Jonathon D. Brown, Ph.D.
My research is concerned with understanding the nature, origins, and consequences of self-esteem.
- I believe self-esteem is primarily an affective construct, comprised of deep-seated feelings that form very early in childhood. High self-esteem is characterized by a general fondness or love for oneself; low self-esteem is characterized by mildly positive or ambivalent feelings toward oneself. In extreme cases, low self-esteem people hate themselves, but this kind of self-loathing occurs in clinical populations, not in normal populations.
- Viewing self-esteem in affective terms has implications for how self-esteem develops. Cognitively-oriented theorists believe that self-esteem develops from a judgmental process in which people survey their various qualities and make a decision about their worth as a person. This perspective assumes that IF you think you are attractive and IF you think you are intelligent and IF you think you are XXX, then you will have high self-esteem. In contrast, I believe that self-esteem develops early in life, in response to temperamental and relational factors. From this perspective, the feelings of affection that characterize high self-esteem are not based on an assessment of one’s qualities.
- Self-esteem plays its most important role when people confront negative self-relevant experiences, such as interpersonal rejection, criticism from others, or achievement-related failure. These experiences lead low self-esteem people to feel humiliated and ashamed of themselves, and to believe they are globally inadequate and bad. High self-esteem people do not respond in this way. They feel sad and disappointed when they fail, but they do not feel humiliated and ashamed of themselves. In my opinion, this is the principal value of having high self-esteem: It allows you to fail without feeling bad about yourself.