Throughout life we are all aware of self-esteem, whether that be from a general understanding of the concept or through further education, however, the question of ‘Is high self-esteem a positive attribute to have?” has been a dividing topic amongst scholars. This essay, therefore, aims to discuss findings from several studies and help to give a better understanding of whether high self-esteem is positive and the impacts that different levels of self-esteem may have on an individual.
To begin self-esteem can be defined as how an individual evaluates themselves which may be in either a positive or negative light, Sutton and Douglas (2013). From this, we can begin discussing the effects of self-esteem on an individual dependant on their score on a self-esteem scale such as that by Rosenberg (1965). If an individual’s scores were exceptionally high on this scale they may begin to show signs of narcissism which is characterised by vanity, power and a sense of being all-important. A study by Bushman and Baumeister (1998) suggests that when self-esteem manifests as narcissism there is a high likelihood that high levels of aggression will appear.
Those with moderately high self-esteem may be prone to higher than average levels of aggressive behaviour in certain circumstances. For example, if an individual has high state self-esteem then they will likely be more aggressive than average. The opposite is true for those with high trait self-esteem, Kernis, Grannemann and Barclay (1989). The reason for this may be due to state self-esteem providing an unstable foundation for high self-esteem that an individual may be experiencing, therefore any threat to this fragile self-esteem may cause an aggressive backlash. Overall evidence from Bushman and Baumeister (1998) suggests the best variety of self-esteem to have on the positive side of the scale is high trait self-esteem as these individuals are best at seeing positives in the face of adversity.
Further, when looking at self-esteem it is important to acknowledge the opposite end of the scale. Moderately low self-esteem is linked to several negative attributes as well, this includes a lack of belief in ability which can have a domino effect on other aspects of an individual’s life. A study by Chan and Wong, (2011) found that those who experience low self-esteem are more likely to isolate themselves due to a fear of social embarrassment, this may occur as a result of low self-worth causing individuals to not believe in their abilities. Further, a study by Haugen and Lund (2002) found that those who experience low self-esteem alongside low academic self-esteem are more likely than others to experience depression which is also caused by a lack in belief in ability. This, therefore, highlights that overall low self-esteem tends to result in negative self-image and therefore less positive life experience.
In conclusion, evidence suggests that the best form of self-esteem to have is moderately high trait self-esteem. This is due to the buffers that individuals may develop that help them to deal with negative life events that the other levels of self-esteem do not seem to show. It is also backed by the mainly negative effects that low self-esteem causes for individuals.
- Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(1), 219.
- Chan, S. M., & Wong, A. K. Y. (2013). Shyness in late childhood: relations with attributional styles and self‐esteem. Child: care, health and development, 39(2), 213-219.
- Haugen, R., & Lund, T. (2002). Self-concept, attributional style and depression. Educational Psychology, 22(3), 305-315.
- Kernis, M. H., Grannemann, B. D., & Barclay, L. C. (1989). Stability and level of self-esteem as predictors of anger arousal and hostility. Journal of personality and social psychology, 56(6), 1013.
- Rosenberg, M. (1965). Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE). Acceptance and commitment therapy. Measures package, 61(52), 18.
- Sutton, R., & Douglas, K. (2013). Social psychology. Palgrave Macmillan.