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Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, "I believe I am a good writer, and feel proud of that in particular") or have global extent (for example, "I believe I am a good person, and feel proud of myself in general").

Psychologists usually regard self-esteem as an enduring personality characteristic ("trait" self-esteem), though normal, short-term variations ("state" self-esteem) also exist.

Synonyms or near-synonyms of self-esteem include:

  • self-worth,[1]
  • self-regard,[2]
  • self-respect,[3][4]
  • self-love (which can express overtones of self-promotion),[5] and
  • self-integrity.

Self-esteem is distinct from self-confidence and self-efficacy, which involve beliefs about ability and future performance.


Given its long and varied history, the term has had no fewer than three major types of definition, each of which has generated its own tradition of research, findings, and practical applications:

  1. The original definition 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”.[6] Problems with this approach come from making self-esteem contingent upon success: this implies inherent instability because failure can occur at any moment.[7]
  2. In the mid 1960s Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, (see Rosenberg self esteem scale). This became the most frequently used definition for research, but involves problems of boundary-definition, making self-esteem indistinguishable from such things as narcissism or simple bragging.[8]
  3. Nathaniel Branden in 1969 briefly defined self-esteem as "...the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness". This two-factor approach, as some have also called it, provides a balanced definition that seems to be capable of dealing with limits of defining self-esteem primarily in terms of competence or worth alone.[9]

Branden’s (1969) description of self-esteem includes the following primary properties:

  1. self-esteem as a basic human need, i.e., " makes an essential contribution to the life process", " indispensable to normal and healthy self-development, and has a value for survival."
  2. self-esteem as an automatic and inevitable consequence of the sum of individuals' choices in using their consciousness
  3. something experienced as a part of, or background to, all of the individuals thoughts, feelings and actions.

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.

Compare the usage of terms such as self-love or self-confidence.

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 is assessed using indirect measures of cognitive processing. These include the Name Letter Task[10] and the Implicit Association Test.[11] Such indirect measures are designed to reduce awareness of, or control of, the process of assessment. When used to assess implicit self-esteem, they feature stimuli designed to represent the self, such as personal pronouns (e.g., "I") or letters in one's name.


For the purposes of empirical research, psychologists typically assess self-esteem by a self-report inventory yielding a quantitative result. They establish the validity and reliability of the questionnaire prior to its use. Researchers are becoming more interested in measures of implicit self-esteem.

Whereas popular lore recognizes just "high" self-esteem and "low" self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (1965) and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (1967/1981) both quantify it in more detail, and feature among the most widely used systems for measuring self-esteem. The Rosenberg test usually uses a ten-question battery scored on a four-point response system that requires participants to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements about themselves. The Coopersmith Inventory uses a 50-question battery over a variety of topics and asks subjects whether they rate someone as similar or dissimilar to themselves.[12]


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

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.[14]

Quality and level of self-esteem

Level and quality of self-esteem, though correlated, remain distinct. Level-wise, one can exhibit low levels of high-quality self esteem and/or high levels of low-quality self esteem, resulting in '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:

  1. in terms of its constancy over time (stability)
  2. in terms of its independence of meeting particular conditions (non-contingency)
  3. in terms of its ingrained nature at a basic psychological level (implicitness or automatized)


A number of interventions that attempt to improve self-esteem have been developed, implemented, and studied. These interventions have been tailored to address the unique characteristics of specific groups including adolescents, adults, and special populations. Some examples of these interventions include:

