Self-pity and self-esteem…

i. “Pity has been defined as “sympathetic heartfelt sorrow for one that is suffering physically or mentally or that is otherwis e distressed or unhappy” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1961, p. 1726). Self-pity is pity directed toward the self. Consequently, self-pity may be defined as a sympathetic, heartfelt sorrow for oneself prompted by one’s own physical or mental suffering, distress, or unhappiness. Interviews with individuals suffering from chronic illness (Charmaz, 1980) have indicated that self-pity is often accompanied by feelings of sadness and loss and a heightened sense of injustice. Moreover, for a person who feels self-pity, it is characteristic to feel envy of others who have not suffered a similar loss or fate. This is expressed in questions like “Why not them?”, “Why me?”, or “What did I do to de serve this?”, which typically accompany the internal monologue associated with experiences of self-pity (Charmaz, 1980; Grunert, 1988). The experience of self-pity is not restricted to individuals suffering from chronic illness or severe losses. Rather, it is an emotional experience which, in all likelihood, all humans encounter occasionally (Kahn, 1965). Life holds many opportunities to feel sorry for oneself. […]

Self-pitying persons are characterized as likely to overindulge in their failures, hardships, and losses, and the circumstances elicited by these setbacks, thus becoming self-consciously preoccupied with their own suffering (Charmaz, 1980). Nevertheless, self-pity is not an emotional response directed exclusively towards the self. Whereas the primary focus in self-pity may be on the self , self-pity also has a strong interpersonal component. Quite often, self-pity is an emotional response directed towards others with the goal of attracting attention, empathy, or help (Kahn, 1965). In this respect, however, it is a strategy doomed to fail. Whereas initially the display of self-pity may evoke empathy from others (Milrod, 1972), pervasive self-pity will not. On the contrary, people who show pervasive self-pity are most likely to be rejected. Even for individuals who suffer from chronic illness, the period of time is quite limited during which the social environment will allow for a display of self-pity. After a while, people are expected to accept their fate, stop complaining, and carry on with their lives (Charmaz, 1980).”

“the psychiatric and psychoanalytic literature holds that self-pity is linked to feelings of both loneliness and anger. Clinical observations suggest that individuals who experience self-pity usually expect more from the environment than the environment is willing to give (Kahn, 1965). Personal relationships are perceived as unstable and characterized by high demandingness on the part of the person who experiences self-pity, and who sees his or her environment as unwilling to provide the empathy, comfort, and support he or she demands. Consequently, a person who feels self-pity is permanently frustrated. This permanent frustration with others may have two consequences. First, it may lead to social withdrawal and feelings of loneliness (Charmaz, 1980; Kahn, 1965). Second, it may lead to feelings of aggression, hostility, and anger (Kahn, 1965; Milrod, 1972; Wilson, 1985). However, open displays of aggression, hostility, and anger are in conflict with the aims of attracting empathy, support, and acknowledgment from others. […] individuals with a susceptibility for self-pity often are characterized by great self-insecurity. Thus, they may lack the self-assertiveness needed to confront others openly. As a consequence, the direct expression of aggression and hostility will be inhibited. Only mild forms of anger will be expressed, whereas strong anger will be suppressed, turned inward, or even turned against oneself (Milrod, 1991; Wilson, 1985). Under the surface, however, the anger against others will continue to exist, often accompanied by ruminations about retributions for the past (Charmaz, 1980). […] self-pity clearly falls into the class of ineffective coping strategies that are more likely to exaggerate a problem and create new difficulties than to help deal successfully with stressful situations. […] the present findings confirm observations reported in the clinical literature that self-pity is related to loneliness. However, as the two-dimensional conceptualization following Weiss’s (1973) typology of loneliness showed, self-pity was related only to emotional loneliness, but not to social loneliness. […] in line with the clinical literature and previous findings, the present findings show that self-pity is closely related to depression, even when common variance with gender and other facets of neuroticism are controlled for.”

