Are you fraid you too are suffering from the epidemic of low self-esteem? Finish the following sentence: If I don’t succeed. . .
If you came up with something like “I feel devastated” or “no good for nothing” there may be cause for concern. What separates the high from the low on the self-esteem meter is response to failure, says University of Washington psychologist Jonathon Brown, Ph.D.
He put 172 people – 81 with high self-esteem, the rest with low – through a computer word game. Half the participants received a version too difficult to do in the time allotted, assuring their failure. Afterwards Brown asked them to evaluate their performance.
For those lacking self-esteem, failure felt devastating. They felt strong feelings of shame and humiliation and they overgeneralized their failure, rating their overall intelligence much more negatively after a poor performance than a successful one.
People with high self-esteem did just the opposite. They rated their intelligence a bit higher after failure, compensating for their sub-par performance. This is the value of self-esteem, explains Brown: It enables us to respond to events – good or bad in ways that bolster our sense of worth.
Because failure is so agonizing to people with low self-esteem, they are less willing to take risks and more apt to be conformists and melt into the masses.
What is self-esteem anyway? Its a common buzzword, but how is it understood and defined? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as a “confidence and satisfaction in oneself.”
Experts in the field of confidence conceptualize it as:
- Confidence in our ability to think, to cope with the basic challenges of life and confidence in our right to be successful and happy. – Nathaniel Branden
- Having a positive image of self. – Don Simmermacher
- An evaluation of the emotional, intellectual, and behavioral aspects of the self-concept. – Diane Frey & Jesse Carlock
- A state of mind. It is the way you feel and think about yourself and others, and is measured by the way you act. – Connie Paladino.
Abraham Maslow who founded humanistic psychology and developed Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” addresses esteem as a the normal human need to be accepted and valued by others.
George Boeree, Ph.D. wrote, “Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom.” Maslow’s theory on the need of esteem highlights how self-esteem is nurtured and impacted by our relationships with others.
In my opinion is has to do with both – with our relationship with ourselves and with our relationship with others. Tips how to boost your self-esteem are in my book “To be or not to be – the choice is YOURS!”, in the “Moments To BE” and in other posts on this blog.