  • FRIENDS Emotional Health Program - This intervention consists of 10 sessions that focus on teaching 9-10 year old children to replace unhelpful and anxiety producing thoughts with helpful thoughts. The intervention was developed to teach children to face and overcome challenges and problems. In order to do this children are introduced to a 7-step process: F-feeling worried? R- relax and feel good, I- inner thoughts, E- explore thoughts, N- nice work so reward yourself, D- don't forget to practice, S- stay calm, you know how to cope. Studies of the intervention performed in the US, UK, and Hong Kong have all shown significant increase in measures of self-esteem in children who participated in the program.[15][16]
  • Self-Esteem Enhancement Program (SEEP) Dalgas-Pelish (2006) reported that many decreases in self-esteem have been observed during the transition from elementary to middle school and therefore found that it is very important to provide preventative self-esteem interventions at a young age. The intervention included 4 lessons consisting of definitions of self-esteem, awareness of how the media and peers influence self-esteem, and activities related to the improvement of self-esteem. Factors affecting self-esteem that were taken into account include: gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, genetic size, health, home environment, relationships with parents, parenting style, and relationships with friends. Increases in measures of self-esteem were displayed among the children who participated. Increase was related to gender of the child, socioeconomic status, and the presence of friends. The largest increases were seen in girls, individuals with low socio-economic status, and children with friends.[17]
  • Social Cognitive Training Intervention Barrett, Webster, Wallis (1999) developed an intervention that consisted of self talk and modification of negative thinking, use of positive thinking, communication, problem solving and perception, processes of instruction, coaching, modeling, rehearsal, self observation, group trainer and peer feedback, and praise. These techniques were intended to shape and reinforce new and improved skills. Participants also completed weekly homework assignments. Fifty-one students ages 13–16 participated in the intervention and showed significant increase in measures of self-esteem.[18]
  • I Am Super Self-Esteem Module - This intervention was developed in Québec, Canada by Tania Lacomte et al. (1990) in an effort to increase the self esteem of those suffering from psychosis, specifically individuals diagnosed with Schizophrenia. This 24 session, group therapy module is divided into 5 key building blocks that assist individuals in developing their senses of: security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence. One study conducted by Borras, et al. (2009) found that intervention participants displayed increases in self-esteem, self-assertion, and coping strategies as well as decreased negative automatic thoughts, and psychotic symptoms[19]
  • uniquely ME! - The Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem Program is targeted at young girls ages 8–17, and aims to educate healthy self-esteem. It provides the skills necessary for young girls to face life's challenges.[20]

Self-esteem, grades and relationships

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s many Americans assumed as a matter of course that students' self-esteem acted as a critical factor in the grades that they earn in school, in their relationships with their peers, and in their later success in life. Under this assumption, some American groups created programs which aimed to increase the self-esteem of students. Until the 1990s little peer-reviewed and controlled research took place on this topic.

Peer-reviewed research undertaken since then has not validated previous assumptions. Recent research indicates that inflating students' self-esteem in and of itself has no positive effect on grades. One study has shown that inflating self-esteem by itself can actually decrease grades.[21]

High self-esteem correlates highly with self-reported happiness. However, it is not clear which, if either, necessarily leads to the other.[22] Additionally, self-esteem has been found to be related to forgiveness in close relationships, in that people with high self-esteem will be more forgiving than people with low self-esteem.[23]

The relationship involving self-esteem and academic results does not signify that high self-esteem contributes to high academic results. It simply means that high self- esteem may be accomplished due to high academic performance.[24]

“Attempts by pro-esteem advocates to encourage self-pride in students solely by reason of their uniqueness as human beings will fail if feelings of well-being are not accompanied by well-doing. It is only when students engage in personally meaningful endeavors for which they can be justifiably proud that self-confidence grows, and it is this growing self-assurance that in turn triggers further achievement.”[25]

Criticism and controversy


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

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.[26] 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 both 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, perfectionistic and grandiose thinking.[26] 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 Behavior Therapy. In 2005 he released a book with a detailed analysis of the concept of self-esteem titled "The Myth of Self-esteem".