Above quotes are from: Self-Pity: Exploring the Links to Personality, Control Beliefs, and Anger, by Joachim Stöber.

ii. Rumination mediates the prospective effect of low self-esteem on depression: a five-wave longitudinal study.

“Previous research supports the vulnerability model of low self-esteem and depression, which states that low self-esteem operates as a prospective risk factor for depression. However, it is unclear which processes mediate the effect of low self-esteem. To test for the mediating effect of rumination, the authors used longitudinal mediation models, which included exclusively prospective effects and controlled for autoregressive effects of the constructs. Data came from 663 individuals (aged 16 to 62 years), who were assessed 5 times over an 8-month period. The results indicated that low self-esteem predicted subsequent rumination, which in turn predicted subsequent depression, and that rumination partially mediated the prospective effect of low self-esteem on depression. These findings held for both men and women, and for both affective-cognitive and somatic symptoms of depression.” […]

“A growing body of research suggests that low self-esteem is a risk factor for the development of depression (e.g., Kernis et al., 1998; Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008; Orth, Robins, Trzesniewski, Maes, & Schmitt, 2009; Roberts & Monroe, 1992; Sowislo & Orth, 2011). In these studies, which used longitudinal designs and controlled for prior levels of the constructs, low self-esteem — which is defined as “a person’s appraisal of his or her value” (Leary & Baumeister, 2000, p. 2) — prospectively predicted changes in the level of depression. Overall, the evidence supports the vulnerability model, which states that low self-esteem is a diathesis exerting causal influence in the onset and maintenance of depression (e.g., Beck, 1967; Metalsky, Joiner, Hardin, & Abramson, 1993). […] An alternative model of the relation between low self-esteem and depression is the scar model, which states that low self-esteem is an outcome rather than a cause of depression, because episodes of depression may leave permanent scars in the self-concept of the individual (cf. Coyne, Gallo, Klinkman, & Calarco, 1998; Rohde, Lewinsohn, & Seeley, 1990; Shahar & Davidson, 2003; for an overview of the scar and vulnerability model, see Zeigler-Hill, 2011). It is important to note that the vulnerability model and the scar model are not mutually exclusive because both processes (i.e., low self-esteem contributing to depression and depression eroding self-esteem) might operate simultaneously. Yet, the extant literature speaks against the scar model (cf. Ormel, Oldehinkel, & Vollebergh, 2004; Orth et al., 2008; Orth, Robins, & Meier, 2009; Orth, Robins, Trzesniewski, et al., 2009; Sowislo & Orth, 2011; but see Shahar & Davidson, 2003).”

iii. “our review showed that high self-esteem is closely associated with self-enhancement, a bias that has both beneficial and detrimental consequences. Jean Twenge, Keith Campbell, and their colleagues have recently found that narcissism, the dark side of high self-esteem, has risen dramatically over the last 25 years (Associated Press, 2007)

The motive of self-enhancement and the dependency of self-esteem on the approval of others who are also motivated to self-enhance virtually ensure that not everyone will get the esteem they desire. Research inspired by sociometer theory has shown that self-esteem is closely attuned to social acceptance (Leary, 2004). Consider a pair of individuals, each of whom has a choice between approving of the other and withholding approval. The self-enhancement motive implies a preference ranking that constitutes a Prisoner’s Dilemma. […] Matters improve inasmuch as people find a way to coordinate their behaviors by projecting their own choices strategically onto one another or by playing the approval game repeatedly (Krueger, 2007). Still, it is unrealistic to expect perfect coordination where everyone pats everyone else on the back. Members of human groups are notorious for negotiating status, power, and prestige, often by creatively deceitful means. In a provocative urban ethnography, Anderson (1994) found self-esteem to be a scarce and contested resource, which individuals could gain at the expense of others. The goal of raising self-esteem across the board is seductive because it is not a zero-sum game. Yet because individuals are, in part, the source of the self-esteem of others, not everyone can attain the highest score.”

