The concept of self-esteem*

Concentrate. Think about the last time when you felt lonely in a company of people. Or when somebody pointed out the mistakes you had made and you felt anger or frustration afterwards. Or when you liked a person but were too scared or shy to approach them or start a conversation.

???? ?????? Tara Winstead: Pexels
How do you see yourself? Photo by Tara Winstead: Pexels

What is the matter?

Now, think about the root of the problem here. Probably, the feeling of loneliness in the first case was caused by a thought that nobody in the company really cares about what you feel or say because you do not deserve love and attention? Perhaps, you felt angry or lost in the second situation because you had doubts in yourself already and after this feedback, yet constructive and useful one, you felt you cannot do anything properly? And as for the person you are so scared to talk to, maybe it is caused by a thought that you are not interesting enough, funny enough, attractive enough?

All in all, maybe the main root of the problem is your self-esteem? Boris Litvak, a Russian writer specializing in psychology, assumes so.[1] Moreover, Boris suggests looking at the topic of self-esteem from a brand-new perspective.

How would you classify different types of self-esteem? Most probably, like that: low, high and inflated.[2] People with low self-esteem struggle with recognising their worthiness, they do not believe in their skills and abilities. Personalities with inflated self-esteem tend to not only recognise their value but also overrate themselves. That is why they do not take others’ ideas and opinions into consideration and do not admit own mistakes blaming circumstances. Finally, high self-esteem is a so-called “golden middle”. Owners of this type are aware of their value and abilities. However, they are open to critique and advice willing to better themselves.

A new perspective

Boris suggests another classification – according to him, self-esteem can be divided into “stable” and “unstable”. Unstable self-esteem is a case when some external circumstances influence a person’s confidence in themselves. For instance, imagine that you have a well-paid job. Next month, you are going to go to France on your vacation. Moreover, you have a nice car which you do enjoy. Suddenly, you meet your school friend that you have not seen for a while. It turns out that this friend has an extremely prestigious job in a very popular company, makes twice as much money as you do, owns a fancy car and visit Maldives three times a year.

Now, a person with a stable self-esteem will not be affected dramatically by such a situation. However, a person with unstable self-esteem is going to lose all the confidence after this meeting. “We started together but now my friend is way more successful and prosperous than I am. Am I a loser?” – this is a flow of thoughts a person with unstable self-esteem has.

Probably, you have already started thinking: we live in society, it is impossible not to be affected by social situations. We are not robots, we cannot keep this inner balance forever. Our confidence will have its ups and downs, it is inevitable. And this is fair.

Stable self-esteem can be met extremely rarely in real life. Mostly, the concept of it exists to explain the idea of unstable self-esteem and to serve as an ideal we could strive to achieve.

How to identify one’s self-esteem?

Now, let us dive into the types of stable and unstable self-esteem. I have drawn a diagram so that it would be easier to perceive the concept. Stable self-esteem has only one attitude called “I am +”. It means that a person believes in themselves (we can replace the + sign with any positive adjective here) regardless of external circumstances. Unstable self-esteem, in its turn, has two different variations – “I am + if…” and “I am –“.

Types of self-esteem
Types of self-esteem

“I am –“ is a serious case when a person often needs a help of a psychotherapist. People with this attitude believe they do not deserve love and care and this perspective does not change over time.

The attitude “I am + if…” is the most common one and became the core of Litvak’s study. These people tend to have moments of low and high self-esteem that replace one another depending on external circumstances (like in the example above). Each person has 1 – 3 circumstances that affect them most. These circumstances can stand after the word “if” in the name of the attitude. Here are some of the examples:

“I am + if others like me” – a person has a high self-esteem when people laugh at their jokes and show interest in what they are talking about. However, if they do not get enough attention and/or love from other people, their confidence decreases.

“I am + if I am the best” – a person who got used to achieving the best results and now is doubting in themselves when having stronger opponents around.

“I am + if I am strong” – a person believes that others will treat them good as long as they do not show their weaknesses. Usually, these people do not feel comfortable crying in front of someone or sharing their emotions in any way.

All in all, there are many more attitudes and they start developing inside us in childhood. Boris believes that as soon as we become aware of our attitudes, as soon as we realise what exactly bothers us and makes our confidence drop (or grow), as soon as we start capturing and analysing our state of mind at these moments, we can actually make those ups-and-downs less radical. And, thus, we can become closer to that ideal model called “stable self-esteem”.

Article by Vladislava Ladyzhenskaia *VL Management with Marketing, exchange semester.

[1] Litvak, B. M. (2017). 7 steps to stable self-esteem. Moscow: ACT

*Karlshochschule is an educational institution and a non-profit organization as well. We want to encourage individuals and young people to take responsibility, find their own voice and initiate change in a sustainable and tolerant way. Listening to different opinions not only promotes different perspectives, but also discourse. The content of this blog is characterized by the diverse experience and opinions of the authors, which may not be the majority opinion of the university, but provokes reflection and discussion.

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