How do we feel about ourselves? How do we value ourselves? What factors influence these evaluations? Are there fluctuations in these ratings? Are we able to do certain things as well as others? These are some of the questions that psychologists have tried to answer on their way to a definition accepted by most theorists in the field.
It has been established that self-esteem is a relatively stable affective orientation towards the self. Coopersmith (1967) said that when we talk about self-esteem, we refer to general positive and negative evaluations of oneself. What is important to remember, according to the author, is that self-esteem is not a singular, invariable trait (apud. Brehm S., Kassin S., 1989, p. 67). It has several components and even if, on the whole, our self-evaluation is positive, there are times when, for various reasons, we feel either incompetent or worthless or we evaluate certain aspects positively and others negatively. But because of the need for internal consistency and stability, self-esteem remains essentially stable throughout life, and although there are periods when it is affected by a series of events, it seems to return to its original level when environmental conditions normalise.
However, some fluctuations in self-esteem have been observed due to inevitable changes in the development of the individual throughout life. Thus, a decline was observed at the beginning of the school period, which continued until adolescence, before rising again in adulthood, reaching a peak in the curve in the mid-1960s. After the age of 70 a decline is again observed, primarily due to the physical and emotional deterioration specific to this age (Robins et al., 2002, p. 431).
The consequences of high or low self-esteem therefore stem from the way people relate to everyday events. Research shows that individuals with a high level of self-esteem are more satisfied with their lives (Diener, 1984, apud. Twenge J., Campbell K., 2001,, p.321), have lower levels of anxiety or depression (Tennen and Herzberger, 1987, apud. Twenge J., Campbell K., 2001, p.321) and are characterized by positive affectivity (Pelham and Swann, 1989, apud. Twenge J., Campbell K., 2001, p. 321). In contrast, those with high self-esteem, low self-esteem are depressed, anxious, pessimistic about their future, feel incompetent and rather subject to failure due to a vicious circle that causes self-fulfilling prophecies (Brokner, 1983, in Brehm S., Kassin S., Individuals with high self-esteem tend to evaluate themselves in socially desirable terms, presenting themselves as sociable, emotionally stable, creative, kind, benevolent, a tendency that may affect measures of self-esteem.
While these statements can be made with some certainty, little is known about the personality characteristics that distinguish low from high self-esteem individuals. Understanding the link between self-esteem and personality traits is essential primarily because the two constructs share the same developmental basis. On the one hand, just as temperament is innate, 30% of the variance in self-esteem is explained by genetic differences (Kendler et al., 1998, apud. Robins et al., 2001, p. 464), and on the other hand, underlying temperamental characteristics influence individuals' behavioural tendencies as well as feelings about themselves. Moreover, it appears that self-esteem and personality have a direct influence on each other, which means that behavioural patterns influence self-perception and self-evaluation, and self-esteem plays an important role in the choice of strategies for coping and adapting to new environmental conditions. Robins et al. (2001) exemplify this idea: an individual with low self-esteem lacks the confidence to engage in a wider range of social behaviours and consequently becomes an introvert.
Many recent studies increasingly emphasize the existence of correlations between self-esteem and the dimensions of the pentafactor model, mainly strong correlations with the emotional stability factor (neuroticism), medium correlations with extraversion and conscientiousness, and weak correlations with agreeableness and openness to novelty (Goldberg & Rosolack, 1994, apud. Robins et al. 2001, p. 465).
One of the criticisms of the aforementioned research is that the relationships found between self-esteem and personality traits are mediated by social desirability, but even in the condition where the facade response bias was controlled, strong correlations of self-esteem with extraversion, emotional stability, and conscientiousness continued to emerge (Robins et al., 2001). The explanation offered by the authors referred to Coopersmith's definition of self-esteem and the process of constructing self-evaluation, with self-esteem and social desirability being almost conceptually impossible to separate.
Biological gender also seems to have a strong influence. Men have higher levels of self-esteem than women (Major et al, 1999, apud. Robins et al, 2002); self-esteem correlates more strongly with extraversion and conscientiousness in men and agreeableness in women (Block & Robins, 1993, apud. Robins et al, 2001, p. 467), a pattern that suggests an influence of gender stereotyping.
The discussion these authors bring to the attention of future research is whether a particular personality profile determines a particular level of self-esteem and whether there is a link between personality characteristics and fluctuations in self-esteem.
Copyright © 2014 Center for Medical Education. All rights reserved.