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What Is the Connection between Identity and Self-Esteem?

By A. Reed
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Identity and self-esteem are both rooted in how a person view him or herself, and though they’re separate, they overlap and feed off of each other in many ways. Psychological experts usually discuss identity in terms of how a person classifies him or herself according to a number of set characteristics and categories. This can include things like family origin, cultural background, religion, and nationality. Self-esteem is usually thought of more in terms of how people see themselves in relationship to larger society, and how they value their own worth. In most cases self-esteem is heavily informed by identity. People often assess their self-worth based first and foremost on how they see themselves stacking up to others in their identity group, but also tend to be influenced by how they perceive that identity stacking up to others on a more global landscape of people. Both are usually formed early in life, often during childhood, and experts usually believe that weaknesses in either area can increase the risk of things like depression and eating disorders during adolescence and into adulthood.

Understanding Identity

Identity, also commonly referred to as "self-identity," has to do with what an individual believes encompasses his or her total self as an individual. This covers a very broad area, including cultural identity, gender, and sexual identity, as well as religious identity. Some of this is more or less fixed, for instance place of birth or nationality. There are usually also some aspects that are chosen, and as people grow they often self-select certain groups and identities based on expressed characteristics.

Titles, whether logical or illogical, permanent or temporary, tend carry a lot of weight with people. When people see themselves as belonging to a particular category of people, they more often understand themselves as the type of people who do whatever it is that group is supposed to be doing, or who act in ways that are stereotypical or widely associated with the more universal behavior of others who similarly identify themselves as group members. There is an extent to which people who identify with the members of a certain group actually adopt some of the wider group behaviors, often unconsciously. While identity has a direct effect on how people feel about themselves, self-esteem is often reflected in the types of things to which people choose to believe or express about that identity more universally. The two are usually quite powerfully connected in this regard.

Self-Esteem Basics

Collectively, self-esteem is basically the ways in which a person views his or her own worth when compared to others. Those with high self-esteem typically believe that they are worthy, like themselves regardless of noted imperfections, and are generally confident; they know what is important to them and they trust their own instincts and inclinations. People with low-self esteem, on the other hand, more often see themselves as inferior and may question the legitimacy of their own desires and interests. These sorts of people often have little regard for themselves, feeling that they don't really matter and that anything that they do is ineffectual.

Primary Overlaps and Interrelationships

Most scholars think that a child’s earliest sense of his or her own self-esteem is very closely linked to how he or she first views identity. A child who feels nurtured and cherished is often thought to be more likely to feel valued, and to form positive identity associations. Similarly, children who are encouraged to demonstrate their talents and seek out activities they find pleasurable often have an easier time defining who they are as individuals both similar to and different from those around them. Cultural identity and formative issues based around family traditions also play into children’s earliest associations of what it means to be an individual, and more specifically, what it means to be them.

Progressing gradually over time, identity and self-esteem are influenced by factors such as school, peers, parenting, and work at each stage of human development, especially during childhood and adolescence. The widely referenced “Stages of Development” theory suggests this, emphasizing that an individual can change his or her social life at any point to improve himself or herself, affecting his or her identity and self-esteem in a positive way.

Role of Acceptance and Belonging

The twin concepts of acceptance and belonging are usually essential to building high self-esteem, and also typically play a role in the early formation of identity. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow revealed this concept through his well-respected Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, in which there are five levels of human needs ranked from lower-level needs to the top-level needs. His theory supposes that there are specific needs that are essential to survival even before upper-level needs can be satisfied, which include self-actualization and self-esteem. People must feel that they belong, are loved, respected, and accepted by others before self-esteem needs can be adequately met, demonstrating yet another way in which identity and self-esteem are associated.

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Discussion Comments
By Talentryto — On Feb 02, 2014

Identity and self-esteem go together in my opinion. If you have a strong sense of who you are and are happy about your identity, you are very likely to have self esteem. On the other hand, if you have a feeling of not knowing who you are or what your place in life is, you will be more likely to have self-esteem issues.

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