I was recently asked to do a radio interview on self-esteem. You may wonder exactly what the term actually means. Basically it is our evaluation of our own worth, or confidence in our abilities to do something.
We can look at our overall self-esteem, which tends to be more stable. Or someone may base it on their looks, athletic prowess, ability to do a job, or successful relationships. Focusing on various aspects of self-esteem tend to be more fluid.
There was an article in Time Magazine titled This Is the Age When Your Self-Esteem Is Highest. It was based on a research article published in the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association. There were 165,000 subjects in the study and it was based on a synthesis of 191 research articles on the topic.
The articles talked about our self-esteem increasing as we aged. This was in contrast to our culture where getting older is seen as something negative. Supposedly 60 is the age where our self-esteem is the highest, and stays that way throughout the decade.
Self-esteem tends to increase as we get older based on the maturity principle. According to this principle, when we are younger we really don’t know where we fit into the grand scheme of things. As age, and we mature we take on more established roles and have a better understanding of where we fit in with society. As a result we become more confident and secure.
One of the authors of the study, Ulrich Orth stated that in middle age we are more established and stable in our life roles, mostly with work and our relationships. This is consistent with the maturity principle.
When looking at the lifespan of self-esteem, younger children are not yet able to distinguish their ideal self from their actual self. Thus they tend to base their self-esteem on the idealized self. They are not yet aware of social comparison. In addition, they are not able to see how other people perceive them.
This research did not find what we usually think about middle school aged children. Typically this is a time where we think that self-esteem decreases. I think many people will agree that middle school was challenging emotionally and socially. At this age it may be based more on how other people see them. And we know that everyone in middle school isn’t seen in a positive light. In addition they are more likely to engage in social comparison.
However, previous studies that showed decline in self-esteem during these middle school years may have focused on various aspects vs. overall self-esteem. Overall self-esteem remained stable in middle school aged children.
As we mature into high school students, our self-esteem improves, as we tend to find our social group, and get into hobbies or sports that are in line with our abilities and desires. This continues as we enter young adulthood and start into our careers and social roles. It may be parenthood, job, spouse, whatever is in line with who we are. So in a sense, we come into our own.
The overall progression of self-esteem across the life-span proceeds as follows: It increases during our early childhood and middle childhood years, it levels off in adolescence, and greatly increases as we become young adults. It continues to increase in adulthood and is the highest between ages 60 and 70. As we get into our 80’s it decreases and even more so into our 90’s and beyond. These results tended to be constant in different birth groups and other Western countries.
If you struggle with your sense of self worth, therapy can help. Please give me a call at 713-304-6554.