Self-Esteem: What Is It?

Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself; an overall evaluation of one's worth or value. People are motivated to have high self-esteem, and having it indicates positive self-regard, not egotism. Self-esteem is only one component of the self-concept, which Rosenberg defines as "totality of the individual's thoughts and feelings with reference to himself as an object." Besides self-esteem, self-efficacy or mastery, and self-identities are important parts of the self-concept.

Because of its widespread popularity in everyday parlance and in popular psychology, the concept of self-esteem may be subject to distortion and misuse. Thus, it is recommended that that those using the scale be familiar with the scientific study of this concept and its complexities. Rosenberg's books are a good starting point. Note that there are other definitions and measures of self-esteem in the social sciences, as well as thousands of empirical studies and theoretical analyses of this concept in the academic literature.

Much  of Rosenberg's work examined how social structural positions like racial or ethnic statuses and institutional contexts like schools or families relate to self-esteem. Here, patterned social forces provide a characteristic set of experiences which are actively interpreted by individuals as the self-concept is shaped. At least four key theoretical principles -- reflected appraisals, social comparisons, self-attributions, and psychological centrality -- underlie the process of self-concept formation.

In addition to examining self-esteem as an outcome of social forces, self-esteem is often analyzed as an independent or intervening variable. Note that self-esteem is generally a stable characteristic of adults, so it is not easily manipulated as an outcome in experimental designs. Blascovich and Tomaka (1993) indicate that "experimentally manipulated success or failure is unlikely to have any measurable impact when assessed against a lifetime of self-evaluative experiences" (p. 117). It is also unrealistic to think that self-esteem can be "taught"; rather, it is developed through an individual's life experiences.'

Back to the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale