In further discussion about Developmental Psychology, it is important to talk about the development of a person’s self-esteem. But let’s understand first that self-esteem is not a concept on its own; self-esteem develops through a person’s self-concept and is shown or displayed in our behaviors through a person’s self-presentation.
Defining Self-Concept, Self-Esteem and Self-Presentation
Ok, let’s start with a short, clinical explanation of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-presentation. These are definitions that are used to understand and explain some of our thinking and our behavior. Each one of these concepts is associated with how one deals with oneself and how the ‘oneself’ deals with life.
Self-concept can be defined as what we think about ourselves. Our self-concept can be based upon how we see our personality traits, physical beauty and social acceptance. Self–esteem is how we feel about those personality traits, physical beauty and social acceptance; esteem is the emotive side of our self-evaluation. Self-presentation is how we conduct ourselves with others; our behaviors and reaction to others’ behaviors defines our self-presentation.
Let’s say we have low self-concept, which can mean we think we are dumb and unattractive. Our self-esteem is how we feel about that, which can make us feel depressed and lonely if we believe we are dumb and unattractive. Our self-presentation then would basically be our behavior (our presentation of ourselves); sulking, distant, angry, sad, etc.
The Male Self
There are many studies and public awareness towards the concept of “self” but we understand more about the effects of negative self-concept and self-esteem for girls than for boys. Our society has overlooked the many concepts of the “self” that boys also have to deal with, such as body image, athleticism, academic success and friendships.
Self-esteem in boys is overlooked and oversimplified especially since boys go through some of the same challenges that girls go through, it’s just less apparent. For boys, the most common signs of having low self-esteem is over-competitive (the need to win), trying to over-please everyone else, being self-critical, blaming others for things that go wrong, and in other attention-seeking behaviors such as bragging, over exaggerating, aggression, arrogance and whining. Yes, I said whining. But these behaviors are generally explained-off as “boys will be boys.” Thankfully we are becoming more aware of these behaviors having an underlining reason behind them, other than that’s just how males behave.
Males with low self-concept could display behaviors of narcissism, which is different from the females’ behaviors who have low self-concept. Males with low self-esteem (which comes from their low self-concept) act out more with verbal and physical aggressive behaviors such as fighting. Not to say that girls don’t do this too, it’s just seen more in boys with “self” issues. The behaviors of a ‘fighting narcissist’ resemble those of someone with low self-concept; they come off as being arrogant, have little to no friends, and have no loyalty to others or to themselves (they break promises, are flaky, unreliable, etc.).
There’s difficulty in determining whether someone is suffering from narcissism or low self-esteem. Most of the time, people who display these behaviors can simply be labeled as a ‘troublemaker’ or having behavioral issues, rather than suffering from low self-concept. This is important to understand, especially with our youth, since we now know that bullying is generally committed by kids who have low self-concept, not narcissism. Identifying these issues early is needed in order to help those youths avoid negative and aggressive behaviors which can lead to gang affiliation, isolation, depression, and, as stated already, bullying. People in general with low self-esteem have, in essence, low self-worth and can fall heavily into hopelessness, which can turn into suicidal tendencies, especially with kids.
As a society, we need to not dismiss the subtle cries for help. For example, someone may comment about themselves in a negative way, comment about their dissatisfaction with a job they did, or with life in general. These comments need to be taken seriously and not ignored. It is crucial to acknowledge emotions, as well as behaviors, so that every aspect of a person’s self-concept can be lifted by the individual.
Let’s talk specifically about self-esteem; this is the emotional side of the “self” which, in turn results in a person’s behavior. I mean, someone can have a negative self-concept (they are overweight) but their self-esteem (how they feel about being overweight) is that big is beautiful so their self-esteem would be high. Someone with low self-esteem would see themselves as just being fat and ugly.
Self-esteem can be defined as how we feel about our personality traits, physical beauty and other attributes (or our perception of lacking). A person’s self-esteem is based on how they emotionally perceive themselves, but almost more-so, how they believe others perceive them. For example, a larger sized person who is complimented about how they look a particular day (great dress, you have beautiful eyes, love your hair, etc.) could believe that other people’s perception of them is that they are big and beautiful (you go, girl!). However, another larger sized person could perceive those same comments as being negative (the comments were about my clothes not about me). It is about an individual’s perception of how other people see them.
I have some self-concept issues, especially after I got sick. It made it difficult to be as active and useful as I used to be. However, my perception of people around me is that they don’t see me as useless. I don’t have self-esteem issues, per say (everyone has a bad hair day sometimes), but a lot of that does come from how I perceive myself and how I believe others see me (writing an intellectual blog helps my esteem as well).
The Adolescent Self
Adolescence is such a difficult time in a young person’s life. One of the hardest times a child has in the United States is the transition from elementary school to middle school, and then from middle school to high school. This is a time of becoming more independent, more responsible and more of an adult. The onset of puberty begins and the emotional and physical changes that occur come quickly and can be unpredictable. The self-esteem of adolescents can waiver greatly between feeling like they are on top of the world to feeling like the loneliest child that ever lived.
During puberty and school transitions, a child’s perception of themselves changes as drastically as their environment does. There is a decline in academic performance, in academic motivation and in the participation in extra-curricular activities. Yet, boys and girls differ in their self-concept and self-esteem. Boys generally have less self-esteem issues than girls do.
Research has shown that depression befalls adolescent girls more-so than on adolescent boys. Girls going into middle school have been shown to need more assistance in their social and emotional needs, whereas boys going into middle school have shown to need more assistance in their academic needs. Let’s face it, we have a social issue of what girls (and women) define as beautiful by our society. That’s hard to fight when you have red hair, freckles on your arms and legs, and are lower on the socio-economic level so you can’t afford those skinny jeans.
High school proves to be another area of need, as girls have much more concern with fitting in (do I need to sit with smart kids, social kids, sport kids, etc.) and academic achievement, whereas boys concern themselves more with sports, competitive academics, social acceptance and aggression from their peers. Mind you, these are generalizations and what research has found to be more common. Girls can be just as competitive and aggressive as boys, just not in the same numbers.
Lowered self-esteem has been the cause for school-drop outs, depression, and acts of violence. This can also be caused by the environment, as research suggests that adolescents who attend schools that are over-crowded causes less attention to each individual student’s needs which can break down a child’s self-esteem.
For people of all ages and both genders, there are many things that can be done to help people with low self-esteem. Generally, it is to bring up their self-concept. If you believe you are awesome then you will feel awesome and then behave awesomely. And the most renowned means in which to boost a person’s self-concept is through praise. Yup, there’s nothing like a good “atta boy!” to lift someone’s low self-concept. Criticism surrounds us, and it takes ten “atta boy!” comments to counteract one “you suck” comment. This is especially true in children. It can be easier to concentrate on all the things that a person does wrong, even if you mean well. You want to point out what they did wrong in order to help them, but most of the time it doesn’t.
There is another way to boost someone, especially if you really need to criticize them. It is called the Sandwich. The two slices of bread are soft and yummy but are really just the vessel for the meat, the real reason for the sandwich. So, you need to tell a friend that the dress they are wearing looks awful; the awful is the meat, so you surround it with bread. “Wow, you look great! I love the way you did your hair! Uh, the dress, not so much. Doesn’t really flatter your figure. But that blue dress of yours looks outstanding on you, and would look great with those shoes.” Compliment, criticism, compliment. There is no reason to be critical without being positive. People talk about constructive criticism – I say, Sandwich them.