The article was last updated by Samantha Choi on January 30, 2024.

Have you ever heard of the term “contingent self-esteem”? In the world of social psychology, this concept has significant implications for how we view ourselves and our interactions with others.

In this article, we’ll explore what contingent self-esteem is, how it differs from other types of self-esteem, and its causes and effects. We’ll also delve into how psychologists measure contingent self-esteem and provide strategies for overcoming it. So, if you’re curious about the psychology behind self-worth, keep reading to learn more.

Key Takeaways:

  • Contingent self-esteem is reliant on external validation and achievements, leading to a fragile self-worth and emotional instability.
  • It can be measured using scales such as the Self-esteem Contingencies Scale and the Contingent Self-esteem Scale.
  • To overcome contingent self-esteem, focus on building intrinsic self-worth, challenging negative thoughts, and seeking therapy and support.
  • What is Self-esteem?

    Self-esteem, as defined by William James in Principles of Psychology, refers to an individual’s overall sense of self-worth and value.

    Research has indicated that self-esteem plays a crucial role in the psychological well-being of adolescents and students.

    Studies have shown that high self-esteem is associated with better academic performance, positive social relationships, and resilience in the face of challenges. Conversely, low self-esteem has been linked to higher levels of anxiety, depression, and susceptibility to peer pressure.

    Therefore, fostering healthy self-esteem in young individuals is essential for their holistic development.

    It is important for educators and parents to create supportive environments that encourage positive self-perception and healthy self-worth in adolescents and students.

    What is Contingent Self-esteem?

    Contingent self-esteem, as examined by Jennifer Crocker and D. Henderson-King in their research, represents an individual’s self-worth that is dependent on external factors or circumstances.

    This concept is particularly relevant to adolescents and students as they often encounter multiple external influences, such as academic success, social acceptance, and appearance, which can significantly impact their self-esteem.

    For example, when a student’s sense of worth is solely tied to their grades or social popularity, it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. Studies have shown that individuals with contingent self-esteem are more susceptible to experiencing negative emotions and have a heightened fear of failure, which, in an academic context, can hinder their ability to take risks, learn from mistakes, and ultimately perform to their fullest potential.

    Therefore, educators and parents play a crucial role in fostering a more stable and internalized sense of self-worth in young individuals, promoting intrinsic motivation, and reducing the negative impact of contingent self-esteem on academic achievement.

    How Does Contingent Self-esteem Differ from Other Types of Self-esteem?

    Contingent self-esteem differs from other types of self-esteem, as explored by Joel R. Grossbard and Mary E. Larimer in Psychological Science, due to its reliance on external validation and achievement.

    Contingent self-esteem, unlike its counterparts, is deeply ingrained in the need for approval, recognition, and success from external sources. This external dependency makes individuals’ sense of self-worth vulnerable to fluctuations based on the feedback and reactions of others.

    This vulnerability makes contingent self-esteem particularly impactful on adolescents and students. Research by Crocker and Wolfe (2001) has shown that this reliance on external validation can lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, especially in academic settings.

    Furthermore, contingent self-esteem has been linked to maladaptive behaviors such as perfectionism and avoidance of challenges. These behaviors can hinder effective learning and personal growth, making it crucial to address and manage contingent self-esteem in individuals.

    What are the Causes of Contingent Self-esteem?

    The causes of contingent self-esteem, as investigated by Astrid Cook, Chip Knee, and Amber L. Bush, can be attributed to social comparison, seeking social approval, and the pursuit of academic achievement.

    Contingent self-esteem refers to the evaluation of an individual’s self-worth based on external factors or circumstances. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or superiority, as individuals tend to compare themselves to others. During adolescence and academic pursuits, the desire for social approval can intensify this reliance on external validation, making individuals more susceptible to contingent self-esteem.

    Social Comparison

    Social comparison, as studied by C. Raymond Knee and Chip Knee, plays a significant role in shaping contingent self-esteem among adolescents and students.

    Research indicates that individuals, particularly in their formative years, often engage in social comparisons to evaluate their abilities, achievements, and attributes in relation to others. This constant comparison can lead to the development of contingent self-esteem, where one’s self-worth is reliant on how they stack up against their peers.

    A study by Gibbons and Buunk (1999) revealed that students who frequently engage in upward social comparisons, where they compare themselves with those perceived as more successful, are more likely to experience fluctuations in self-esteem.

    Social Approval

    The pursuit of social approval, investigated by Amy Canevello and Chip Knee, contributes significantly to the contingent self-esteem experienced by adolescents and students.

    According to Canevello and Knee’s research, the need for social approval plays a pivotal role in the development of contingent self-esteem.

    The constant evaluation of oneself based on others’ opinions can lead to fluctuating feelings of self-worth, as one’s confidence becomes dependent on external validation. This influence is particularly pronounced during the formative years of adolescence and the student phase, where social dynamics and peer acceptance hold immense significance.

    Studies have shown that individuals with high levels of contingent self-esteem are more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms, as their sense of self-worth is intricately linked to the approval they receive from others.

