In psychology, self-esteem or self-worth is a person's self-image at an emotional level; circumventing reason and logic. The term differs from ego in that the ego is a more artificial aspect; one can remain highly egotistical, while underneath have very low self-esteem.
The maintenance of a healthy degree of self-esteem is a central task within psychotherapy, where patients often suffer from excessive degrees of self-criticism, hampering their ability to function.
Much debate about self-esteem centres on the definition of the term. New Age thought can provide self-serving views of the concept; other views can discount the existence or merely the usefulness of the idea.
Self-esteem, grades and relationships
From the late 1960s to the early 1990s it was assumed as a matter of course that a student's self-esteem was a critical factor in the grades that they earn in school, in their relationships with their peers, and in their later success in life. As such, many American groups created programs to increase the self-esteem of students, assuming that grades would increase, conflicts would decrease, and that this would lead to a happier and more successful life. Until the 1990s little peer-reviewed and controlled research was done on this topic.
The concept of self-improvement has undergone dramatic change since 1911, when Ambrose Bierce mockingly defined self-esteem as an erroneous appraisement. Good and bad character are now known as personality differences. Rights have replaced responsibilities. The research on egocentrism and ethnocentrism that informed discussion of human growth and development in the mid-20th century is ignored; indeed, the terms themselves are considered politically incorrect. A revolution has taken place in the vocabulary of self. Words that imply responsibility or accountabilityself-criticism, self-denial, self-discipline, self-control, self-effacement, self-mastery, self-reproach, and self-sacrificeare no longer in fashion. The language most in favor is that which exalts the self self expression, self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-realization, self-approval, self-acceptance, self-love, and the ubiquitous self-esteem.(Ruggiero, 2000)
Peer-reviewed research undertaken since then has not validated previous assumptions. Recent studies indicate that inflating student's self-esteem in of itself has no positive effect in any aspect of their life. One study has shown that inflating self-esteem by itself can actually decrease grades. (Baumeister 2005)
The results indicate that a healthy self-esteem should develop from what one has achieved, and not the converse. As such, educators are now returning to encouraging what is termed earned self-esteem. Barbara Lerner writes that this "is based on success in meeting the tests of reality -- measuring up to standards at home and in school."
Bullying, violence and murder
Some of the most interesting results center on the relationship between bullying, violence and self-esteem. It used to be assumed that bullies acted violently towards others because they suffered from low self-esteem. (although no controlled studies were offered to back up this position.)
these findings suggest that the low-esteem theory is wrong. But none involves what social psychologists regard as the most convincing form of evidence: controlled laboratory experiments. When we conducted our initial review of the literature, we uncovered no lab studies that probed the link between self-esteem and aggression. (Baumeister, 2001)
In contrast, recent research indicates that bullies act the way that they do because they suffer from unearned high self-esteem.
Violent criminals often describe themselves as superior to others - as special, elite persons who deserve preferential treatment. Many murders and assaults are committed in response to blows to self-esteem such as insults, "dissing" and humiliation. (To be sure, some perpetrators live in settings where insults threaten more than their opinions of themselves. Esteem and respect are linked to status in the social hierarchy, and to put someone down can have tangible and even life-threatening consequences.)
The same conclusion has emerged from studies of other categories of violent people. Street-gang members have been reported to hold favourable opinions of themselves and to turn violent when these views are disputed. Playground bullies regard themselves as superior to other children; low self-esteem is found among the victims of bullies but not among bullies themselves. Violent groups generally have overt belief systems that emphasise their superiority over others. (Baumeister, 2001)
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