See also

Notes and references

  1. Defined as "self-esteem; self-respect" in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000. Online at Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  2. Defined as "consideration of oneself or one's interests; self-respect" in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000. Online at Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  3. Defined as "due respect for oneself, one's character, and one's conduct" in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000. Online at Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  4. The Macquarie Dictionary. Compare The Dictionary of Psychology by Raymond Joseph Corsini. Psychology Press, 1999. ISBN 158391028X. Online via Google Book Search.
  5. Defined as "the instinct or desire to promote one's own well-being; regard for or love of one's self" in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000. Online at Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  6. James, 1890
  7. Crocker and Park, 2004
  8. Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996
  9. Mruk, 2006
  10. Koole, S. L., & Pelham, B. W. (2003). On the nature of implicit self-esteem: The case of the name letter effect. In S. Spencer, S. Fein, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Motivated social perception: The Ontario Symposium (pp. 93-116). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  11. Greenwald, A. G., & Farnham, S. D. (2000). Using the Implicit Association Test to measure self-esteem and self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1022-1038.
  12. From the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health from the University of California, San Francisco. Online at Retrieved 25 February 2008.
  13. Maslow A. H. (1987). Motivation and Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
  14. Greenberg, J. (2008). Understanding the vital human quest for self-esteem. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 48-55.
  15. Stallard, P., Simpson, N., Anderson, S., et al. (2006). The FRIENDS emotional health programme: Initial findings from a school-based project. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 12 (1),32-37.
  16. Siu, A.F. (2007). Using friends to combat internalizing problems among primary school children in Hong Kong. Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, 7 (1), 11-26.
  17. Dalgas-Pelish, P. (2006). Effects of a self-esteem intervention program on school age children. Pediatric Nursing, 32 (4), 341-347.
  18. Barrett, P.M., Webster, H.M., Wallis, J.R. (1999). Adolescent self-esteem and cognitive skills training: a school-based intervention. Journal of Child and Family Studies 8(2), 217-227.
  19. Borras, L., Boucherie, M., Mohr, S., et al. (2009). Increasing self-esteem: Efficacy for a group intervention for individuals with severe mental disorders. European Psychiatry, 24, 307-316.
  20. The girl scout/Dove self-esteem program. (2010). Girl scouts of the USA: uniquely me! Retrieved from
  21. Baumeister 2005
  22. Baumeister, 2003.
  23. Eaton, Struthers, & Santelli, 2006.
  24. Baumeister, Roy F., Campbell, Jennifer D., Krueger, Joachim I., D. Vohs Kathleen (2003.) Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? Wiley InterScience Journal. Online at Retrieved 2008-9-15.
  25. Reasoner, R. W. (n.d.). Extending self-esteem theory and research. Retrieved April, 2010, from research.htm
  26. 26.0 26.1 Ellis, A. (2001). Feeling better, getting better, staying better. Impact Publishers

Further reading

  • Baumeister, R., Smart, L. & Boden, J. (1996). "Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of self-esteem". Psychological Review, 103, 5–33.
  • Baumeister, Roy F. (2001). "Violent Pride", in Scientific American, 284, No. 4, pages 96–101; April 2001.
  • Baumeister, Roy F., et al. (2003). "Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?", Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4 (1), pages 1–44; May 2003. (ed: other researchers: Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger and Kathleen D. Vohs)
  • Baumeister, Roy F., et al. (2005). "Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth" Scientific American, January 2005. (ed. This study also involved Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger and Kathleen D. Vohs)
  • Branden, N. (1969). The psychology of self-esteem. New York: Bantam.
  • Branden, N. (2001). The psychology of self-esteem: a revolutionary approach to self-understanding that launched a new era in modern psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. ISBN 0787945269
  • Burke, C. (2008)"Self-esteem: Why?; Why not?", [Homiletic and Pastoral Review, New York, February 2008];
  • Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). "The costly pursuit of self-esteem". Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392–414.
  • Hill, S.E. & Buss, D.M. (2006). "The Evolution of Self-Esteem". In Michael Kernis, (Ed.), Self Esteem: Issues and Answers: A Sourcebook of Current Perspectives.. Psychology Press:New York. 328-333. Full text
  • James, W. (1983). The principles of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1890)
  • Lerner, Barbara (1985). "Self-Esteem and Excellence: The Choice and the Paradox", American Educator, Winter 1985.
  • Maslow A. H. (1987). Motivation and Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
  • Mecca, Andrew M., et al., (1989). The Social Importance of Self-esteem University of California Press, 1989. (ed; other editors included Neil J. Smelser and John Vasconcellos)
  • Mruk, C. (2006). Self-Esteem research, theory, and practice: Toward a positive psychology of self-esteem (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.
  • Rodewalt, F. & Tragakis, M. W. (2003). "Self-esteem and self-regulation: Toward optimal studies of self-esteem". Psychological Inquiry, 14(1), 66–70.
  • Ruggiero, Vincent R. (2000). "Bad Attitude: Confronting the Views That Hinder Student's Learning" American Educator.
  • Sedikides, C., & Gregg. A. P. (2003). "Portraits of the self." In M. A. Hogg & J. Cooper (Eds.), Sage handbook of social psychology (pp. 110–138). London: Sage Publications.
  • Twenge, Jean M. (2007). Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Free Press. ISBN 978-0743276986

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