Self worth

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Under self-worth (also: self-esteem , self-esteem , self-respect ) understands the psychology of the vote , which you made to yourself. The terms are not used very clearly, whereby self-confidence ( self-confidence ) refers to the competency beliefs ( abilities of the individual ) and can be understood as a sub-component of self-worth, which can also refer to properties that have nothing to do with competencies. The self-esteem could, for example, on the personality and the memories of the past and I refer -Empfinden or the sense of self. In behavior therapy, self-confidence is mainly referred to under the term self-efficacy expectation . Both an increased and a low self-esteem ( feeling of insufficiency ) can be a symptom of a mental disorder. A distinction is not only made between whether a person's self-worth is high or low, but also whether it is stable or unstable, contingent or non-contingent, explicit (consciously cognitive) or implicit (unconsciously affectively based on experience), safe or fragile. According to Leary and co-workers, self-worth serves as an indicator of a person's social integration (sociometer theory). According to the cognitive model of Aaron T. Beck, self-esteem is also strongly influenced by thought processes (basic assumptions, automatic thoughts, distorted information processing).

External factors can shape self-confidence if there are sufficient objective reasons for certain requirements, such as methodological competence , sufficient knowledge or experience , repeated activities in similar situations or the like.

In addition, self-worth is also a political-moral category that, for example, establishes the certainty of being “right” in a certain situation, or of exercising, demanding or fighting for a right that is due.

In common parlance, self-worth is also imprecisely equated with self-confidence . The term eigenvalue , which today describes a property of linear mappings in linear algebra, is used less often. Self-worth is related to the ego (referred to as self in psychology , scientifically referred to as I ).


Self-esteem results from the comparison of the supposed subjective abilities with the demands with which the personality is confronted and in relation to the abilities of others. It can be determined on the basis of very specific and increasingly generalized requirement situations, for example in psychological tests . A high level of self-confidence when it comes to requirements is shown when it is assessed with foresight that this situation can be mastered well.

The degree of self-confidence mostly depends on the different ability for certain activities and is subject to changes over time (e.g. due to emotions or tiredness).

Individuals can have inadequate self-confidence depending on the situation or constantly by overestimating or underestimating their capabilities . Such misjudgments arise on the basis of individual characteristics, attitudes and other characteristics.


The basis for dealing safely with oneself and the environment is closely related to self-confidence and self-esteem. The self-confidence is formed in the course of child development:

  1. about achieving effects - especially those that lead to pleasant, positive feelings in the child ;
  2. receiving appreciation and recognition (as a special form of social impact);
  3. Identifying with important caregivers who have the necessary self-confidence and who react positively to the child;
  4. in later development through a balance between experienced freedom and the bond with caregivers.

Studies on the connection with the rest of life

Empirical studies on self-esteem face the difficulty that self-worth is difficult to measure. In this way, test subjects often present themselves better than they actually see themselves.

A study of college students in the late 1980s by Duane P. Buhrmester and three colleagues found that a high level of self-esteem leads to the belief that you are more open-hearted, more capable of relating and dealing with conflicts, you are able to provide better emotional support and yourself towards mean things to be able to assert others better. A correlation between these five abilities and self-esteem was found when the test subjects were interviewed themselves, but not when interviewing the respective roommates (exception: establishing relationships).

In a study carried out in 1995 by Edward F. Diener , Brian Wolsic (both from the University of Illinois ) and Frank Fujita (University of South Bend , Indiana ), the self-esteem of a representative part of the population was determined and each test person was then photographed three times (whole Body, made-up and un-made-up portraits of head and shoulders). A jury rated the pictures according to their attractiveness. A correlation between self-esteem and evaluation by third parties could only be determined, albeit weakly, in the made-up portraits. This means that people with a high self-assessment are not necessarily judged by others as they see themselves.

Esteem and Academic Achievement Based on research by Sheila M. Pottebaum, Timothy Z. Keith, and Stewart W. Ehly of the University of Iowa with more than 23,000 test subjects enrolled in 10th grade of high school in 1986 and then again in 12th grade. In the 12th grade, high or low self-esteem in the 10th grade had little impact on school performance in the 12th grade, and conversely, the self-assessment in the 12th grade was no indication of the school performance in the 10th. Other studies confirmed this or even concluded that high self-esteem had a negative impact on performance. Similar findings (no or negative effects of a high self-esteem) are found in studies on professional success.
Older research, on the other hand, confirms the assumption that good self-esteem strengthens ambition and perseverance and weakens crippling feelings of incompetence.

