We all know that given the choice, we’d all rather have high self-esteem than low self-esteem. But why do we take it for granted that low self-esteem is so bad? In practical terms, how does having low self-esteem impact people’s lives?
Recently, a team of researchers from Uruguay set out to answer this question. They surveyed 40 people with low self-esteem and 45 with high self-esteem, asking about these people’s personal lives and psychological wellbeing. Then they had both groups of people complete a task called the Ultimatum Game, in which participants receive offers of monetary payment and have to decide whether those offers are fair or unfair.
Surveying these people, the researchers found that people’s self-esteem tended to have a far-reaching impact on their lives. In the big picture, people with low self-esteem were more likely to have anxiety and depression.
Low self-esteem appeared to especially cause problems in people’s interpersonal interactions and relationships. People with low self-esteem more commonly reported being self-sacrificing, overly accommodating, unassertive, socially inhibited, and cold or distant. Put those things together, and you can see how having low self-esteem can make people’s lives more complicated in all sorts of ways.
In the second part of the study, people’s self-esteem also influenced how they played the Ultimatum Game, especially when they were women. In particular, women with low self-esteem became more angry when they received unfair offers of monetary compensation. The authors of the paper interpreted this finding as meaning that in women, low self-esteem is associated with being more sensitive to “unfair social exchanges.”
While men and women with low self-esteem reacted to the Ultimatum Game differently, it’s clear that low self-esteem can make social interactions more difficult for men and women alike. From being overly accommodating of others’ requests to being cold and distant, low self-esteem can cause all sorts of practical problems and is a mental health problem that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Image: Flickr/Kiran Foster