Science becomes too difficult for us

Self-worth: Why it is so hard to like yourself

To a certain extent, genes and early childhood influences set the course for the basic tone of our self-worth. Starting from it, the way in which we see ourselves often follows a typical course. In 2018, Ulrich Orth from the University of Bern analyzed the results of almost 200 studies with 160,000 participants between the ages of 4 and 94. On average, the older they got, the more they appreciated each other. This increase is particularly pronounced in the first three decades of life. Later on, self-esteem only increases slowly, until it typically reaches a plateau at around 60 years of age and slowly falls again from 70 onwards. It only drops rapidly in people over 90.

The appreciation we show for each other is by no means developing as regularly as this curve suggests. Individual experiences can promote or damage them, sometimes even sustainably. "Self-worth depends very much on social relationships," emphasizes personality psychologist Jenny Wagner from the University of Hamburg. “The more we feel that we belong and are liked, the higher it is. Social exclusion, on the other hand, leads to a loss of self-esteem. "

Together with researchers from other universities, Wagner carried out a study in 2015 with schoolchildren who had gone abroad for a year. Every month they were asked to indicate how well they were now socially integrated and also to fill out a self-esteem questionnaire. "As soon as the students felt they belonged to their new environment, we saw in the survey at the latest one month later that they rated themselves more positively," explains Wagner.

The sociometer hypothesis: self-worth as an alarm system

The US psychologist Mark Leary and his colleague Deborah Downs described the human self-esteem system in the mid-1990s as a kind of sensor for interpersonal relationships. Similar to a speedometer measuring speed, this "sociometer" constantly records the state of our social network. Low self-esteem is therefore an alarm signal that should motivate us to work on our relationships. “Leary justifies this from an evolutionary point of view,” explains Wagner: “His argument is: As a human being, you don't survive alone; we need to belong to a group. "

However, our social speedometer can also react too sensitively. Then sometimes even the little things are enough to make us question ourselves: a critical remark, an argument in traffic, the feeling of not having been adequately appreciated. Even people who have a high opinion of themselves can have fragile self-worth. Sometimes they seem particularly hard to cope with rejection. For example, some studies suggest that they are more prone to racism and violence.

Low self-esteem is uncomfortable; this already shows the abundance of advice that promises remedial action. And yet he has a tendency to be persistent. It is not easy to develop a more positive view of yourself. On the one hand, this is due to a mechanism that the Bamberg personality psychologist Astrid Schütz describes as a consistency motive: We tend to hide information that contradicts our self-image. An example: "If we consider ourselves unattractive and then someone says to us: Man, you look great! We may assume that the other person wants to flatter us." Self-affirmation makes the world appear more understandable to us - this "self-verification hypothesis «Said the US social psychologist William Swann 40 years ago.