Self-esteem is usually classified as high or low. People with high self-esteem have secure and positive views of themselves and believe that in general they have value. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem often have negative self-views and believe that they do not have a high self-worth. But self-esteem can be broken down even further. High self-esteem can be divided into categories of secure and fragile.
In a recent study led by Virgin Zeigler-Hill of the Department of Psychology at Oakland University in Michigan, these two types of self-esteem were studied to determine their effects on alcohol use in a sample of 623 college students. Zeigler-Hill classified secure self-esteem participants as those with consistent and general high levels of self-esteem. Fragile self-esteem was identified as contingent, meaning those with fragile self-esteem only felt good enough if they achieved certain goals or accomplished certain things. Participants with secure and fragile self-esteem reported their alcohol consumption behaviors and consequences and these results were compared to those of students with low self-esteem.
Zeigler-Hill found that the students with fragile self-esteem had similar drinking patterns and consequences as those with low self-esteem. Overall, even though the fragile self-esteem individuals did have higher self-esteem with respect to some domains, the contingencies they placed on their self-esteem created pressures that caused them to be more vulnerable to stress. This led to negative coping strategies, such as increased alcohol use.
Also, even though they had negative consequences from drinking, the fragile high self-esteem individuals did not drink less as a result. Zeigler-Hill believes that the need to fit in and be good enough could be the catalysts for drinking behaviors in the fragile high self-esteem participants. There were also differences between men and women, with women drinking slightly less than the men in each category.
Gender nuances were not fully explored in this study, but Zeigler-Hill feels they should be examined more closely in future work. Until that time, these findings shed light on various aspects of self-esteem and how they relate to negative coping strategies. Zeigler-Hill added, “These results suggest it is important to account for markers of fragility—such as contingent self-esteem—when considering the connections between self-esteem level and alcohol-related outcomes.”
Zeigler-Hill, V., Whitney J. Stubbs, and Michael B. Madson. (2013). Fragile Self-Esteem and Alcohol-Related Negative Consequences among College Student Drinkers. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.5 (2013): 546-67.ProQuest. Web.
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