Self-Esteem and Life Satisfaction
A study published in 1995 by Edward F. Diener and his daughter Marissa, now a psychologist at the University of Utah , with more than 13,000 college students showed an apparent enhancement of satisfaction with life through high self-esteem.
A survey published in 2005 with more than 600 adults between the ages of 51 and 95 by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Chris Tkach and M. Robin DiMatteo from the University of California in Riverside confirmed this.

Boosting Self-Esteem and Success
In a 1999 study by Donelson R. Forsyth and Natalie A. Kerr of Virginia Commonwealth University , psychology students in a college course split into two groups with equal grade points were given either one weekly An email that strengthens self-esteem or emphasizes personal responsibility. The group whose self-esteem was attempted failed to meet the target - the group charged with responsibility passed, if only barely.

Self-esteem and alcohol / drug abuse in adolescence
Studies on the connection between self-esteem and alcohol or drug abuse in adolescence do not reveal a uniform picture: Some studies show that teenagers with feelings of inferiority seek solace in alcohol, while others come to the conclusion that they are particularly self-confident Young people are looking for intoxication. A major study in 2000 by Rob McGee and Sheila M. Williams of the medical faculty of the Otago University in New Zealand found no correlation between the self-confidence of 9- to 13-year-old and later alcohol - or drug abuse at the age of 15 years.
On the other hand, three years earlier, A. Andrews and Susan C. Duncan of the Oregon Research Institute discovered a weakening of self-esteem due to declining motivation at school and a subsequent, albeit less likely, marijuana use due to weakened self-esteem .

Self-Esteem and Violent Crimes
Roy F. Baumeister of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, challenged the belief that psychologists had believed for decades that aggression stems from low self-esteem in 1996. Various studies have shown him that violent criminals have high and perhaps exaggerated opinions of themselves. Dan Olweus from the University of Bergen in Norway showed that commanding children are more confident and less anxious.

Relationship between work and self-esteem

Long-term unemployed people , especially those who had previously been in permanent employment for many years, tend to question the self-image that is defined by their profession. As a rule, after six months to one year of unemployment a feeling of uselessness occurs, which in some cases can lead to alienation from the family and / or other social milieus , up to and including self-abandonment and suicide . Apparently there is a connection between increasing unemployment and the increase in depression and psychotic illnesses. For example, it is reported that the sociologist and psychologist Thomas T. Cottle , who studied the psychological consequences of unemployment for 15 years, found pathological symptoms in long-term unemployed people in America who were classified as "discouraged" by the US government Dying resembled.

In the essay "The happy unemployed - a manifesto" the approach of promoting happiness for the unemployed through the creation of new social values ​​can be found : While with the unhappy unemployed "the only social value he knows is work", he does nothing and is bored (like a pensioner) because work is often the only contact possibility, for which "of course work and not unemployment" is the reason, the happy unemployed person develops contacts with a bunch of likeable people by introducing new social values ​​" "and is" even ready to give rehabilitation courses for workers who have been terminated ".


Self-worth is also a concept in scientific psychology , especially in personality and differential psychology , but also within social psychology .


In psychological research, self-worth describes one of the three components of the self . Self-esteem or, synonymously, self-esteem corresponds to the affective component. This is the evaluation of the image of oneself. The cognitive component is the self-concept , i.e. the image that people have of themselves. Under the conative or action-related component terms such as self-efficacy expectations or self-expression are subsumed. The term self-esteem corresponds most closely to the English term "self-esteem" and includes positive as well as negative evaluations of one's own person. The term self-esteem, on the other hand, is less appropriate because it is not a feeling or an emotion in the strict sense.

