SIGNIFICANCE OF SELF-ESTEEM
The level of self-esteem can serve as a powerful motivational force. Because positive self-evaluations are emotionally pleasurable we are generally motivated to act in ways that enable us to feel good about ourselves. Self-esteem takes the form of a need to enhance, protect, repair, or defend the self, and has a significant influence on our behavior.
Anticipating the painful emotional experience of failing to live up to our personal aspirations or the expectations of others can motivate us to try harder, and to persevere in order to succeed. Conversely, fear of the pain associated with a drop in self-esteem can lead us to avoid challenging situations altogether. Threats to our level of self-esteem can also lead to lying or cheating to avoid exposing ourselves. In school it is not
uncommon for children with low self-esteem to avoid trying for fear of failure and the resulting blow to their level of self-esteem. Hence, rather than trying and failing they can rationalize that they failed only because of their lack of effort.
It has been stated that there is evidence that children s self-esteem can be enhanced by teachers encouragement of self-rewarding behavior on the part of their students. With increasing self-esteem comes improvement in academic performance which, in turn, enhances self-esteem. Further, above-average levels of self-esteem are associated positively with better adjustment, more independence, less defensive and deviant behavior, and greater
social effectiveness and acceptance of others. (Gurney, 1987)
Nathaniel Branden (1986) states,
"I cannot think of a single psychological problem - from anxiety and depression, to fear of intimacy or of success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spousal battering or child molestation, to suicide and crimes of violence--that is not traceable to the problem of a poor self-concept. Positive self-esteem is a cardinal requirement of a fulfilling life. There is overwhelming evidence, including scientific research findings, that the
higher the level of an individual s self-esteem, the more likely that he or she will treat others with respect, kindness and generosity."
Keegan(1987) has stated that low self-esteem either causes or contributes to neurosis, anxiety, defensiveness, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, adolescent interpersonal problems as well as low academic achievement.
Steffenhagen & Burns, (1987) have gone so far as to state,
"We believe that low self-esteem is the psychological mechanism underlying all deviant behavior."
Numerous social science studies have documented a link between low self-esteem and such social ills as juvenile delinquency, violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, child and spousal abuse, chronic welfare dependency, and school failure. (Gurney, 1987)
While some of these claims are difficult to substantiate, this does not lessen the significance of the connection between self-esteem and human behavior. In succeeding sections we shall provide documentation to support most of these earlier assertions.
1. Branden, N. 1986. "In Defense of Self." Memo to California Task Force on Self-Esteem. Sacramento, CA.
2. Steffenhagen, R.A. & Burns, Jeff D. (1987). The Social Dynamics of Self-Esteem. Praeger: New York, NY.
3. Hales, S. (1989) "Valuing the Self: Understanding the nature and Dynamics of Self-Esteem." Perspectives . Saybrook Institute, San Francisco.
4. Gurney, P. (1987) "Self-esteem enhancement in children: A review of research findings." Educational Research. 1987; 29(2): 130-136.
5. Keegan, A. (1987) Positive self-image - a cornerstone of success. Guidepost, 1987.