Most people look toward their marriage or long term relationship as a context for love, support and affirmation. Research suggests, however, that a person’s self-esteem may significantly impact this relationship potential.
How Do We Define Self-Esteem?
In psychology, self-esteem is defined as a reflection of a person’s overall self-appraisal, of their own worth.
Measurement of self-esteem and the most commonly used definition in research was offered by Morris Rosenberg and social-learning theorists who defined self-esteem in terms of a stable sense of personal worth or worthiness, measurable by self-report. Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale which is available for use, consists of 10 statements about self like the following:
“I feel I have a number of good qualities”
“I feel I do not have much to be proud of.”
These are rated from strongly agree to strongly disagree on a 4 point scale and are tallied to offer a score that ranges for 0-30 with scores below 15 suggesting low self-esteem and score 15-25 as within the normal range.
The Impact of Self-Esteem
In an interesting series of studies by Murray, Holmes, MacDonald and Ellsworth (1998) using Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale to differentiate groups, researchers found that no matter how they adjusted variables, self-esteem colors not only a person’s perception of self but impacts expectations of the partner and the tenor of the relationship.
From Self Doubts to Relationship Insecurities
Of particular concern is the consistent finding that although those with low self-esteem want affirmation from partners and need the relationship as a source of acceptance, their self-doubts translate into relationship insecurities, precluding the very benefits to self-esteem a loving relationship could offer.
From Insecurities to Self-Reflection
Assuming the Worst Obscures Finding Out the Best
Although they wanted their partners to see them in a better light than they saw themselves, dating and married partners with low self-esteem greatly underestimated just how positively their partners saw them. High self-esteem partners were much more accurate in their perceptions.
Assuming that Love is Conditional Will Keep You Frightened
Contaminating the Partner is not Protection
Compensating As a Way to Restore the Relationship
Self-Forgiveness and Embracing the Positive
For many reasons, most of which are not chosen, people walk into adult life wounded by reality. One of the scars is low self-esteem. We know that we can’t change our past but we can take charge of our present. Having a partner is one way to find a new reference point, a different perspective and an affirming presence.
Consider looking at one positive quality of yours and one positive quality of your partner’s each day no matter what else happens. You are laying the foundation for a different sense of self and a different sense of trust in your relationship.
We know that positive emotions have the unique quality to broaden and build both social and psychological resources.
It is never too late to start re-building.
Murray, S.L., Holmes, J., MacDonald, Ellsworth P., (1998) “Through the Looking Glass Darkly? When Self-Doubts Turn Into Relationship Insecurities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol.75, No.6, 1459-1480.
Photo by Sasha Wolff, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 1 Apr 2011