- As a trait, self-esteem refers to a stable characteristic of an individual's overall evaluation of themselves.
- As a state, self-esteem refers to an individual's current level of self-worth. It can fluctuate depending on the situation and social context.
- Both trait and state self-esteem can significantly affect mental health and well-being.
Self-esteem is characterized by an individual's overall evaluation of their worth and value as a person. This post will explore how self-esteem is best considered a trait and a state.
Seeing Self-Esteem as a Trait
Viewed as a trait, self-esteem refers to a stable characteristic of an individual's overall evaluation of themselves. It is a relatively enduring aspect of a person's personality and can influence how they feel, think, and behave across various situations. People with high self-esteem tend to have positive beliefs about themselves, their abilities, and worth. Yet those with low self-esteem often have negative views of themselves.
Some noted studies focused on understanding the nature and development of self-esteem as a trait. One classic study examined the stability and change of self-esteem across the lifespan. This research found that self-esteem tends to be relatively stable throughout adulthood, although it may increase slightly in older age.
Other research investigated the relationship between self-esteem and social identity. This important study found that individuals who identify strongly with a social group tend to have higher self-esteem, suggesting that social identity plays an important role in developing self-esteem as a trait.
Further research has explored the relationship between self-esteem and emotional intelligence. This notable study found that individuals with higher levels of emotional intelligence tend to have higher self-esteem, suggesting that emotional intelligence may be an important factor in developing and maintaining self-esteem as a trait.
Overall, these studies suggest that self-esteem is a stable personality trait influenced by various factors, including age, social identity, and emotional intelligence.
Looking at Self-Esteem as a State
As a state, self-esteem refers to an individual's current level of self-worth or self-regard. It can fluctuate depending on the situation, mood, and social context. For example, a person may have high self-esteem in one situation, such as excelling at work, but experience low self-esteem in another, such as struggling in a new social setting.
One study viewing self-esteem as a state involved participants being asked to complete a stressful public speaking task, after which their state self-esteem was measured. The results showed that participants who engaged in a brief self-compassion intervention before the task had higher self-esteem afterward than those who did not receive the intervention.
Similarly, in some other research, participants were asked to complete a cognitive task that induced a negative mood state, after which their state self-esteem was measured. The results showed that participants who engaged in a mindfulness-based intervention before the task had higher self-esteem afterward than those who did not receive the intervention.
In another state-related study, participants were asked to complete a creative writing task, after which their state self-esteem was measured. The results showed that participants who wrote about their values had higher self-esteem afterward than those who wrote about a neutral topic.
Along these lines, I discuss in The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox For Teens how I have found, from my clinical observations, that self-esteem experiences in adolescents can be favorably shifted through positive psychology strategies such as awareness of personal strengths, building grit, learning to think optimistically, engaging in flow-promoting activities, and gaining gratitude.
Overall, the above research endeavors suggest that various interventions and contextual factors can influence state self-esteem and that it is possible to improve state self-esteem through targeted interventions.
Pulling It All Together
People with high-trait self-esteem tend to have better overall psychological functioning and are more resilient to stress. In contrast, people with low-trait self-esteem are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Fluctuations in state self-esteem can be a normal and adaptive part of the human experience. For example, feeling proud and confident after accomplishing a difficult task can be a positive and motivating experience. However, when state self-esteem becomes too dependent on external validation or fluctuates too dramatically, it can be a risk factor for mental health problems.
In summary, trait and state self-esteem are important aspects of psychological functioning, and both can have significant implications for mental health and well-being. Understanding the differences between these concepts can help individuals and mental health professionals develop more effective strategies for promoting self-esteem and managing the negative consequences of low self-esteem. Overall, self-esteem can be considered a multidimensional construct that can vary in terms of its level, stability, and context dependency.
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Schivinski, B., Stansbury, E., Satel, J., Montag, C., & Pontes, H. M. (2020). Exploring the Role of Social Media Use Motives, Psychological Well-Being, Self-Esteem, and Affect in Problematic Social Media Use. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.617140