Low Self-Esteem as Predictor of Negative Emotions

Self image Photo courtesy of HealthlineOpens in new window

Self-Esteem (also known as self-regard or self-worth) is one’s attitude, opinion, or evaluation toward oneself; it may be positive (high), neutral, or negative (low). While the term is often used interchangeably with self-imageOpens in new window, self-esteem means how much one values oneself, while self-image refers to one’s conception or perception of oneself.

Parenting practices and styles are important to the development of self-esteem in children. In a study looking at construction of family narratives (stories), it was found that a higher level of engagement in emotional narratives by mothers was related to the development of positive self-esteem in pre-adolescent children. This was true when the mothers were telling stories about both positive and negative emotions (Bohanek, Mann, & Fivush, 2008).

Peer relationships are very important during adolescence to help form a healthy degree of self-esteem. In particular, negative peer relationships and victimization by peers (being bullied)Opens in new window has been associated with low self-esteem in children and adolescents (Reynolds & Repetti, 2008).

In societies that put pressure on young females to be thin (e.g., North American), girls who are heavier (or think they do not conform to societal concepts of attractiveness) may suffer low self-esteem. Low self-esteem and distorted body image have been found in adolescent girls suffering from eating disordersOpens in new window (e.g., bulimia, anorexia nervosa; O’Dea, 2006).

Self-esteem is a feature of several disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Individuals with avoidant personality disorderOpens in new window have low self-esteem and are shy, quiet, anxious, inhibited, and reluctant to take personal risks. They tend to be inhibited in social or interpersonal situations, have a fear of rejection and failure, and are hypersensitive to criticism.

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorderOpens in new window exhibit inflated (grandiose) self-image, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. These individuals enhance their self-esteem by the value they assign to people with whom they associate. They believe their associates to be powerful, important, or the “best”; they minimize the credentials of anyone who disappoints them.

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have very fragile self-esteem, as manifested by an excessive need for admiration (e.g., fishing for compliments) and constant attention from others.

Fragile self-esteem makes these individuals vulnerable and sensitive to criticism and failure. They tend to form intimate relationships or friendships only if the other person is likely to enhance their self-esteem (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). If self-esteem is threatened, narcissistic individualsOpens in new window are likely to retaliate with anger, hostility, rage, shame, or humiliation (Stucke & Sporer, 2002).

Inflated self-esteem—a feature of manic episodes in bipolar disorder—may be characterized by grandiosity or uncritical self-confidence that may reach delusional proportions. Grandiose delusions are common (e.g., having a special relationship with a public figure, an exaggerated sense of unlimited personal power).

Low self-esteem may be a feature of depression (e.g., in major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, or bipolar disorder). This may be evidenced by excessive self-criticism; individuals may see themselves as uninteresting or incapable. Social phobia may involve low self-esteem, including feelings of inferiority. Individuals with social phobia may fear evaluation or judgment by others, such as taking a test (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

See also:
  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Bohanek, J. G., Mann, K. A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Family narratives, self, and gender in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 153 – 176.
  3. Colman, A. M. (2001). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. O’Dea, J.A. (2006). Self-concept, self-esteem and body weight in adolescent females. Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 599 – 611.
  5. Reynolds, B.M., & Repetti, R. L. (2008). Contextual variations in negative mood and state self-esteem: What role do peers play? Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 405 – 427.
  6. Stucke, T. S., & Sporer, S.L. (2002). When a grandiose self-image is threatened: Narcissism and self-concept clarity as predictors of negative emotions and aggression following ego-threat. Journal of Personality, 70, 509 – 532.