What is Self-Esteem?

The California State Task Force on Self-Esteem, spent three years studying the topic and ended with the following definition: “Appreciating my own worth and importance and having the character to be accountable for myself and to act responsibly towards others. (1990)

The most widely accepted definition is that of Nathaniel Branden, who defines healthy self-esteem as “the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.” (1994) This definition implies not only being worthy of respect, but also as having the basic skills and competencies required to be successful in life.

Self-concept might be defined as a conscious, cognitive perception of how one sees oneself, whereas self-esteem is the evaluation of how one feels about that self-concept or those self-concepts. Thus, one way of thinking about self-esteem is as the evaluative function of the many self-concepts one has regarding all the various roles one plays and the relative value one places on these roles. Thus one may see oneself as poor in athletics, but if one doesn’t value that quality it may not have an adverse effect on ones self-esteem.

There is no question about the close relationship between self-esteem and self-concept. Studies show that people with low self-esteem have more poorly defined self-concepts. (Baumeister, 1993) Thus, a critical element of healthy self-eateem is having realistic, clear self-consepts. Because the relative value placed on the roles one plays changes from time to time, one’s self-esteem is apt to fluctuate up or down. Franken believes “there is a great deal of research which shows that the self-concept is, perhaps, the basis for all motivated behavior. It is the selfconcept that gives rise to possible selves, and it is possible selves that create the motivation for behavior. Through self-reflection people often come to view themselves in a new, more poerful way, and it is through this new, more powerful way of viewing the self that people can change and develop possible selves.” (1994)