    The relentless pursuit of social approval can hinder the development of authentic self-esteem, causing individuals to prioritize conformity over genuine self-expression.

    Achievement and Success

    The pursuit of achievement and success, as studied by Tudor Vjeru and William James, can significantly shape the contingent self-esteem experienced by adolescents and students.

    Research has found that individuals who place a high value on achievement and success often tie their self-worth to their accomplishments. This linkage between success and self-esteem can lead to fluctuations in one’s self-worth based on their achievements; a phenomenon known as contingent self-esteem.

    Studies have indicated that this contingent self-esteem linked to achievement can have adverse effects on mental well-being and overall self-esteem stability. For adolescents and students, the pressure to excel academically or in extracurricular activities can especially impact their sense of self-worth. The fear of failure and the need for constant validation through achievement can create a cycle of dependency on success for maintaining a positive self-image. This can result in increased stress, anxiety, and self-doubt, ultimately affecting their academic performance and emotional well-being.

    What are the Effects of Contingent Self-esteem?

    The effects of contingent self-esteem, as evidenced by psychological studies conducted by Deci Ryan and Jennifer Crocker, include fragile self-worth, emotional instability, and relationship issues among adolescents and students.

    Studies have demonstrated that people with contingent self-esteem heavily depend on external validation to determine their self-worth, which can lead to an unstable sense of self. This can result in being highly sensitive to criticism and experiencing frequent mood swings, making it difficult to maintain emotional balance.

    Adolescents and students with contingent self-esteem may face challenges in developing and sustaining healthy relationships, as their self-esteem is tied to others’ approval. This can lead to dependency and conflicts in relationships.

    Fragile Self-worth

    Fragile self-worth, a key consequence of contingent self-esteem as discussed by Kernis and Crocker, can contribute to the development of depression among adolescents and students.

    Contingent self-esteem refers to one’s self-worth being heavily reliant on external validation, such as approval from others or achievement in specific areas.

    When individuals base their self-esteem on such contingent factors, they become more susceptible to experiencing fluctuations in their self-worth based on external events, leading to a fragile and vulnerable sense of self-worth.

    Research conducted by Crocker and Wolfe (2001) found that adolescents with contingent self-esteem were more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

    The constant need for validation and the fear of failure can create significant emotional distress, contributing to the development and perpetuation of depressive symptoms.

    Emotional Instability

    Emotional instability, as identified in the research by Crocker, Vonk, and Smit, represents a significant impact of contingent self-esteem on the mental health of adolescents and students.

    This effect on mental health is particularly concerning because during adolescence and student years, individuals are already navigating a complex period of identity formation, social pressures, and academic demands.

    The emotional volatility resulting from contingent self-esteem can exacerbate these challenges, leading to increased vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and other psychological distress. Studies by Kernis and Gabriel (2017) have shown that individuals with contingent self-esteem are more likely to experience negative emotions in response to setbacks or criticism, contributing to a cycle of emotional instability and compromised well-being.

    Relationship Issues

    The prevalence of relationship issues, as observed in studies by D. Henderson-King and Erol Orth, highlights the social and peer interaction challenges associated with contingent self-esteem among adolescents and students.

    Contingent self-esteem, which is heavily influenced by external factors such as social approval and peer acceptance, can lead to significant difficulties in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

    Research by Crocker and Wolfe (2001) found that individuals with high levels of contingent self-esteem are more prone to experiencing interpersonal problems, including fear of rejection, overdependence on others for validation, and a heightened sensitivity to criticism.

    The impact of contingent self-esteem on relationships extends to a range of social dynamics, from difficulties in asserting boundaries and expressing one’s needs to challenges in navigating conflicts and managing interpersonal stress. This can contribute to a cycle of seeking external validation, feeling insecure in social interactions, and experiencing strained relationships.

    How is Contingent Self-esteem Measured?

    The measurement of contingent self-esteem is typically conducted using standardized scales such as the Self-esteem Contingencies Scale and the Contingent Self-esteem Scale, as outlined in research by Baldwin Hoffmann and Robins.

    These standardized scales play a pivotal role in assessing the multidimensional nature of contingent self-esteem.

    The Self-esteem Contingencies Scale evaluates various dimensions of contingent self-esteem, including appearance, others’ approval, and academic competence. On the other hand, the Contingent Self-esteem Scale focuses on measuring contingent self-worth based on external factors.

    These assessment tools provide valuable insights into the relationship between contingent self-esteem and psychological well-being.

    Studies have demonstrated that individuals with high levels of contingent self-esteem often experience greater vulnerability to fluctuations in their self-worth, impacting their overall emotional and mental health.

    Self-esteem Contingencies Scale

    The Self-esteem Contingencies Scale, developed by C. Raymond Knee and Amy Canevello, serves as a comprehensive tool for assessing the various contingencies impacting self-esteem among adolescents and students.

    This scale encompasses different domains of self-esteem contingencies, such as appearance, others’ approval, competition, and academic competence.

