Does Self-Esteem Even Matter?
By Skye Thomas
There is a new article in the January 2005 issue of Scientific American entitled Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth. It's a very well written analysis of what scientists and mental health experts have found after decades of studying self-esteem. If you have the time, I would highly recommend reading the full version of it. If not, I will do my best to paraphrase what it said. Some of the results were rather surprising:
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their work performance. This means that people with low self-esteem are just as good at doing their jobs as people with high self-esteem and vice versa. The studies did not show that a higher sense of self-esteem makes you better at doing your job. Your opinion of yourself doesn't necessarily match your coworkers and your boss's opinion of you.
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their academic abilities. Kids with higher grade point averages did not necessarily have high self-esteem and kids with lower grade point averages did not necessarily have low self-esteems. Students did not necessarily perform at a level that correlates with their grades. Teachers' evaluations of students' abilities didn't always correlate with the students' performance nor with their sense of self-esteem. Your opinion of yourself doesn't necessarily match your academic abilities.
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their appearance. That means that plenty of good-looking people still had low self-esteem and plenty of average and even ugly looking people have high self-esteem. They did not find that high self-esteem even made you more inclined to care about your appearance. Your opinion of yourself doesn't necessarily match how others rate you on physical attractiveness.
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their popularity. Plenty of folks with high self-esteem were not popular nor even liked by their peers. Plenty of folks with low self-esteem were very well liked and admired. Your opinion of yourself doesn't necessarily match how much others like you.
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their ability to get along with others. When roommates and family members were asked to rate those being studied on their ability to communicate and to work through interpersonal issues, it was found that people with low self-esteem were just as good at connecting and working through issues as those with high self-esteem. People with high self-esteem were just as capable of screwing up relationships and upsetting those around them.
* There was no correlation found between a person's sense of self-esteem and their attitudes towards premarital sex. People studied did not have more or less premarital sex based upon their sense of self-esteem. They actually found that teenagers with an extremely high sense of self-esteem were more likely to have premarital sex then any other group.
* There was no correlation found between drug and alcohol use with regards to the user's self-esteem. Sometimes people with a high sense of self-esteem consume these substances from a belief that they are invincible and it's part of the wild and recklessness that can result from an extremely high self-esteem. Other times it's a drowning of sorrows that results from low self-esteem. It can also be a simple curiosity that starts someone down the path and they simply get sucked in by the addictive qualities of the various substances. Why someone does or does not start doing drugs or drinking alcohol can have nothing to do with their self-esteem.
* They found a direct correlation between bullies and self-esteem. For years we've been told that bullies are really hurting and suffering from low self-esteem, that their aggression was a form of overcompensating. Turns out that isn't at all true. Bullies ranked as having very high self-esteem and the higher their self-esteem went, the more aggressive and violent they were willing to become.
* They did find a direct correlation between self-esteem and eating disorders. Regardless of gender, low self-esteem definitely plays a huge factor in this particular area.
So what good is self-esteem? If our opinions of ourselves can be so different from how everyone else sees us? Too much self-esteem seems to promote promiscuity and bully type behaviors and too little can create dangerous issues regarding body image. What does it matter where we are in-between these two extremes?
The overwhelming trait for those with a positive balanced sense of self-esteem is a sense of well-being and happiness. It was shown in the studies that those with a higher self-esteem would walk away from bad relationships and unhealthy circumstances. They were not as inclined to stick around if things weren't in their own best interest. They were found to have more self-confidence and initiate more conversations, more dates, more sales contacts, etc. They are not afraid to step up to the plate and get into the game of life. It was not a superior quality that made these people more successful in their occupations, academics, and interpersonal relationships, but simply a desire to stay happy and to not be stopped by negative internal dialog.
Success and self-esteem are something like the chicken and the egg... which came first? Will a handful of successes build one's self-esteem? Often, but not always. Does self-esteem lead to success? Often, but not always. The two do seem to go hand in hand more often than not. A moderate to high sense of self-esteem appears to do little more then give us the confidence to tackle life with gusto. It doesn't guarantee us friends, love, money, or success. A low self-esteem serves no purpose other than to talk us out of even trying to achieve friends, love, money, and success. There are no guarantees regardless of your sense of self. Improving your self-esteem won't make you better looking, smarter, or wealthier. It will however make you stop agreeing to those behaviors, people, and choices that keep you from succeeding.
Copyright 2006, Skye Thomas, Tomorrow's Edge
About The Author
Skye Thomas is the CEO of Tomorrow's Edge, an Internet leader in inspiring leaps of faith. Her books, articles, and astrological forecasts have inspired people of all ages and faiths to recommit themselves to the pursuit of happiness.