In the previous article we had a brief look at the major psychological findings in the field of self esteem and how the definition of self esteem can basically be boiled down into one of three standard ways – Competence Based, Worthiness Based, and Competence & Worthiness combined. What this then gives us is 4 categories with which we can put ourselves into:
- Low Self Esteem
- High Self Esteem
- Worthiness Based Self Esteem
- Competence Based Self Esteem
In this article we’ll have a deeper look at these 4 categories. See which one you identify with most…
The Definition of Self Esteem
To help explain these different types of self esteem a bit better, take a look at the diagram below (diagram courtesy of Prof. Christopher Mruk’s excellent book Self-Esteem Research, Theory, and Practice Be warned – it is quite dense on theory and research but well worth the read if you are interested)
On the horizontal line sits your Competence. As you may remember, competence is how good your abilities are at doing something, whether it be your job, sport, or creating something. In this sense it’s an easily observed and rated behavior. In this case -10 is very poor performance and +10 is highly successful performance.
On the vertical line is Worthiness. It is more of an internal feeling about how good you feel about yourself as a person. The scale here goes from -10 being very depressed, self-hating state, to +10 having an extremely high sense of worth. “0” on each scale is average.
As you can see, this sets up 4 quadrants:
- Low Self Esteem: At -10,-10 sits a person who has a poor belief in both their self-worth and competence. They basically have constant feelings of insecurity, are very cautious, timid, have poor initiative, avoid conflict, and suffer with a lot of anxiety and depression
- High Self Esteem: At +10,+10 is a person who has a good belief in their competence and worth. They generally feel good about themselves, are open to new experiences, feel accepted, and are pleasant to be around. They have a high competence level, which means they have the skill set to succeed in life, and show good mental health, happiness, and are secure in their own identity.
- Worthiness Based Self Esteem: +10,-10 Individuals that fit into this quadrant base their self esteem on how others view them and how they view themselves. They make up for their perceived lack of competence by denying shortcomings, minimizing failures, and surrounding themselves with people who accept them.
- Competence Based Self-Esteem: -10,+10 These individuals measure how they feel about themselves by their achievements and successes. They compensate for their lack of worth by exaggerating the importance of their successes
Who Are You?
Professor Mruk further expanded on the diagram above to show how each quadrant could then be used to explain various mental health issues, both mild and more clinical:
In this diagram it shows how each quadrant can be dissected to show the various depths associated within each quadrant. The high 10’s represent clinical situations where help may be needed (except for the High Self-esteem box – this is where we should all strive to get to). The 5’s boxes represent milder, everyday versions of that category. They are generally not psychologically damaging but rather hold people back in life.
- Low Self-Esteem Quadrant
- -5,-5 Negativistic: Individuals here have a generally negative outlook on life and of their chances for success and failure. Its not, however, debilitating to live with. People here want the same things people with high self esteem want but are too afraid or concerned with preserving their mental state than risking pain by trying something. They use such tactics as holding lower expectations, limiting themselves, judging things harshly, and avoiding risk. It’s not a clinical condition but it does cause people to miss out on many opportunities in life.
- Classical Low: associated with some 24 clinical conditions in the DSM IV. Depression is the most commonly associated one with low self-esteem, but also anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder etc.
- Worthiness Based Self-esteem Quadrant
- -5,+5 Approval-centered: An individual here bases their self esteem largely on the acceptance or approval of others. They strive constantly to meet a parents or partners idea of perfection or try to live up to social or religious ideals even though they may not necessarily be aligned with their own. They strive to maintain a high social status at all costs and seek love and attention through dependency, subservience, or sexuality. This doesn’t mean that an individual is not competent or has no skills. It just means they don’t have the competency in the areas that matter to them in terms of being approved or feeling accepted. This is the non-clinical portion of the sector. These people seek approval of others to make themselves feel good. Their lack of competence causes them to be sensitive to criticism, under achieve in the workplace, rationalize their performance by avoiding confrontation, making excuses, blaming others, seeking positive feedback constantly etc. If they deeply believe in their sense of self-importance they deny their shortcomings and are seen as snobbish, stuck up and conceited. Such self-centered people are annoying to work with and live with but they are not clinically significant. “Approval seeking” is the term used to describe approval and acceptance seekers. It is fragile but not clinical
- Narcissistic – These are people who demonstrate an exaggerated sense of their own importance or expect others to automatically recognize their awesomeness. They often react far too strongly when questioned about their contribution or accomplishments. These individuals outwardly display high self-confidence but they are vulnerable to mild challenges and are ever vigilant to defend themselves aggressively.
