George Herbert Mead developed a social behaviorism theory that was based on the premise that environment has the power to shape the self. Some analysts prefer to examine outward bound behavior related to the self while others, like Mead, focused on inward thinking. Self is the I and the me defined as “the part of an individual’s personality composed of self-awareness and self-image.” Esteem is defined in one way as “to set a value on” or “to regard with respect or affection.” Therefore, self esteem can be defined as a person’s ability to put a value on their own self-awareness and self image. Low self-esteem is to have a low opinion or low value of one’s self as an individual.
Low self-esteem manifests itself as early as the age of five and can happen at any time during the developmental stages of our lives. The key here is that low self-esteem can happen as soon as we are able to perceive cause and effect in our surroundings but especially during the time when we begin to take on the roles of others in order to become self aware. We both understand a situation from another’s point of view and we assume a role, project and then receive feedback. If we project ourselves as being clever and we receive feedback that we are, indeed, clever, this re-enforces our self image of cleverness and we are aware that we are clever. However, if we project cleverness and receive feedback that we are not, then we perceive ourselves as not being clever or we lack the self-confidence to project cleverness.
Low self-esteem is rooted in both feedback from our environment and our evaluation of our own actions. In the Crocker & Wolfe Contingencies of Self Worth Model, five domains are identified as factors in self worth.
1. Virtue – Our actions measured against cultural norms.
2. Support of Family – Intimate re-enforcement.
3. Academic Competence – Our ability to perform to defined intellectual levels.
4. Physical Attractiveness – Our measure of ourselves or others against physical norms.
5. Gaining Other’s Approval – How others perceive us in all areas of human endeavor.
Abraham Maslow recognized that we have esteem needs that involve attention and recognition from others that generate feelings of achievement and competence.
If we have low self-esteem, this usually means that we lack sufficient positive re-enforcement, earned or unearned, for aspects of our lives that we feel are important. In other words, we can perceive ourselves as lacking in some of the five domains above and perceive ourselves as competent in others. However, when we receive feedback that were are not competent in areas of our perceived success, then the feedback can lead to more extreme feelings of low self-esteem. For example, if a fashion model is criticized for lacking academic competence, he or she may not be as affected as he or she would if they were told they were too skinny, too fat, or had terrible hair. A professionally successful Christian would be humiliated if they were accused of unethical or immoral behavior. Feedback about what we covet about ourselves is particularly damaging.
Low self-esteem is not a simple concept. It is dynamic and dimensionally complex meaning that it can happen at any time during our lives in various degrees. In it’s mildest form low self-esteem can be recognized by a lack of communion with others or societal participation, feelings of sadness, mild anger or aggression, or feelings of incompetence. In it’s extreme forms, it can result in depression, eating disorders, apathy, violence, or sexual dysfunction.
In order to minimize low self-esteem, praise, feedback, and criticism administered during the early stages of human development should be balanced and measured carefully. Family support and security is critical during formative years. Feelings of value and belonging for every human being are determining factors in how we deal with inevitable feelings of insecurity during life. The efforts and energy we put in our relationships to make those around us feel wanted and worthy are, in successful cases, evidence of mature love at every level of human communion.