A Study on Self Esteem and its Implications

In psychology, self-esteem reflects a person’s overall self-appraisal of their own worth.

1. The original definition (by William James)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 or one’s “success / pretensions”.

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2. Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, measurable by self-report (Rosenberg self esteem scale). This became the most frequently used definition for research.”

3. The third definition is made by Nathaniel Branden. A more detailed description from the author’s famous book: ‘The power of self-esteem’;

“Self-esteem is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life. More specifically, self-esteem isaˆ¦

Confidence in our ability to think and to cope with the basic challenges of life.

Confidence in our right to be happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants and to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.”

4. Self-esteem is “Considered an important component of emotional health, self-esteem encompasses both self-confidence and self-acceptance”. (Gale encyclopaedia, 2nd edition)

Self-esteem is literally defined by how much value people place on themselves. It is the evaluative component of self knowledge. High self-esteem refers to a highly favourable global evaluation of the self. Low self-esteem, by definition, refers to an unfavourable definition of the self. (Whether this signifies an absolutely unfavourable or relatively unfavourable evaluation is a problematic distinction, which we discuss later in connection with the distribution of self-esteem scores.) Self-esteem does not carry any definitional requirement of accuracy whatsoever. Thus, high self-esteem may refer to an accurate, justified, balanced appreciation of one’s worth as a person and one’s successes and competencies, but it can also refer to an inflated, arrogant, grandiose, unwarranted sense of conceited superiority over others. By the same token, low self-esteem can be either an accurate, well-founded understanding of one’s shortcomings as a person or a distorted, even pathological sense of insecurity and inferiority. Self-esteem is thus perception rather than reality. It refers to a person’s belief about whether he or she is intelligent and attractive, for example, and it does not necessarily say anything about whether the person actually is intelligent and attractive. To show that self-esteem is itself important, then, research would have to demonstrate that people’s beliefs about themselves have important consequences regardless of what the underlying realities are. Put more simply, there would have to be benefits that derive from believing that one is intelligent, regardless of whether one actually is intelligent. To say this is not to dismiss self-esteem as trivial. People’s beliefs shape their actions in many important ways, and these actions in turn shape their social reality and the social realities of the people around them. The classic study Pygmalion in the Classroom, by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968), showed that teachers’ false, unfounded beliefs about their students later became objective, verifiable realities in the performance of those students. In the same way, it is quite plausible that either high or low self-esteem, even if initially false, may generate a self-fulfilling prophecy and bring about changes in the objective reality of the self and its world.

Then again, self-esteem might not bring about such changes. Many researchers, clinicians, teachers, parents, and pundits have taken it as an article of faith that high self-esteem will bring about positive outcomes. Such an assumption was perhaps reasonable several decades ago, given the lack of firm data either way and the anecdotal impressions and theoretical bases for assuming that self-esteem has strong effects. It is particularly understandable that practitioners would accept this assumption without proof, because they cannot generally afford to admonish their suffering clients to hang on for a few decades until needed research is conducted. They must use the best evidence available at the time to design their interventions.

Most people feel that self-esteem is important. It is difficult, if not impossible, for people to remain indifferent to information that bears on their own self-esteem, such as being told that they are incompetent, attractive, untrustworthy, or lovable. Increases and decreases in self-esteem generally bring strong emotional reactions. Moreover, these fluctuations are often coincident with major successes and failures in life. Subjective experience creates the impression that self-esteem rises when one wins a contest, garners an award, solves a problem, or gains acceptance to a social group, and that it falls with corresponding failures. This pervasive correlation may well strengthen the impression that one’s level of self-esteem is not just the outcome, but indeed the cause, of life’s major successes and failures.

Self esteem is how we think about ourselves. It includes how we think we look, relationships with others and our hopes for the future. It is not something that we are born with but it develops as we grow up. Psychologists have been studying self-esteem since it was written about by William James over 100 years ago. Having a high self esteem includes having high self respect, feeling positively about the self with respect to others. 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.

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

The power of the unconscious mind was asserted by Freud (1914) nearly 100 years ago, and since that time it has become abundantly clear that unconscious or automatic processes play an important role in most of human thought and behaviour (e.g., Bargh, 1994). Likewise, many researchers have turned their attention toward unconscious processes. One line of research on unconscious processes that seems potentially revealing is the study of implicit self-esteem. Implicit self-esteem refers to unconscious evaluations of oneself and objects closely associated with oneself (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Implicit self-esteem appears to be distinct from explicit self-esteem, or the extent to which a person consciously and explicitly considers oneself as valuable and worthy. For example, at an unconscious level, people with high implicit self-esteem exhibit positivity toward themselves and objects associated with themselves (e.g., the letters in their name), whereas people with low implicit self-esteem exhibit relatively less positivity for themselves and associated objects. Further, these unconscious evaluations of self and self-related objects are only modestly correlated with explicit self-evaluations and self-esteem (e.g., Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000).

Research suggests that implicit self-esteem, much like explicit self-esteem, is a significant and meaningful component of personality, cognition, and behaviour (e.g., Adler, 1930; Horney, 1937). For instance, implicit self-esteem influences how people cope with negative feedback (Dijksterhuis, 2004; Greenwald & Farnham, 2000), interpersonal stressors (Hetts & Pelham, 2001; Spalding & Hardin, 1999), and unpleasant thoughts or feelings (Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003; McGregor & Marigold, 2003), such as thoughts about death (Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2005). Implicit self-esteem has also been found to predict the emotions people experience in their day to day lives (Conner & Barrett, in press). Insofar as implicit and explicit self-esteem are distinct phenomena (e.g., Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000), the study of implicit self-esteem should contribute to a deeper understanding of self-esteem beyond the study of explicit self-esteem alone.

