In psychology, the term “self-esteem” was first used by William James in 1890 which makes it one of the oldest concepts in the field. In addition, self-esteem is the third most frequently occurring theme in psychological literature (Rodewalt & Tragakis, 2003) and has already resulted in over 25,000 articles, chapters, and books refer to the topic (Mruk, 2006). Given such a long history, it is not surprising to find three major types of self-esteem definitions in the field. The original definition presents self-esteem as a ratio that is found by dividing one’s successes in areas of life that are important to a given individual by the failures in them, which is to say one's “success / pretensions” (James, 1983/1890). A problem with this approach is that making self-esteem contingent upon success means that it is inherently unstable because failure can occur at any moment (Crocker and Park, 2004). In the mid 1960s Maurice Rosenberg and other social learning theorists defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth that can be measured by self-report testing. This definition became the most frequently used one in the field. However, now it is known that feeling good about oneself in healthy ways is difficult to differentiate from such things as narcissism (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). Nathaniel Branden (1969) incorporated both elements of self-esteem when he defined it as a relationship between an individual’s competence and worthiness, especially in regard to how one handles the challenges of living when confronted by them. Research self-esteem based on this definition may be less prone to the limitations of the other approaches (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1893; Tafarodi & Milne, 2003). It is very important to realize when dealing with self-esteem that, although some definitions have been used more often than others in the field, each one is supported by a distinct body of quantitative as well as qualitative research and findings. Therefore, all of these approaches must be accounted for in any comprehensive understanding of self-esteem (Mruk, 2006).
- Baumeister, R., Smart, L. & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103, 5–33.
- Branden, N. (1969). The psychology of self-esteem. New York: Bantam.
- Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392–414.
- Gecas, V., & Schwalbe, M. L. (1983). Beyond the looking-glass self: Social structure and efficacy-based self-esteem. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46(2), 77-88.
- James, W. (1983). The principles of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1890)
- Mruk, C. (2006). Self-Esteem research, theory, and practice: Toward a positive psychology of self-esteem (3rd ed.). New York: Springer.
- Rodewalt, F. & Tragakis, M. W. (2003). Self-esteem and self-regulation: Toward optimal studies of self-esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 14(1), 66–70.
- Tafarodi, R. W., & Milne, A. B. (2002). Decomposing self-esteem, Journal of Personality 70(4), 443-483.
- Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale