Questions about Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is essential to wellbeing, but where does it come from?

Debates over the advances of self-esteem have lasted for decades, both in the scientific literature and in the popular media (Orth & Robins, 2022, p. 5). Several researchers and laypeople have argued that greater self-esteem helps people adapt to and succeed in several life domains. Yet, many are skeptical.

Researchers have long argued that greater self-esteem helps individuals to make friends, to have more fulfilling romantic relationships, to be more successful in education and work, and to experience greater psychological well-being. If high self-esteem is helpful, then interventions that boost self-esteem in children, teens, and adults may boost their chances of success in key life domains such as relationships, school, and work (p. 6). However, if high self-esteem is just a by-product of life success (that is, life success results in higher self-esteem instead of the other way around), then efforts focused on boosting self-esteem (whether through targeted interventions, counselling, or self-help books) are useless.

Additionally, there has even been concern that the self-esteem movement, in its efforts to boost children’s self-esteem, has the opposite effect, engendering an increase in narcissism, which is opposed to fostering a genuine sense of self-worth. It is vital to differentiate self-esteem from narcissism, as both constructs incorporate positive self-evaluations. While self-esteem signifies feelings of acceptance of oneself and self-respect, narcissism is described by feelings of superiority, grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, and self-centeredness.

Several theories hold that self-esteem has outcomes for social relationships (Orth & Robins, 2022, p. 7). Consistent with the self-broadcasting perspective, persons show observable cues that broadcast their level of self-acceptance to others, which influences how they are observed with regards to competence and attractiveness and, eventually, whether they are successful in initiating and upholding social relationships. Self-verification theory suggests that people are motivated to be perceived by other people in the same manner as they perceive themselves and that persons with low self-esteem start to stop themselves from engaging in social relationships when their partner thinks of them more positively than they view themselves (Orth & Robins et al., 2022).

A voluminous body of research suggests that high self-esteem assists people to adapt to and be triumphant in several life domains. This comprises having more enjoyable relationships, doing better at school and work, appreciating improved mental and physical health, and refraining from antisocial behavior. Furthermore, these benefits hold across various stages of life, a broad range of racial groups, and for men and women alike (Orth & Robins, 2022).

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Orth, & Robins, R. W. (2022). Is high self-esteem beneficial? Revisiting a classic question. The American Psychologist, 77(1), 5–17.