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This research summary illustrates several important premises in this
non-profit Web site about psychological
- specially excessive
See my comments after the summary. Hilights and links below are mine. -
Peter Gerlach, MSW
+ + +
you feel good about yourself? Don't get defensive! It's just a question.
Placing yourself on a pedestal isn't
all it's cracked up to be, a psychologist says. New research reveals people
with "fragile high self-esteem" are more defensive if they feel attacked by
others than those who have more stable and secure self-worth.
The recent study, detailed in the
June issue of the Journal of
Personality, adds to a mound of navel-gazing research that is
painting a more complex picture of self-esteem.
"There are many kinds of high
self-esteem, and in this study we
found that for those in which it is fragile and shallow it's no better than
having low self-esteem," said Michael Kernis of the University of
Georgia. "People with fragile high self-esteem compensate for their
self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and
enhance their feelings of self-worth."
Kernis says the results are not meant
to knock down high self-esteem, which has been stamped as one of the keys to
happiness and to moving up the popularity or professional ladder. The study
only adds another layer to this psychological phenomenon.
so-called secure high self-esteem tend to present an authentic self to the
world; they are genuinely happy with themselves and accept their weaknesses.
A fragile self-esteem is unstable, and can fluctuate from day to day or
within one day. Without constant validation, this person's self-worth will
take a dive.
With funding from the
National Science Foundation, Kernis and
his colleagues got the self-value goods on 100 undergraduates, about 90 of
whom were female. Questionnaires measured different types of self-esteem,
life satisfaction and overall psychological well-being. Then, researchers
measured verbal defensiveness by having each participant describe several
challenging life experiences, including...
A time when you have felt less sexually
desirable than a friend
A time when you've broken the rules
A time when somebody has come to you for
help and you didn't want to help them
Individuals with stable high
self-esteem were the least verbally defensive while the unstable
participants were the most verbally defensive. In addition, the researchers
found that greater verbal defensiveness was associated with less life
satisfaction and lower psychological well-being.
I'm Better Than You
One student, whose responses scored
high on the defensiveness scale, described not helping another student in
his geometry class, saying "... I didn't feel like there was any gain for
me. Even if that sounds selfish, it was really justified, because I was a
better student and he was not a good student ... I felt good about not
wanting to help him."
Another "defensive" participant
described a time when she broke the rules, saying, "I have honestly never
done anything bad. Like the worst thing I do is burn CDs ... I've honestly
never drank anything. The only time I have drank anything was in Mexico and
I was 18 at the time so that was legal ... I've never like broken any
Basically, the "defensive" students
took the questions as threats to their perhaps artificially elevated
self-esteem. "Potential threats are in fact more threatening to people with
low or fragile high self-esteem than those with secure high self-esteem,"
Kernis said, "and so they work harder to counteract them."
Individuals with secure high
self-esteem accept themselves "warts and all," and so they are less
threatened by the outside world, Kernis said.
research illustrates an important personal and social reality - that some
people who seem to value themselves are "fragile" and
"defensive" if criticized. This seems to validate the clinical premise that
normal people can be guided by
(who display genuine, stable self-esteem, self-acceptance, and
(personality subselves which are insecure, reactive, and defensive). This
article calls the true Self an "authentic self" - which implies the
existence of an inauthentic, pseudo, or false self.
The false self
may be the combination of a
subself and a
subself, who distorts reality. These two common subselves may activate
subselves, causing "defensive" thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
of Georgia researchers did not publish any theories as to why some
self-esteems are stable and secure, and others are "fragile." From
clinical research, I propose that the shift from self-esteem to
defensiveness is caused by some reactive
like those above
the resident true Self because they don't trust it to keep them and/or the
host person safe from painful ridicule, criticism, and rejection.
For more perspective,
see this article on shame (low
self-esteem) and these other
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did
you get what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your