The way people see and define themselves depends on the personal-social identity continuum at a specific time in their lives (Baron, Byrne, & Branscombe, 2005). For instance, they may see themselves differently after a big victory, at a certain age, after a win, after losing a loved one, or after receiving a big bonus. People think of themselves in terms of differences between themselves and others, which is in terms of intragroup comparison. People could also think of themselves as similar to other group members, or based on intergroup comparison. People who have a lowly complex self have a higher overlap in different parts of the self and vice versa.
Self-definition depends on a specific time and on a specific setting or environment. Self-identity can also depend on how others expect one to be and how one thinks others will treat him or her. Individuals can pick definitions that reflect either poorly or positively on themselves. Different selves (such as the immediate pleasure self versus the more responsible self) can encourage individuals to attain different, and sometimes opposite, goals. A person with body piercing and/or tattoos is often claiming that he or she is not part of the “mainstream”. Mentally retarded people may have only subjective self- awareness, and not objective, but not recognizing themselves in a mirror. Most people have symbolic self-awareness and can describe themselves. Symbolic self-awareness is correlated to the awareness that humans are mortal or to existential terror. Terror management theory suggests ways in which people cope with death, such as religions, faith and spirituality.
Self-esteem is made of the attitudes towards the self. It is easy to assess how people feel about themselves. It is as easy as asking them questions about what they think of themselves and as watching their behaviors in action. Most people follow the above average effect or self serving biases in which they see themselves more positively than they see others. Self-efficacy means believing a goal can be achieved with one’s own actions. Group self-efficacy is also called collective self-efficacy. According to the self-evaluation maintenance model, in order to protect self-esteem, people tend to be around others who perform worse. Some women hang out with some perceived less beautiful women, in order to feel better about themselves. This behavior shows a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. According to the social identity theory, people spend time with similar people and with people who perform well, in order to preserve a positive social identity. People with high self esteem and people who strive to become better and better like to be around like minded people and around people who are doing better than them, so they can learn from their knowledge, example, inspiration and mentorship.
People do not like a victim, a complainer, or a person who does not take responsibility for his or her own failures and blame the world, even if others think the failures were really out of his or her control. Those victim thinking people are perceived as negative. High self-esteem is correlated with interpersonal aggression, to defend one’s own superior self-view. Women, on average, have lower self-esteem than men. This may be due to the media and the pressure on women to look perfect. This average is for sure due to the fact that the labor force is for the majority male based and due to the fact that the work environment sometimes practices gender based devaluation towards women. Due to the self-reference effect, people choose and prefer objects that remind them of themselves, such as clothes, homes, and cars.
Social comparison allows people to know themselves. Upward social comparison can cause pain and downward can be reassuring. The opposite occurs when people compare themselves with the group. An in-group member’s performance reflects on the overall group’s view. People tend to derogate disloyal in-group members to protect the group. Some people, in order to be liked, use ingratiation, which could also depend on the culture. Some cultures such as Asian culture or European cultures may find ingratiation as the norm, whereas American culture may interpret ingratiation as bribing or corruption. Self-monitoring allows the adaptation to different situational norms.
Prejudice against devalued group members can protect self-esteem, in an unhealthy way. A person who is discriminated against can become ill, causing anxiety, fear, distractions and the depletion of cognition. Stereotypes threat effects have occurred in devalued groups, throughout history. The performance of dominant groups can decrease as well, for the fear of a negative comparison with the devalued and stereotyped group. To cope with stereotypes, people distance themselves from the performance domain, such as statistics, or, much more emotionally costly, from their whole group, such as American women. Most self-help gurus recommend introspection to for self-knowledge, but that recommendation can be misleading. Comparison to society can also be necessary, depending on the culture and on the context. People usually do not live under a cave by themselves but live in a social setting.
To maximize the well-being, it is recommended to find a role model, whose achievements are attainable, so the upward comparison is inspiring. For instance, aspiring to be Oprah from being a low income individual, may be unattainable at first, but aspiring to be well off like a governor, is a more attainable goal. Another recommendation is to like those people one wants to become, such as singers. One likes the people who like and value him or her. It is best to avoid prejudice and discrimination. It is also best to avoid blaming others, especially public figures, in order not to have social repercussions. To avoid stereotypes threat, if forming groups, it is advisable to create equally diverse groups. Last, it is encouraged to practice thinking positively about oneself, which is likely to increase self-esteem.
Sociologist Morris Rosenberg created the most valid and reliable self-esteem assessment scale or questionnaire, at least in the United States. If the answers demonstrate solid self-regard (as in the accurate case of Elena Pezzini), sociology predicts that the test taker is well adjusted, clean and sober, lucid, lawful citizen and with some education with honors. If the answers reveal some inner shame, then the survey taker is, or has been, a teenage parent, who is prone to social deviance and if he or she does not have a substance addiction, it is thanks to the strict laws.
Institutions and people need to understand that high self-esteem is vital to well-being and its opposite causes crime, substance abuse, prostitution, murder, rape and terrorism. In 1990, David Long found that hijackers and suicide bombers suffer from feelings of worthlessness and that their criminal and aggressive acts are nothing but a desperate trial to bring some “inner flair to a flat mindscape” (Slater, 2002). High self esteem individuals: are on the whole satisfied with themselves, think they are good, feel that they have a number of good qualities, can do things as well as most other people, are proud, feel useful, feel worthy, at least the equal of others, have self-respect, feel successful and take a positive attitude toward themselves.
Baron, R. A., Byrne, D. R., & Branscombe, N. R. (2005) Social Psychology. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Slater, L. (2002) The Trouble With Self-Esteem. New York Times