From Is the Allure of Self-Esteem a Mirage After All?, a brief note by Krueger, Vohs and Baumeister.

iv. Self-Esteem Development From Age 14 to 30 Years: A Longitudinal Study, by Erol and Orth.

“We examined the development of self-esteem in adolescence and young adulthood. Data came from the Young Adults section of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which includes 8 assessments across a 14-year period of a national probability sample of 7,100 individuals age 14 to 30 years. Latent growth curve analyses indicated that self-esteem increases during adolescence and continues to increase more slowly in young adulthood. Women and men did not differ in their self-esteem trajectories. […] At each age, emotionally stable, extraverted, and conscientious individuals experienced higher self-esteem than emotionally unstable, introverted, and less conscientious individuals. Moreover, at each age, high sense of mastery, low risk taking, and better health predicted higher self-esteem. Finally, the results suggest that normative increase in sense of mastery accounts for a large proportion of the normative increase in self-esteem.”

“Low self-esteem in adolescence and young adulthood is a risk factor for negative outcomes in important life domains. For example, Trzesniewski et al. (2006) found that low self-esteem during adolescence predicts poorer mental and physical health, worse economic well-being, and higher levels of criminal activity in young adulthood. Similarly, other studies found that low self-esteem prospectively predicts antisocial behavior, eating disturbances, depression, and suicidal ideation (Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005; McGee & Williams, 2000; Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008).”

v. Identity Status and Self-Esteem: A Meta-Analysis, by Ryeng, Kroger and Martinussen. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find an ungated version to which I can link, but here’s part of the abstract:

“This study examines the relationship between Marcia’s identity statuses and self-esteem measures through techniques of meta-analysis. Global self-esteem, as used here, refers to one’s positive or negative attitudes toward oneself, degree of self-respect, self-worth, and faith in one’s own capacities. Identity theory would predict strong linkages between the development of self-esteem and identity; however, previous research findings have been inconsistent regarding the nature of this relationship. Two conflicting explanatory models are examined here: (a) high self-esteem is linked with “high” identity status (achievement and moratorium) and low self-esteem with “low” identity status (foreclosure and diffusion); and (b) high self-esteem is linked with identity commitment and low self-esteem with lack of identity commitment. […] Results do not provide clear support for either explanatory model, although support exists from categorical measures of identity status that high self-esteem is linked with the committed identity statuses.”

vi. Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies, by Sowislo and Orth.

“Low self-esteem and depression are strongly related, but there is not yet consistent evidence on the nature of the relation. Whereas the vulnerability model states that low self-esteem contributes to depression, the scar model states that depression erodes self-esteem. Furthermore, it is unknown whether the models are specific for depression or whether they are also valid for anxiety. We evaluated the vulnerability and scar models of low self-esteem and depression, and low self-esteem and anxiety, by meta-analyzing the available longitudinal data (covering 77 studies on depression and 18 studies on anxiety). The mean age of the samples ranged from childhood to old age. In the analyses, we used a random-effects model and examined prospective effects between the variables, controlling for prior levels of the predicted variables. For depression, the findings supported the vulnerability model: The effect of self-esteem on depression ( .16) was significantly stronger than the effect of depression on self-esteem ( .08). In contrast, the effects between low self-esteem and anxiety were relatively balanced: Self-esteem predicted anxiety with .10, and anxiety predicted self-esteem with .08. Moderator analyses were conducted for the effect of low self-esteem on depression; these suggested that the effect is not significantly influenced by gender, age, measures of self-esteem and depression, or time lag between assessments. If future research supports the hypothesized causality of the vulnerability effect of low self-esteem on depression, interventions aimed at increasing self-esteem might be useful in reducing the risk of depression.”

vii. Life-Span Development of Self-Esteem and Its Effects on Important Life Outcomes, by Orth, Robins, and Widaman.

