What affects self-esteem on the whole depends on the perspective of the observer. Looking from the point of view of someone who is trying to improve their self-image in general, they will more likely look at the factors that affect self-esteem on the one hand, and overall self-confidence and mental functioning on the other. While looking from a third-party point of view, such as that of an academic therapist, there may be more emphasis placed on how physical appearance or a specific type of disorder affects an individual’s self-image and sense of self worth. However, it is not the particular aspects of the self that are important but rather, in most cases, how they affect other areas of an individual’s life.
As we know, self-esteem is generally high when an individual has a good self-image and positive social relationships and experiences. However, all too often, the undercurrent of low self-esteem, or what is called low self-worth, takes root in childhood experiences. If these events are chronic and continue into adulthood, then the consequences are that an individual’s self-image, and self-confidence become negative. In fact, many who suffer from low self-esteem and low self-confidence are diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders. What affects self-esteem on the whole, then, is not only the quality of the present day situations, but the long-term effects of childhood experiences that are responsible for creating the negative image or feelings towards oneself.
New research is beginning to shed light on why some individuals have a high level of self-esteem while others struggle with low levels. Although some attribute this to genetics, there is now new research showing that the quality of relationships and social experiences are important in terms of creating self-esteem. Specifically, new research is highlighting the importance that interpersonal communication skills play in regards to building higher self-esteem in an individual. What is interesting about this new evidence is that although many of the relationships that people form in their lives are healthy and fulfilling, the way in which these relationships are developed and sustained may be different than the ones that are formed through technology and modern living. Specifically, when these relationships are formed through technological means, such as through social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace, there is an increased chance that these relationships will fail, and that more negative emotions may develop.
One thing that researchers are learning about the effects of technology and modern living on self-esteem is that, over time, the formation of positive relationships, and the maintenance of those relationships, may be affected by the way in which these individuals perceive themselves. What is called self-esteem hypnosis, or self-affirmation hypnosis, can help to change the way that an individual sees his or her self-image and self-confidence. Interestingly, the way in which the self-esteem hypnosis is performed on these individuals may also affect how they see and feel about themselves. For example, if an individual develops a low self-esteem as a child, then this self-image will likely carry over into adulthood, but if the low self-esteem originates from an early stage of life, it may be easier to reverse the course of events that have brought about the low self-esteem.
In addition to looking at what affects self-esteem, researchers have also looked at how this affects the development of social skills and the sense of community that people have as adults. One new research study out of the University of Glasgow found that individuals who were encouraged, rather than forced, to be part of a social group were far more successful at maintaining a sense of community later in life than were individuals who were given no such encouragement. Those who were socially grouped were more likely to have higher grades, to have a better job and relationships, and to suffer from fewer health problems. In short, the social norms that we have as adults may have a lot to do with the level of self-esteem that we have as children, and vice-versa.
A number of other factors also contribute to the development of self-esteem, including how a person feels about their physical appearance. As children, we have very little control over the way that we look, and many people report being very distressed by their physical appearance even as an adult. However, when this impression is compounded with negative feelings about one’s physical appearance, this can lead to a poor self-image and the development of poor self-esteem. This pattern was seen in the underweight category, which was the only category in which those who were overweight were more likely to suffer from low self-esteem than those who were underweight. This may have something to do with the physical appearance of obese children, but the pattern holds true for all of those in any weight category.
When it comes to what affects self-esteem, the concept of the maturity principle can shed some light on how changes in childhood can affect an individual’s self-image and level of self-esteem. According to this concept, children are able to perceive changes in their bodies as a signal that their bodies have become teenagers, or that they are aging. This may be a particularly important concept for women, who may feel self-conscious about their growing bulk as they get older.
Mature adults may perceive changes in their bodies as signals that they are aging, and this may have a similar impact on self-esteem as well. However, adults also have the ability to perceive these changes in other ways. Self-esteem is related to how we see ourselves in the first place. When we are growing up, we are surrounded by positive messages about our worth as human beings. As we grow older, negative messages about our worth continue to be prevalent, and this may affect our self-image, our sense of self-worth, and our level of self-esteem.