The following essay is an attempt at designing a scale/test for measuring an individual’s self-esteem.
Item1: Propensity for Depression:
One of the key factors that contribute to a person’s self-esteem is his/her propensity to fall into depressive episodes. It is well established in psychology literature that abusive experiences during formative years can have consequences for the person during adulthood. By ascertaining whether the person is presently depressed or not, we can indirectly deduce their self-esteem levels. Of course, no elaborate tests need be constructed for testing depressive illness, as the DSM-IV scale is sufficient for the purpose. All those who are clinically depressed also suffer from low self-esteem during the period of depression; whereas not all people with low self-esteem fall into bouts of depression. This is an important distinction that should be kept in mind when arriving at the final assessment of the person’s self-esteem levels.
Item 2: Self-critical remarks when speaking:
People with low self-esteem tend to undervalue their achievements and underrate their behavior. When they interact with other people (including a psychologist) it can be discerned from the language they use to describe their actions and behavior. Phrases such as ‘I messed up’, ‘failed to’, ‘hopeless’, etc. Self-deprecating humor is a useful tool for social interactions, but even here a trained psychologist can distinguish between ‘benign’ and ‘malicious’ types. Apart from these obvious giveaways of low self-esteem, a closer analysis of the subject’s use of language and underlying implications can provide further insight. For example, low self-esteem individuals tend to attribute their success to factors external to themselves. They even at times attribute their genuine success to good fortune or dismiss it as fluke. High self-esteem individuals, on the other hand, tend to have greater clarity on what they can control and what they cannot. They don’t ostracize themselves for consequences which were beyond their scope of control. While a healthy self-esteem is a desirable component of one’s personality, a bloated and pretentious sense of self is not healthy. Hence the tests would include questions that would help the interviewer to determine narcissistic and megalomaniacal traits.
Item 3: Work/Life Balance:
People with low self-esteem generally tend to be at either extremes of work and life. Both these tendencies are not ideal. Studies have shown that the best performing employees in an organization tend to have poor self-esteem. By exhibiting high levels of professionalism, they are actually trying to compensate for feelings of deep-seated inadequacies. Such people can be classified as ‘workaholics’ as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who are shy of taking responsibility. An entrenched feeling of failure pervades whatever they do. They reason that ‘instead of failing repeatedly, why not give up entirely’. In other words, this category of people with low self-esteem has a visceral fear of failure. More often than not they are paralyzed by their fears and end up being passive spectators of their own miserable condition. Individuals falling under this category are susceptible to use recreational drugs, alcohol, etc. The test questions, by way of finding out the life-style of the subject, will help determine whether it is healthy one or not. More importantly, an individual’s work/life balance serves as a strong indicator of their self-esteem.