- Competence Based Self-esteem
- -5,+5 Achievement-Centered: The more that importance is placed on achievement, the more fragile self-esteem becomes. Our western society highly rewards success, so it is very seductive because it feels good when we are acknowledged. Self-esteem often fluctuates with successes and failures. An example is high achieving college students who suddenly find themselves unable to get into a graduate program. Individuals with this type of self-esteem are highly motivated, work hard, and sometimes become really accomplished in some areas. As long as they continue to achieve they look good to people in general and score high on tests of self-esteem. However it can change dramatically – having their abilities questioned, work criticized, or failure promotes highly defensive reactions, ranging from mild put downs and snide comments of attackers, to outright aggression. Perfectionism also falls into this category, as anything less than perfect is a failure, which can cause a high degree of self-criticism. Towards the clinical end perfectionism becomes more severe. Coupled with the lack of feeling worthy comes added pressures such as high self-expectations, having critical parents, being young, being female in a society obsessed with weight, being skinny, dieting, anorexia, and compulsive behaviors all start to become high clinical risks
- Antisocial: At the extreme end of the high-competence/low-worthiness scale, success then become tied to ones sense of value or worth. Examples are business men and women who destroy others to advance their career; competitors who succeed at any cost; politicians making under-handed deals to get their way. Individuals doing this are said to be acting in an“anti-social” way, conflicting with societies rules. Individuals who deliberately, consciously, and consistently violate the rights of others to get what they want do not seem to be particularly interested in being “worthy”. In its most extreme form, anti-social competence based self-esteem shows the brutality and ruthlessness depicted by various dictators around the world
- High (Secure) Self-esteem
- +5,+5 Medium: In this quadrant people are reasonably stable, secure, and balanced and also capable of moving up to authentic self esteem. Individuals here have had enough positive experiences to know how to handle problems with integrity and competence, but not quite enough to reach the high authentic self-esteem. They want to be there but are afraid it may come at the cost of envy of others.
- Authentic: General sense of realistic competence and solid worthiness. Actively concerned with living with positive, intrinsic values. They are usually secure enough to perceive and admit faults or limitations, are consistent and congruent, and don’t need constant validation of their competence or worthiness. They are largely stable and balanced individuals the majority of the time, as we can’t be expected to handle all challenges perfectly.
Can you identify with any of these sectors?
If you want to lead a more happier and fulfilled life, then take note of your short-comings of the quadrant you are in and make a plan to balance them out with traits of the High Self-esteem quadrant.
If you have low self-worth, you may want to work out your personal values so you can live life according to what you want and not what other impose on you (I found some of Dr Demartini’s stuff useful for this.). Or you could learn assertive techniques to stand up for yourself and regularly use CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Techniques) to challenge distorted thinking.
If, on the other hand, you have low belief in your competence, look at increasing your skills in the area that is important or challenging to your self-esteem. Maybe you could take night classes to learn how to speak in front of others or do some leadership training. Again CBT can help with this as can assertiveness skills.
Another good idea is to seek a good psychologist, counselor, or coach to help support you while you do all this, as it can get quite confusing and daunting on your own.
Or you may simply want to go ahead and tackle it on your own like I did. All you have to do is become more mindful of yourself as you go about your day and how things affect you. As I often say, self-awareness is the biggest key to personal change!
Let me know what you think in the comments below …
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