Resiliency is a key factor in coping with stress. Individuals with strong resiliency tendencies seem to be able to manage and overcome life stressors better than those with weaker resiliency. Positive feelings are critical to resiliency, and much of the existing self-help tools advocate positive affirmations as a means of creating resiliency and increasing self-esteem. However, people with low self-esteem do not always see a mood improvement from these techniques. Although it is well known that resiliency is rooted in positive feelings, how to achieve those positive feelings in order to strengthen resiliency is less understood. To better identify what types of positive feelings increase resiliency in people, Jennifer L. Hames of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University recently conducted a study on individuals with high and low self-esteem.
Hames evaluated the level of self-esteem in 210 college students and assigned them to one of three experimental conditions. People with both high and low self-esteem were randomly chosen to write about an activity that they enjoyed or to write either a positive or neutral self-affirmation. Hames assessed the self-esteem of all the participants after the experiment and found that those with low self-esteem saw decreases in mood when they wrote positive self-affirmations. However, their self-esteem increased significantly when they wrote about an activity that they enjoyed doing. This trend was reversed in the participants with high self-esteem. Those individuals saw a decrease in mood when they wrote about the activity, but a mood increase when they wrote positive self-affirmations.
These findings are not consistent with other research that suggests that positive affirmations increase self-esteem and strengthen resiliency in most individuals. In fact, these results clearly demonstrate that people with differing levels of self-esteem respond best to very different types of resiliency strategies. “Therefore, caution should be used when advocating the use of a resiliency technique across individuals, as the efficacy of the technique may differ as a function of attributes such as self-esteem,” said Hames. These results can help clinicians working with individuals who have low self-esteem by giving them the skills they need to implement effective stress coping strategies rather than using techniques that could further diminish their self-esteem and propel them into a more negative mood state or even depression.
Hames, J. L., Joiner, T. E. (2012). Resiliency factors may differ as a function of self-esteem level: testing the efficacy of two types of positive self-statements following a laboratory stressor. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 31.6, 641-662.
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