The study of implicit self-esteem is a relatively recent development, however, and a range of conceptual questions have yet to be answered (see Schimmack & Diener, 2003). In particular, while it is clear that implicit self-esteem and explicit self-esteem are independent constructs, it is largely unknown whether implicit self-esteem is indeed non-conscious. To our knowledge, it has not been empirically demonstrated that people are consciously unaware of their implicit self-esteem. People appear to be unaware that measures of implicit self-esteem are intended to assess their self-esteem (e.g., Nuttin, 1985), yet this does not mean that people are consciously unaware of their implicit self-esteem. The fact that a construct is implicit does not mean that it is also non-conscious (Fazio & Olson, 2003). Thus, it remains plausible that implicit and explicit self-esteem might reflect two distinct yet conscious forms of self-esteem.


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 fulfilment of the self-esteem need, individuals will be driven to seek it and unable to grow and obtain self-actualization.

Sense of personal worth and ability that is fundamental to an individual’s identity. Family relationships during childhood are believed to play a crucial role in its development. Parents may foster self-esteem by expressing affection and support for the child as well as by helping the child set realistic goals for achievement instead of imposing unreachably high standards (Karl Rogers). Karen Horney asserted that low self-esteem leads to the development of a personality that excessively craves approval and affection and exhibits an extreme desire for personal achievement. According to Alfred Adler’s theory of personality, low self-esteem leads people to strive to overcome their perceived inferiorities and to develop strengths or talents in compensation.

Modern theories of self-esteem explore the reasons 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.

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 (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:

in terms of its constancy over time (stability)

in terms of its independence of meeting particular conditions (non-contingency)

In terms of its ingrained nature at a basic psychological level (implicitness or automatized).

Components of self esteem

Psychologists who write about self-esteem generally discuss it in terms of two key components: the feeling of being loved and accepted by others and a sense of competence and mastery in performing tasks and solving problems independently. Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living. (Nathaniel Branden)

Development of self-esteem:

Much research has been conducted in the area of developing self-esteem in children. Martin Seligman claims that in order for children to feel good about themselves, they must feel that they are able to do things well. He claims that trying to shield children from feelings of sadness, frustration, and anxiety when they fail robs them of the motivation to persist in difficult tasks until they succeed. It is precisely such success in the face of difficulties that can truly make them feel good about themselves. Seligman believes that this attempt to cushion children against unpleasant emotions is in large part responsible for an increase in the prevalence of depression since the 1950s, an increase that he associates with a conditioned sense of helplessness.

Self-esteem comes from different sources for children at different stages of development. The development of self-esteem in young children is heavily influenced by parental attitudes and behaviour. Supportive parental behaviour, including the encouragement and praise of mastery, as well as the child’s internalization of the parents’ own attitudes toward success and failure, are the most powerful factors in the development of self-esteem in early childhood. Later, older children’s experiences outside the home-in school and with peers-become increasingly important in determining their self-esteem. Schools can influence their students’ self-esteem through the attitudes they foster toward competition and diversity and their recognition of achievement in academics, sports, and the arts. By middle childhood, friendships have assumed a pivotal role in a child’s life. Studies have shown that school-age youngsters spend more time with their friends than they spend doing homework, watching television, or playing alone. In addition, the amount of time they interact with their parents is greatly reduced from when they were younger. At this stage, social acceptance by a child’s peer group plays a major role in developing and maintaining self-esteem.

The physical and emotional changes that take place in adolescence, especially early adolescence, present new challenges to a child’s self-esteem. Boys whose growth spurt comes late compare themselves with peers who have matured early and seem more athletic, masculine, and confident. In contrast, early physical maturation can be embarrassing for girls, who feel gawky and self-conscious in their newly developed bodies. Fitting in with their peers becomes more important than ever to their self-esteem, and, in later adolescence, relationships with the opposite sex can become a major source of confidence or insecurity.


The concept of self-esteem has been criticized by different camps but notably by figures like Dalai Lama, Carl Rogers, Paul Tillich, Alfred Korzybski and George Carlin.

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 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, perfectionist 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 Behaviour Therapy. In 2005 he released a book with a detailed analysis of the concept of self-esteem titled “The Myth of Self-esteem”.

Evaluation of self esteem

The link between self-esteem and happiness is strong. People with high self-esteem are significantly, substantially happier than other people. They are also less likely to be depressed, either in general or specifically in response to stressful, traumatic events. Many studies have confirmed this link.

The most promising possibility is that high self-esteem might prevent bulimia, and there are some links to longevity and physical health that seem well worth further study.

Most studies on self-esteem and smoking have failed to find any significant relationship, even with very large samples and the correspondingly high statistical power.

Self-esteem does not appear to prevent early sexual activity or teen pregnancy. Some studies have found self-esteem to be unrelated to sexuality. Others have yielded small effects that sometimes point in contrary directions. One promising pattern suggests that high self-esteem reduces sexual inhibitions, enabling women to engage in various sexual practices more freely and enabling people to accept their homosexual tendencies.

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