“We examined the life-span development of self-esteem and tested whether self-esteem influences the development of important life outcomes, including relationship satisfaction, job satisfaction, occupational status, salary, positive and negative affect, depression, and physical health. Data came from the Longitudinal Study of Generations. Analyses were based on 5 assessments across a 12-year period of a sample of 1,824 individuals ages 16 to 97 years. First, growth curve analyses indicated that self-esteem increases from adolescence to middle adulthood, reaches a peak at about age 50 years, and then decreases in old age. Second, cross-lagged regression analyses indicated that self-esteem is best modeled as a cause rather than a consequence of life outcomes. Third, growth curve analyses, with self-esteem as a time-varying covariate, suggested that self-esteem has medium-sized effects on life-span trajectories of affect and depression, small to medium-sized effects on trajectories of relationship and job satisfaction, a very small effect on the trajectory of health, and no effect on the trajectory of occupational status. These findings replicated across 4 generations of participants—children, parents, grandparents, and their great-grandparents. Together, the results suggest that self-esteem has a significant prospective impact on real-world life experiences and that high and low self-esteem are not mere epiphenomena of success and failure in important life domains.”

A figure from the article (click to view full size):

Self-esteem life trajectory

“Although the present study suggests an earlier peak of the self-esteem trajectory (i.e., at about age 50 years) than in previous research (at about age 60 years; Orth et al., 2010), the overall shape of the trajectory was similar. The repeated finding of a relatively strong decline of self-esteem in old age is of particular importance, given conflicting reviews of the literature […]

Surprisingly, gender did not affect the level or the trajectory of self-esteem; in contrast, previous research has suggested that men tend to report higher self-esteem than women, at least in adolescence and adulthood, although the effect size is generally small (Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999; Orth et al., 2010; Robins, Trzesniewski, Tracy, Gosling, & Potter, 2002). Moreover, in the present study, no cohort differences in the trajectory of self-esteem were found, replicating findings from Erol and Orth (2011) and Orth et al. (2010). Thus, although the claim that there has been a generational increase in self-esteem levels (i.e., that more recent generations have higher self-esteem than previous generations) has intuitive appeal (Twenge & Campbell, 2001, 2008), the available evidence suggests that the average self-esteem trajectory has not changed across the generations born in the 20th century (Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010; Trzesniewski, Donnellan, & Robins, 2008) […]

The present research also addressed the important question of whether self-esteem is better thought of as a cause or a consequence of life outcomes. We tested for reciprocal prospective relations between self-esteem and a set of life outcomes that are central to having a successful and fulfilling life, including measures of well-being (positive affect, negative affect, and depression), enjoying and succeeding in work, having a satisfying romantic relationship, and physical health. With regard to depression, we replicated previous studies showing that low self-esteem prospectively predicts depression but that the effect of depression on low self-esteem is small or nonsignificant (Metalsky et al., 1993; Orth, Robins, & Meier, 2009; Orth, Robins, Trzesniewski, et al., 2009; Roberts & Monroe, 1992). A similar pattern emerged for measures of dispositional positive and negative affect: Self-esteem predicted increases in positive affect and decreases in negative affect, controlling for prior levels in the constructs, but positive affect did not predict subsequent self-esteem, and negative affect had a statistically significant but small negative effect on self-esteem. In addition, we found that self-esteem was prospectively related to higher levels of relationship satisfaction, job satisfaction, occupational status, salary, and physical health, con- trolling for prior levels of these variables, but none of these life outcomes had reciprocal effects on self-esteem (or, if significant, the coefficients were small). Moreover, all results held across generations. Thus, regardless of whether one was born in the early 1900s or in the 1980s, self-esteem had significant benefits for people’s experiences of love, work, and health, supporting hypotheses about the beneficial consequences of high self-esteem (Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005; Swann et al., 2007; Trzesniewski et al., 2006; but see Baumeister et al., 2003).”

September 27, 2013 - Posted by | Psychology, Studies

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