    Research by Crocker and Wolfe (2001) highlighted the significance of measuring contingent self-esteem, particularly in adolescence, as it can influence behaviors, emotions, and mental health.

    By utilizing this scale, educators and psychologists can gain insights into the factors influencing individuals’ self-worth, enabling targeted interventions and support.

    Understanding contingent self-esteem aids in developing effective educational and counseling strategies to nurture healthier self-esteem in young individuals.

    Contingent Self-esteem Scale

    The Contingent Self-esteem Scale, developed by Soenens and Duriez, provides a validated method for assessing the presence and impact of contingent self-esteem among adolescents and students.

    This assessment tool is particularly valuable in identifying individuals who base their self-worth on external factors, such as societal approval or academic achievement.

    Studies have shown that high levels of contingent self-esteem are associated with increased vulnerability to psychological distress and reduced resilience in the face of failure. By quantifying contingent self-esteem, researchers and educators can gain insights into the factors influencing adolescents’ self-worth and tailor interventions to promote healthy, intrinsic self-esteem.

    How to Overcome Contingent Self-esteem?

    Overcoming contingent self-esteem often involves building intrinsic self-esteem, challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, and seeking therapy and support, as recommended by Sargent and Lopez in their research.

    Research suggests that one effective strategy for building intrinsic self-esteem is to practice self-compassion and self-acceptance.

    By acknowledging and embracing one’s strengths and weaknesses, individuals can develop a more balanced and stable sense of self-worth.

    Likewise, challenging negative beliefs involving cognitive restructuring and reframing can be instrumental.

    Therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, have shown success in helping individuals identify and challenge their limiting beliefs, leading to a more positive view of themselves.

    Seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can provide a nurturing environment for nurturing self-esteem.

    Building Intrinsic Self-esteem

    The process of building intrinsic self-esteem, as advocated by Deci and Ryan, serves as a foundational step in overcoming contingent self-esteem among adolescents and students.

    Research suggests that contingent self-esteem, which relies on external validation, can lead to psychological distress and an increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression.

    Building intrinsic self-esteem involves fostering a sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness, as outlined in Self-Determination Theory. This approach emphasizes the importance of pursuing activities that align with personal values and interests, rather than seeking approval from others. By cultivating a strong internal sense of self-worth, individuals can become more resilient and less susceptible to the detrimental effects of contingent self-esteem.

    Challenging Negative Thoughts and Beliefs

    Challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, as explained by Essau, Costello, and Groen, plays a crucial role in mitigating the impact of contingent self-esteem on the well-being of adolescents and students.

    One of the effective strategies for challenging negative thoughts and beliefs is cognitive restructuring, as suggested by Beck and colleagues. This method involves identifying and replacing irrational and negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones.

    Practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, as highlighted by Neff and Germer, can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and develop a kinder and non-judgmental attitude towards themselves.

    Seeking Therapy and Support

    Seeking therapy and support, as recommended by Abramson and DiBartolo, can provide essential assistance in addressing and overcoming contingent self-esteem issues among adolescents and students.

    A study by Crocker and Park (2004) highlighted the significant impact of therapy in promoting a sense of intrinsic worth and reducing the dependence on external validation.

    Through targeted interventions and counseling, adolescents and students can develop healthier self-perceptions, leading to improved confidence and resilience.

    The provision of social and emotional support within educational settings has been associated with enhanced self-esteem and reduced susceptibility to contingent self-worth, as demonstrated in the work of Betts and Gwinn (2017).

    This emphasizes the vital role of a supportive environment in nurturing a stable and authentic sense of self-worth.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is contingent self-esteem in the context of social psychology?

    Contingent self-esteem refers to the tendency for individuals to base their self-worth on external factors such as social acceptance, appearance, and achievement rather than internal qualities.

    How does contingent self-esteem affect an individual’s behavior?

    Individuals with contingent self-esteem tend to engage in behaviors that seek approval from others and avoid behaviors that may threaten their sense of worth. This can result in self-sabotage and difficulty in forming authentic relationships.

    What are the potential consequences of having contingent self-esteem?

    People with contingent self-esteem may experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, as their self-worth is dependent on external factors that are often out of their control. They may also struggle with decision-making and have a fear of failure.

    Is contingent self-esteem a stable trait or can it change over time?

    Contingent self-esteem can be influenced by external factors such as positive feedback or social comparison. It can also be shaped by internal factors, such as self-reflection and personal growth. Therefore, it is not a fixed trait and can change over time.

    What are some strategies for managing contingent self-esteem?

    Developing a sense of self-compassion, setting personal goals based on internal values, and practicing self-awareness and acceptance can help individuals break free from contingent self-esteem. Seeking therapy or counseling can also be beneficial.

    How can understanding contingent self-esteem benefit individuals and society?

    By recognizing the impact of contingent self-esteem, individuals can work towards building a more secure and stable sense of self-worth, leading to improved mental health and healthier relationships. On a larger scale, understanding contingent self-esteem can also help reduce societal pressure and promote a culture of self-acceptance and authenticity.

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