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Section 4 (Web #18)
III Self-Esteem and the Environment
Karen Horney (1967), a prominent feminist psychiatrist and student opposing Freud's theory of the instinctual determination of development, argues for the importance of environment in determining mental life, personality, self-esteem and development. In addition, Horney (1967) claims that cultural devaluation and social oppression of females are responsible for the clinical finding that they have low self-esteem and reject femininity. She states that children are influenced by their environment and if certain parental influences inhibit or impede a child's development, then the child may not develop a proper self-respect.
Her work was critical during the cultural revolution of the 1960's, noting that females in general had low self-esteem in comparison to males, she had placed this knowledge into everyone's consciousness. Prior to Horney's work, any concern of female self-esteem being low was not a priority, nor did it play a role in societal expectations.
The process for developing good self-esteem starts from early childhood, building upon the achievements that a person accomplishes as they grow older, and includes their own place in society. Many theorists have studied 'self-concept', or the process of understanding the 'self'. Kohut (1977) describes the 'self' as the center of one's personality that provides the structure to one's experience and it could not survive without emotional input from significant others. In other words, the 'self' or self-concept is the platform of a person where all of one's experiences build upon this basic 'sense of self' and contribute to a person's self-esteem or self-confidence. Kohut (1977) refers to the Oedipal process as being integral to establishing the 'firm self in childhood. He also states that the drive and structural models of the mind provide an adequate framework for any processes initiated by a 'firm self and for those that may reoccur later in adult life. Being oneself, and having a strong sense of 'self' with a unique personality are important for human development.
Blustein & Noumair (1996) agree with Kohut's (1977) psychoanalytic theory, that the term 'self' refers to the "overarching intra-psychic organization of the individual that is responsible for volition, subjectivity, feeling, or maintaining and organizing of one's impressions of self" (p. 434). They contrast this view with Erikson's (1968) notion of ego identity, as capturing only a narrow subset of experience derived from an inner sense of accord or discord between the individual and the social environment. Kohut's (1977) psychoanalytic definition of 'self' as a center of initiative and a recipient of impressions allows the 'self' to include more comprehensive experiences of willing and feeling. Other theorists define 'self-concept' as a 'multidimensional structure' composed of elements, such as, self-esteem and self-image (Blustein & Noumair, 1996). Blustein & Noumair (1996), state that self-image is based on intrapersonal experience and represents the individual's perception of his or her personality, that is, of satisfying his or her psychological needs in interactions with various social environments (e.g., school, social relationships, family). Blustein & Noumair (1996) expanded the conceptual framework of the self and identity to include a self that provides the capacity to initiate action and to attain a sense of coherence, self-esteem, and consistency in a career development context. Most theorists agree that self-concept and self-esteem are influenced by experiences, social relationships and environments.
Rogers (1961) states that when a person is treated with unconditional positive regard, he or she will develop a positive self-regard. He states that the more care and respect are shown to an individual, the more he or she will gain in self-esteem. Since teenage girls may have a greater propensity to connect in relationships and to care for others, they may be able to modify their own self-esteem through the caring of others (Chodorow, 1978; Gilligan, 1982; Josselson, 1987). As noted, self-esteem for teenagers is lower during adolescence and rises again after adolescence; however if it does not rise, more serious problems or conflicts may manifest later in life. Gilligan (1982), during her study of girls at the Willard School, noted that self-esteem for girls was higher during elementary school years and was lower during adolescence. Santrock (2001) also noted that both boys and girls had higher self-esteem before adolescence. When adolescents develop or gain self-confidence as young adults, their self-esteem will then rise. As Josselson (1996) observed the metamorphosis of young girls' identities, she stated she could never grasp each person in their entirety, since these young girls were enormously complicated and diverse. She states that behind each face was an intricate story, a tale of 'becoming' and then, 'revising' herself. When reviewing the definitions of 'self-concept', it is apparent that this subject is not straightforward and can be viewed by many different perspectives. It is also evident that the environment and social expectations can influence self-esteem. During adolescence, self-esteem conflicts need to be resolved for school or life success.
As previously reviewed, adolescent boys and girls have identity conflicts or issues in their environment (schools, home, communities) and that the completion of tasks or challenges successfully will allow adolescents to improve their self-concept or self-esteem. Teenage activities must be designed so that they can succeed and their sense of well-being can blossom to improve self-esteem. During adolescence, relationships are very important and they need to provide supportive roles for the development of boys and girls. Both boys and girls need to feel 'connected' and have challenging tasks to improve their self-concept or establish their identity. The community or a strong ethnic identity may also help this process. A sense of belonging is important for adolescents in order to be able to separate from their families and become individuals with high self-worth.
Traditional psychological developmental theories have a goal of 'separation' or 'individuation' as one of the main goals of human development, and must state that 'connection' or 'attachment' is part of this process (Chodorow, 1989; Josselson, 1987). Connection was never a part of the traditional goal of separation; but it is difficult to see one exist without the other. Theories concerning 'separation' and 'connection' cannot be viewed separately since one cannot be separate without being connected. According to Erikson (1968), development has steps of increasing differentiation and personality involving developing, redefining and interacting with a widening radius of significant individuals and institutions over time. He stated that the human psychosocial process continues throughout all developmental stages with resolution of various conflicts throughout the basic eight stages of human growth. The resolution of adolescent conflicts are key during the span of human development for future health and success.
Chodorow (1978) and Gilligan (1982), well-known developmental theorists, questioned that the individuation process is the same for girls and boys. They suggested that women were basically 'relational beings' and that an optimal development for girls should not be moving away from relationship, since a girls' development of self is dependent on a mutually empathic relationship with the caretaker. Gilligan (1982 hypothesized that female social roles may be conflicting, especially during adolescence. Chodorow (1978) also describes a conflicting process that many adolescents experience 'attachment' and 'separation' during development. According to Josselson (1987), no one looked seriously at how identity was organized for a female. Female developmental theory needs to be more flexible to encompass the multiplicity of female roles and complexities of their lives. She states that classical psychoanalytical theory is grounded in genital inferiority of females in its literature. In recent years, these past findings of viewing females as inferior are being challenged and acknowledged as unjustified.
This paper presents the influence of psychoanalytical views and human development theories to explain possible conflicts of adolescent years and in particular, with adolescent girls. The following are key points concerning the individuation process for both girls and boys:
( 1) A core 'sense of self' and 'separation of self' are complex processes that may be different for males and females depending on their social support or environment.
( 2) For identity development, early relationships are very important, including how young boys and girls evolve despite separation or connection conflicts.
( 3) During the adolescent process, the support of schools to develop challenging activities is necessary to create many stable, unique and healthy adolescent identities.
If adolescents do not accept new roles and assume challenging responsibilities, they may never face their conflicts to develop their unique individuation process. The issue is not just how this process takes place; but that it will inevitably occur, and that gender differences should not be a priority since both male and female individuals will become unique individuals. The more successful a teenage individual becomes and is able to resolve his or her identity crisis, the more psychosocially healthy he or she will become with a secure identity. Adolescents need opportunities to face challenges or responsibilities and to experience becoming a completely developed individual. It is especially important for adolescent girls to have adequate opportunities to build their self-esteem or confidence. Schools need to provide a supportive, interactive and 'proactive learning' environment for adolescents to flourish.
- Powell, K. (2004). Developmental Psychology of Adolescent Girls: Conflicts and Identity Issues. Education, 125(1).
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