As an essential part of personal growth, self-esteem covers the overall self-acceptance and comprehension of self-worth by an individual. More specifically, the concept of self-esteem implies the belief and conscious determination of special abilities, thus, it is described commonly as an individual’s assessment of their value and competence. The metrics of self-esteem serve as the determining factor of motivation and success and therefore, can be interpreted as a positive or negative attitude towards “self”. According to Mahendran (2015, p. 158), people’s estimation of themselves is integral to their interrelations with others and is also defined by “the media, the public and the field of self-care”. These areas also contribute to the psychological studies on the phenomenal issue, however, the psychological approach to defining self-esteem might differ from its implementation in everyday life, media and self-help literature.
The reference point for most psychological approaches to self-esteem included Morris Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSES), designed in 1965. The scale is based upon Rosenberg’s perception of self-esteem, in which he states that self is an object and, hence, self-esteem is the attitude people have towards that object. The RSES achieved a wide application in scientific studies on a global level and is now considered a dominant measure of self-esteem. The concept of this phenomenon was introduced to the popular culture by the American psychotherapist Nathanial Branden, whose notion of self-esteem consists of two components. These include “a feeling of personal competence and a feeling of personal worth”, which highlights the capacity to cope (Mahendran, 2015, p. 161). According to the psychotherapist, self-esteem depends on the internally generated practices, which are living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully and personal integrity.
Apart from the relational and cultural aspects of self-esteem, it can also be viewed in terms of personal skills and activity. Consequently, the levels of self-esteem vary for every individual, which might be caused by cultural, childhood or personal issues. Following the ideas of Mahendran (2015), self-esteem is a challenging concept to analyse due to its “abstract nature” that engaged successive generations of psychologists (p. 171). The following analysis is based upon the comparison of two psychological approaches to the concept of self-esteem. This includes the examination of self in the work of William James before it was further developed under the social cognition approaches illustrated by Rosenberg.
One of the psychological insights was designed by William James in the nineteenth century, which entails that self-esteem is relational. The social cognitive psychology of self-esteem generally illustrates people’s self-serving biases in self-assessment. James is considered the first psychologist who defined self-esteem as “determined by the ratio of a person’s successes divided by their pretensions” (Mahendran, 2015, p. 171). In his formula, Jameson stated that one way to improved self-esteem implies the increase in the numerator (successes), while another way assumes the decrease in the denominator (pretensions). The psychologist believed in the multiplicity of selves, including “the material self, the social self, the spiritual self and the pure ego” (Mahendran, 2015, p. 171). The materialistic self implies the body and its physical appearance, as well as children, partners and material possessions, including property. The social self has a diversified nature that is shaped by the recognition of others the individual connects with throughout a lifetime. The concept of the spiritual self involves that humans are conscious thinkers that deal with the continuous stream of consciousness. Ultimately, James considered the pure ego as “the most puzzling for psychologists” that concerns a person’s identity, including thoughts, tastes and preferences that remain the same.
Therefore, such a psychological approach means that each individual has a strong self-interested impulse to be noticed. According to the psychologist, one of the most violent punishments is to become unnoticed by all the members of society. The relational approach to the concept of self involves both connection with others and motivation, as the self-esteem needs of oneself are integral for moving towards in life. Three main components of the relational self-esteem, such as I, me and self, were further elaborated by George Herbert Mead, who emphasized on people’s sense of self-developing through their membership of organised and cooperative communities.
Social Cognition Approach
Referring back to the self-esteem scale (RSES), Rosenberg significantly contributed to the social cognition approach to self-esteem, which implies people’s interpretation and analysis of the information about the social world. In such a case, the social world relates to the self, as well as other people and interrelationships with one another. The RSES was used extensively due to its straightforwardness and reliability and remained a standard measure of self-esteem that was considered as a cognitive attitude. Moreover, social cognitive studies demonstrated that self-esteem results vary according to the following factors, such as age, gender and cultural identity. As described by Mahendran (2015), the RSES scores were recorded low in childhood and adolescence, as well as in mid-life and further still in old age (p. 176). The RSES measures were noted to reach a peak in early adulthood; however, age disparities are ranging from 30 to 48 years old as a culminating point.
With regard to gender differences, females are believed to be more sensitive to low self-esteem than males, which is not properly examined yet. Mahendran provides the hypothesis created by Joseph and colleagues in 1992 that a female’s sense of self is directly influenced by their relationships with other people. Such an explanation links the social cognitive approach to the relational vision of self-esteem. At the same time, males are considered to be more individualistic, which excludes the impact of the interrelations with others on their self-esteem measures. It was concluded that male self-esteem arises through thinking about individuating achievements, which emphasizes the importance of feeling distinct in personal achievements for men and differs from the nature of high self-esteem indicators for women.
Together with two crucial components of the social cognitive approach to self-esteem, such as age and gender, culture also can be considered as a determining factor. It was examined that in cultures with a strong emphasis on fitting into the group, people prone to assess themselves with a lower rate on the RSES. Therefore, the differences in self-evaluation are connected with the cultural distinctions that affect the rates of self-esteem. The studies show a difference between Japanese and American participants, where the Japanese have a lower mean RSES score than Americans. The American mean was 33.21, which was the highest measure comparing to all the 53 countries and the Japanese 25.50, “very close to the mid-point of the scale” (Mahendran, 2015, p. 177). The average RSES of the British was 30.55, which was similar to the European indicators.
Sociocultural Psychological Explanation of Self-Esteem
A sociocultural psychological explanation of self-esteem as self-objectification is a more macro-level explanation that analyses both relational (interpersonal) and cognitive (individual) level explanations. Both Rosenberg and James referred to self and me, as an object, a “figure that is created when people reflect on themselves” (Mahendran, 2015, p. 188). Self-objection examines gender differences, situational and ideological roots based upon the works of Rachel Calogero, who states that self-esteem in females and males is connected with two processes, such as self-objectification and system justification. With the focus on young females, the combined processes of system justification and self-objectification might refer to low levels of involvement in social action to analyse the conditions that cause the sexual objectification of females. Hence, apart from the interpersonal relations, Calegro perceives self-esteem as related to broader sociocultural occurrences such as objectification.
Comparison of Psychological Approaches
Two psychological approaches have similar and distinct features; however, they both involve the relationships with others that influence and shape the levels of self-esteem. As Burkitt states, the social roles or memberships do not shape our selves in modern society; however, the self is more influenced by daily embodied interactions with others (Mahendran, 2017). Therefore, the self becomes more related to interpersonal communications. Rosenberg’s scale, in turn, suggests that the sense of self is limited to the thoughts and attitudes towards ourselves. A relational approach, in contrast, implies the dynamic nature of self-worth that evolves throughout a lifetime. Freeman proposes another way to enhance the sense of self that goes beyond the boundaries of the self and focus on the other (Mahendran, 2017). The other includes nature, religion, culture, arts and other people since the sense of meaningfulness and nourishment comes from all those external facets. Such a perspective, based on the external aspects, relates to the cognitive approach to self-esteem.
To sum up, the concept of selves is commonly seen as relational since “self” refers to the orientation to others, the recognition from others, as well as the responsibility towards other individuals. The traumatic events might often lead to an appreciation of what is essential in life and take beyond the daily achievements, anger or obsession. Generally, the ethical moments encourage individuals to make a judgment about critical things, which goes beyond the boundaries of the self. The relational approach examines the interactions the individual has with others that shape the self, while the cognitive perspective implies wider thinking and views each individual differently based on the specific set of external qualities.
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