MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Is there any special reason why some people have a very low self esteem?

Date: Tue Dec 5 18:21:25 2000
Posted By: Lynn Nielsen-Bohlman, Faculty, Geriatric Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 973620069.Ns

Self-esteem seems to be due to the individuals interactions with his or her social environment. Although genetic factors (such as appearance) may lead to higher or lower acceptance, there is no evidence that self-esteem is genetically determined. An individual who is consistently devalued by others in his social environment may develop low self-esteem that he or she then brings to new experiences, which would be a combination of social and experiental factors.

People may feel unaccepted because of their views or actions. Ostracism, an aversive interpersonal behavior (Gruter & Masters, 1986; Williams, 1997), damages self-esteem. In the short-term, targets of ostracism may attempt to regain threatened or lost needs; in the long-term, they may internalize feelings of low self-esteem. In "After the whistle is blown: The aversive impact of ostracism", Sonja Faulkner (Dissertation-Abstracts-International:-Section-B:-The-Sciences-and-Engineer ing. 1999 Jan; Vol 59(7-B): 3770) examined the aversive impact of ostracism on whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers from the Government Accountability Project all reported that they encountered ostracism after whistle-blowing.

Some people have conditions that cause them to feel unaccepted in many situations. An example of that is people with Tourette's syndrome and people with hypospadias. Tourette's syndrome is a disorder characterized by uncontrollable yelling and twitches. Many Tourette's sufferers have low self-esteem, especially in social and academic situations. Participation in a support group, in which patients shared their own experiences and approaches to the social difficulties associated with Tourette's syndrome improved patients self-esteem (Lambert,S & Christie,D. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 1998 Apr; Vol 3(2): 267-277). Hypospadias is a birth defect in which the urinary tract opening is not at the tip of the penis. Men and boys with this condition often feel abnormal and have low self-esteem. While these individuals often felt isolated, the opportunity for self-disclosure of the experience of hypospadias improved these individuals self-esteem (The psychological experience of living with hypospadias through verbal descriptions and drawings. Walker, M G. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 1999 Jan; Vol 59(7-B): 3719).

However, In "Social stigma and the self: Meanings, situations, and self-esteem", a chapter by Jennifer Crocker & Diane Quinn in: Todd F Heatherton & Robert E Kleck's l.. "The social psychology of stigma" (New York, NY, US: The Guilford Press, 2000), the authors state that the established wisdom of social psychology is that social stigma results in low self-esteem. But Crocker & Quinn suggest that self-esteem may not be a stable trait that is consistent across social situations and contexts. Instead, self-esteem may be constructed at the moment, in the situation. Therefore. For some people, self-esteem may change in different situations. A person may feel low self-esteem in a situation in which they do not feel they are accepted, and higher self-esteem in a situation in which they feel accepted.

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