with a healthy or positive self-esteem will realize that he or she indeed deserves the job and will recognize and appreciate the opportunity given him or her to achieve success. A person with a healthy self-esteem will thank and appreciate the one who gave him that opportunity.
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Self-esteem is very important to an individual’s well-being and mental health as it has the capability of leading him or her to a more deserving social behavior and better health. It is to no surprise that low self-esteem is often characterized with range of broad social problems and mental disorders like eating disorders, depression, suicidal tendencies and anxiety. Some schools of thoughts in the field of medicine, most notably in the field of psychological disorders, believe that healthy physical and mental health are as a result of comprehending the development of self-esteem and it outcomes.
Self-esteem can therefore be explained as the sum of a person’s knowledge and beliefs about his or her personal qualities and attributes. It is a cognitive composition that combines the concrete and abstract views about one self and also controls the possession of information of self-relevance. An individual who possesses suicidal tendencies has the urge or feeling or hurting himself or herself as he/she feels unhappy and unworthy. This shows that having a healthy or positive self-esteem alleviates any negative emotions and feelings an individual with any form of suicidal tendencies possess. Research has proven that self-esteem is a very crucial psychological factor which contributes to quality and healthy life. It has also been proven with research that subjective well-being extremely corresponds with high self-esteem (Zimmerman, 2000). It pays a major role in the mental well-being and happiness of individuals.
In the nut shell, self-esteem and mental well-being of an individual is directly related. Any alter in a person’s self-esteem be it high self-esteem or low self-esteem will affect the psychology of that person. A healthy or positive self-esteem definitely helps in alleviating psychological disorders and puts an individual on the pedestal of high belief and confidence in him or herself.
- Bruceeisner, D. (2012). Meaning of Self-Esteem. Squidoo Journal Website
Retrieved from: http://www.squidoo.com/self_esteem
- Reasoner, R. (2012). The True Meaning of Self-Esteem. National Association for Self-Esteem Website
- Zimmerman, S.L. (2000). Self-Esteem, Personal Control and Optimism. Midwestern University. Dissertation Abstract.
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