Explanatory models and theories

Three sources of self worth

People come to self-related information from three different sources. By means of self-observation , current behavior and experiences can be related to previous events and thus a positive or rather negative self-assessment crystallizes. Depending on how the social comparison with other people turns out, people experience each other differently. Feedback represents the third source of self-related knowledge. The assessment of this knowledge in turn affects self-esteem. By “sources of self-worth”, however, one understands areas of life from which one draws one's self-worth. Ephemeral sources of self-worth such as beauty are problematic insofar as they lead to fluctuations or even drops in self-worth as you get older.

Six pillars of self-esteem

In addition to the factors that are important for a healthy self-esteem in the course of development, the psychologist Nathaniel Branden names the following conditions that form "the six pillars of self-esteem":

  1. Conscious life
  2. Self acceptance
  3. Independent life
  4. Confident assertion of oneself
  5. Purposeful life
  6. Personal integrity

In Branden's opinion, authentic self-confidence and self-esteem are largely decoupled from the feedback from a counterpart in a positive approach.

Three pillars model of self-worth

In his three-pillar model, Stavros Mentzos assumes that self-esteem regulation depends on the reflection of important caregivers (ideal self), identification with other people (ideal object) and action and performance-oriented recognition (formation of the over- Ichs) depends. According to this model, if one pillar were weakened, the other pillars could be used more intensively in the sense of defensive overcompensation.

  • Pillar I: the self-image . The child's greatness is the earliest and most immature level of self-image (he also connects this with the manic megalomania of an [sick] adult). One “step above” are the “more or less lifelong semi-conscious size fantasies. Finally, towards the top, one finds the mature ideal self, that is, the realistically corrected positive image of oneself, which despite inevitable mistakes (...) guarantees a buffer against shocks (from injuries and failures) ”. The contact with reality becomes closer and closer (and more mature) towards the top (“growing” upwards within the column).
  • Pillar II: The object image . The basis (or the earliest immature form) is a symbiotic bond and "soon also the identificatory participation in the idealized parent-imagines". One level higher, identifications with other models are important (the parents are replaced or supplemented) and right at the top is a mature ideal-object identification (someone here no longer only introjects, but identifies himself). In contrast to Pillar I, here people are not admired or strengthened by reflections, but admired themselves - and at different levels of maturity.
  • Pillar III: Conscience . The earliest form are archaic superego precursors, which represent a dyadic relationship constellation (similar to the symbiosis in Pillar II at this level). The next level is an oedipal superego (with triangulation and accepted commands and prohibitions). Right at the top is the mature conscience, which consists of a conscious selection of the earlier super-ego forerunners and also of its own "newly developed standards and values".

If you combine this three pillar model with the self-discrepancy theory according to Higgins, it becomes clear when exactly shocks and injuries are to be expected. Namely, when an individual perceives a discrepancy (or: inwardly allows himself to be approached) between a) his own real versus ideal self-image, b) the real versus ideal object image and c) between real (other) external facts and internal (own) moral claims of conscience.

  • Examples of discrepancies in Pillar I: Sudden inability to work, strokes, illnesses, etc., which can shake the (possibly unconscious) self-image “I am capable / invulnerable / not old”. In Mentzos' words: "A" weakness "in the function of the right pillar resulting from a reduction in physical and psychological vitality signifies the possible core of a depression in the involution or in old age or after a severe physical illness, amputation, heart attack, etc."
  • Examples of discrepancies in Pillar II: Suddenly the husband / mother / father turns out to be someone offended (through an affair, a double life, a previously unseen disappointment, a lie). Deaths or breakups can also represent a discrepancy and shake in narcissistic homeostasis. In Mentzos' words: a "dependency depression [arises from] an object loss", after which there is often an initially "overcompensating reaction in the form of a pseudo-independent attitude (to replace the failed safety component), which, however, usually cannot prevent the depression for very long. Then may develop [...] helplessness, attachment, dependence. "
  • Examples of discrepancies in Pillar III: The other caregivers (or oneself) are guilty of an act or an omission - which leads to punishment aggression or anger (in the sense of moral indignation). Mentzos writes of an "overcompensatory" performance rage "which, however, usually soon fails and is followed by regression and submission to the strict superego (depression of guilt)"

A suicide could be illustrated by all three pillars: A person can no longer endure something in himself (pillar I), something in his caregivers or his environment (pillar II), and / or something that involves guilt and punishment (conscience and Morals) (pillar III).

