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Dual Nature of Self-Esteem
Therefore, self-esteem seems to vary across different areas of experience and according to role-defining characteristics (Coopersmith, 1981). It seems to be situational—high at one moment or low at another—depending on which specific constituent personal identity element the individual attends to (Harter, 1985; Leahy, 1985; Rosenberg, 1985).Accordingly, the individual may have generally positive attitudes toward the self, possess a good sense of self-worth, but because of certain situations or particular days may feel better or worse about him- or herself (Demo, 1985) at any one time.
This attitudinal perspective that regards self-esteem as at once both general and specific means the person attaches evaluations to many different qualities and aspects of the self and also sums these to form an overall evaluation.
Rosenberg (1965) described self-esteem as a linear combination of individual and specific self-estimates, each weighted by a value and then summed. The weight of each value is dependent on how important the value is to the individual. The person's overall appraisal of self presumably weighs all areas according to their subjective importance and arrives at what Coopersmith (1981) referred to as a general level of self-esteem.
Rosenberg (1979) stated that many personal elements are socially ranked and evaluated, that the individual's sense of personal worth or value (viz., self-esteem) is to some extent contingent on the perceived prestige of the identity element. Therefore, a person's global sense of self-esteem is based "not solely on an assessment of his constituent qualities but on an assessment of the qualities that count [italics added]" (Rosenberg, 1979, p. 18). Wylie (1974) and Gurney (1986) suggested a hierarchical relationship between specific and global self-esteem rather than a qualitative difference between them. Brown (1993), on the other hand, supported conceptualizing self-esteem in terms of global feelings separate from specific self-evaluation, arguing that global self-esteem affects specific self-evaluations, not the reverse. In any case, generalizations cannot be made from either the specific to the global or from the global to the specific. It is precisely this confusion that may result in self-esteem interventions not fitting the needs of the client; the client may feel something entirely different from what the counselor assumes. The counselor may be attending to a different self-element altogether. Or, the counselor may be placing more or less importance on the significance of the element than does the client. For example, John may play the piano exceptionally well, but if it does not matter to him, if this accomplishment carries a low weight, his counselor's well-intentioned validation of his piano-playing skill as a way to bolster his self-esteem is likely to be ineffective.
Relationship to Related Self Terms
Self-efficacy refers to a person's assessment of effectiveness, competency, and causal agency (Bandura, 1977; Gecas, 1989). Although White (1963) believed that self-esteem begins with self-efficacy, high self-esteem does not necessarily reflect high feelings of efficacy (Rosenberg, 1985). Self-confidence refers to the "anticipation of successfully mastering challenges or overcoming obstacles [whereas]… self-esteem…implies self-acceptance, self-respect" (Rosenberg, 1979, p.31). Persons high in self-esteem exhibit confidence in their perceptions and judgments and generally believe that they can favorably resolve their concerns through their own efforts (Coopersmith, 1967). Still, global self-esteem seems to be distinct from social confidence (Fleming & Watts, 1980). Keeping in mind the various meanings of these related self-constructs and how they relate to self-esteem will assist the counselor in lessening the confusion surrounding this construct.
Toward the Use of a Consistent Definition of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem: The attitudinal, evaluative component of the self; the affective judgments placed on the self-concept consisting of feelings of worth and acceptance, which are developed and maintained as a consequence of awareness of competence, sense of achievement, and feedback from the external world.
By understanding the meaning of self-esteem and knowing its definitions, the counselor can be precise in its use and judicious in choosing interventions targeted at increasing levels of self-esteem in individuals and in group settings. Global self-esteem seems to be less amenable to change than does selective self-esteem. However, the fact that global self-esteem is composed of selective self-esteem elements may mean that a change in level of overall self-esteem is contingent upon changes in evaluation of these specific, subordinate units within the self-system, which in turn affects the overall, or global, level of self-esteem. By attending to selective self-esteem traits or characteristics that are important to the client manifesting low self-esteem, the counselor may more likely be able to assist that client in ultimately increasing his or her level of overall self-esteem.
Significance Of Self-Esteem
Countless studies have been conducted on student self-esteem and academic performance. Factors influencing students' low academic performance point to low self-esteem as both an antecedent and a consequent component. In general, high self-esteem seems to be a consequence of having experienced success (Holly, 1987). Other research, however, suggests that there is no positive correlation between serf-esteem and academic achievement in certain student populations (Ginter & Dwinell, 1994; Pottebaum, Keith, & Ehly, 1986), and it is one's actual ability rather than perceived ability that seems to be a determinant of self-esteem and makes a difference in academic success (Bachman & O'Malley, 1986).
Hundreds of articles substantiate or repudiate self-esteem's antecedent or consequent role in human behavior. These conflicting results underscore further the need for counselors to understand the construct, account for how they use the term, and how they assess it. Mruk (1995) stated that "Measuring self-esteem is important because if this field wishes to achieve a higher degree of reliability and validity, then it must attempt to demonstrate observable,… measurable relationships between self-esteem and the kinds of behavior commonly held to be related to it" (p. 42).
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