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Self-Esteem

Development Of Self-esteem, Family Interaction And Self-esteem, Culture: Ethnicity And Self-esteem


Self-esteem refers to the evaluative and affective aspects of the self, to how "good" or "bad" we feel about ourselves. It is a consequence of the self's capacity for reflexivity, that is, the ability to look at oneself and to evaluate what one sees. Self-evaluations typically give rise to positive or negative self-feelings, such as pride or shame. These self-feelings make self-esteem important both experientially (i.e., they constitute some of our strongest emotions) and motivationally (i.e., people are motivated to seek positive self-feelings and to avoid negative self-feelings). Self-esteem can change over time, but individuals tend to maintain a consistent view of their self-worth due to the need for psychological consistency and the need to resolve cognitive dissonance.

The motivation to maintain and enhance a positive conception of oneself is a major dynamic of many contemporary self-theories (Gecas 1991). Such theories suggest that self-conceptions are valued and protected. Thus, a low self-evaluation on criteria that matter is an uncomfortable condition people are motivated to avoid. Avoiding low self-evaluations may occur through increased efforts at self-improvement or, more typically, through such self-serving activities as selective perception and memory, various strategies of impression management, and restructuring the environment and/or redefining the situation to make it reflect a more favorable view of self (Rosenberg 1979). These manipulations and distortions may raise self-esteem, but at the price of self-deception.

There may be optimum levels of self-esteem beyond which the consequences for individuals are negative. Overly low levels of self-esteem are associated with depression and self-defeating behavior including suicidal ideation, but excessively high self-esteem may be associated with arrogance, egoism, and even aggression. Ray Baumeister (2001), for example, hypothesizes that narcissistic individuals may react aggressively to criticism because their brittle self-esteem is too high, not too low. In terms of competent performance, high self-esteem individuals expect to perform well, whereas those with low self-esteem expect to do more poorly. The self-esteem literature generally indicates that low self-esteem individuals depend more on and are more influenced by external cues that provide self-relevant information about performance than high self-esteem individuals (Tice 1993).

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