For psychoanalytic theory see also: Self-object

Theory of social comparison processes

Filipp assumes that people develop their self-image from various sources of self-related knowledge, such as direct and indirect feedback, their own social comparisons and observation of their own internal and external reactions. In the theory of social comparison it is assumed that self-worth is a result of processes of social comparison. Festinger's theory of social comparison processes is worth mentioning here . Both the selection of the comparative features and the choice of the comparative persons influence the level of self-esteem:

  • Comparative person: Self-esteem is reduced when comparing oneself with better people in relation to the comparative dimension (upward comparisons) and improves when comparing with worse persons (downward comparisons). The theory of maintaining self- assessment is also relevant for the selection of the comparator .
  • Comparison feature: The choice of the comparison dimension is in principle arbitrary, whereby the features that are part of the self- schema are likely to be relevant (see diagram ). If the comparison result is negative, the characteristic can be classified as irrelevant to self-esteem, which has a self-esteem-protective effect. Conversely, a previously irrelevant feature that leads to a positive comparison result can be included in the self-schema and thus increase self-esteem.

Sociometer theory

Leary and colleagues (1995) assume that self-esteem shows how accepted or rejected a person feels by other members of his socially relevant group. Self-esteem could thus be viewed as a kind of monitoring system for social relationships.

Social Identity Theory

Tajfel differentiates between personal identity (characteristics that serve to differentiate oneself from other people) and social identity (characteristics that result from belonging to a group and that distinguish one from other groups). From the need to orientate oneself in the world arises the need to categorize, whereby the social identity arises. Feeling part of a group that is viewed positively increases self-esteem.

Defensive strategies to maintain self-worth

According to the attribution theory , successes and failures only have an impact on self-image and thus also on self-worth if they are taken as an indication of one's own enduring characteristics. If successes are interpreted as an indication of one's own strengths, while the cause of failure is ascribed to external circumstances, this increases and protects self-esteem (see self -esteem- serving bias ).

Covington (2000) names three possible strategies for maintaining self-worth:

  • Self-esteem protection: Effort is intentionally avoided in order to be able to attribute failure to lack of effort.
  • Self-handicapped behavior: Obstacles are installed even before work starts, for example at a late start, so that failures can be attributed to the obstacle.
  • Defensive pessimism: Unrealistically low goals can reduce the fear of not achieving the set goals.

Acquisition methods

Self-esteem is most often measured using self-description questionnaires. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) should be mentioned as a one-dimensional procedure . It is the most widespread international scale that uses ten items to determine the global self-esteem very economically. Self-esteem theories also assume that self-esteem is structured hierarchically, that is, multiple facets of self-esteem, such as self-achievement or social self-esteem, are subdivided under the global self-esteem. Multi-dimensional self-esteem scales such as the Feelings of Inadequacy Scale (FIS, Janis & Field, 1959) or the multidimensional self-esteem scale ( MSWS, Schütz & Sellin, 2006) take this hierarchical structure into account.

Development of self-esteem

A review article summarized several empirical studies on the inheritance of self-esteem. She came to the conclusion that the environment shared by siblings (such as the parenting style of the parents; growing up in a particular neighborhood) generally does not have a significant influence on self-esteem. The common environment accounts for at most a little more than 10% of the differences in self-esteem in the area of ​​life of intellectual and cultural talents. In contrast, genetic influences account for a larger proportion (30–50%) of the observed differences for both general self-esteem and self-esteem in certain areas of life . Environmental influences that are not shared with siblings (i.e., experienced only by one individual) consistently cause a large proportion of the differences in self-esteem between siblings. The non-shared environment often accounts for more than 50% of the observed differences in self-esteem.

A large number of studies indicate that men have higher self-esteem than women. Furthermore, an increase in self-esteem could be observed over the course of life, until it reaches its peak around the age of 60. The decline in self-esteem in old age is attributed to changes in socio-economic status and general health.

The self-assessments of small children are still based on ratings such as “good” or “bad”. In the course of the child's development, the social comparison gains more influence, so that self-esteem is subject to upheavals, especially at the transition to new phases in life (e.g. school enrollment). The puberty is characterized by the search for identity , and often self-doubt marked. In girls in particular, a decline in self-esteem has been recorded, since the prevailing ideals of beauty are usually contrary to their pubertal development. Although it is often assumed that personality traits no longer change in adulthood, studies have found that self-esteem is definitely influenced in this phase of life, especially by family and professional successes or failures.

Current research

In addition to studies on explicit self-worth, which self-description questionnaires are usually intended to determine, part of psychological research today tries to capture implicit self-esteem. It is defined as the spontaneous, unconscious evaluation of oneself. Indirect methods such as the implicit association test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998) should allow conclusions to be drawn about this form of self-esteem on the basis of reaction times. It should be emphasized that explicit and implicit self-esteem can diverge in “self-esteem discrepancies”. Furthermore, mechanisms of self-esteem are examined in current research. An example of such a mechanism is self-stereotyping , when assumptions and knowledge about a positively assessed group of which you belong are transferred to yourself.


Karen Horney first made a precise distinction between healthy self-confidence and pathological narcissism in 1939 . Both low and high self-esteem could lead to problems. In the ICD-10, a reduced self-esteem is an additional criterion for the diagnosis of depression , while an excessive self-assessment is an additional criterion for the diagnosis of mania . When it comes to narcissism, the DSM-IV speaks of a grandiose feeling of one's own importance. The DSM-IV-TR describes that in anorexia nervosa and bulimia, body weight and figure have an exaggerated influence on self-esteem. According to the guideline, adolescents with a social phobia not only fear criticism but also have low self-esteem. Exam anxiety can be viewed as a specific social phobia. According to Covington's theory of self-worth, the cause of test anxiety is that self-worth is directly linked to performance in Western societies.

Related to depression

Low self-esteem and depression affect each other. But for a long time it was unclear what the main causal direction is. While the "vulnerability model" states that low self-esteem contributes to depression, the "scar model" states that depression undermines self-esteem. A meta-analysis of 77 studies supported the vulnerability model: the effect of self-esteem on depression was significantly stronger than the other way around.

Self-enhancing interventions

Potreck-Rose and Jacob differentiate between four pillars of self-esteem and then align therapeutic interventions to increase self-esteem. The four pillars are: self-acceptance , self-confidence, social competence , social network . According to their idea, positive self-esteem is essential for the development of self-acceptance and self-confidence. They assign the specifically proposed interventions accordingly to the areas of positive self-appreciation, self-acceptance and self-confidence:

  • Positive self-care: mindfulness exercises
  • Positive self-affection: choosing a loving observer and identifying the inner critic
  • Positive self-care: self-care
  • Self-acceptance: Differentiation of the system of values ​​and norms.
  • Self-confidence: self-control and self-management.

For the two interpersonal pillars of social competence and social network, they suggest using the two treatment manuals Assertiveness Training Programs by Ullrich and Muynck as well as the group training of social competence from Pentecost and Hinsch.

See also


  • Nathaniel Branden : The 6 pillars of self-esteem , Piper Verlag Munich Zurich 1995, paperback edition: 2006, ISBN 978-3-492-24386-5 .
  • Roy F. Baumeister, Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger and Kathleen D. Vohs: Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? . In: Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Volume 4, Number 1, May 2003, pp. 1–44 ( PDF )
  • Matthew Mc Kay et al .: Self-esteem - The heart of a healthy personality , Junfermann Verlag Paderborn, 2nd edition 2007, ISBN 3-87387-557-8 .
  • Rolf Merkle : This is how you gain more self-confidence: A practical guide to overcoming feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Pal Verlag 2001.
  • Jannis Plastargias : Bodybuilding to strengthen youthful self-esteem. Kubayamashi-Do Studien- und Fachbuchverlag, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-9808375-9-0 (also diploma thesis, Karlsruhe University of Education 2004).
  • Virginia Satir : Communication - Self-worth - Congruence , Junfermann Verlag Paderborn, 7th edition 2004, ISBN 3-87387-018-5 .
  • Helga Schachinger, The Self, Self-Knowledge and the Feeling for Your Own Worth. 2005, ISBN 3-456-84188-4 .
  • Astrid Schütz : The more confident, the better? Light and shade of positive self-assessment . Beltz, Weinheim 2005, ISBN 3-621-27532-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Self-esteem  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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