Understanding Self-Esteem as Appraisal

Posted by: John Stewart on May 19, 2011 2:53 pm

By: Jeff Landine and John Stewart

In keeping with our focus on understanding the self-system and its dimensions, in this edition we focus on the dimension of self-esteem and its relationship to self-concept. Self-esteem is defined as the appraisal of the content of the self-system, either in whole or in part.  We think that the psychological dynamics involved in self-esteem include the use of criteria, such as “I am not good at public speaking” or “I am very good at solving mathematical problems” or “I must be very good at writing” individuals use to assess the content of their self-system.  These criteria develop from feedback coming directly or indirectly from experiences.  The criteria can be forgotten in memory or they can be known and used by individuals to make decisions.  In either situation, the criteria influence vocational decision-making.

Individuals may experience low levels of self-esteem if they receive inaccurate feedback from significant others or attribute accurate feedback to factors other than their self-qualities, such as thinking the assessor disliked them. In both conditions, depending on how they process the information, these individuals may be left with inaccurate criteria to engage in appropriate self-appraisal. In formulating self-esteem, the conscious or unconscious use of appraisal criteria influences the perceptions individuals have about their self-knowledge, which in turn influence the occupational decision-making process. Individuals who experience low self-esteem may aspire to occupations requiring more amounts of their personal qualities than they have (known as overachieving); or, conversely, aspire to occupations that under use their personal qualities (known as underachieving).  The third possibility is that individuals may avoid the decision-making process unduly.

We see self-esteem from two perspectives – a global perspective and/or a specific perspective.  A global perspective refers to how individuals perceive the totality of the self-system.  We think that global issues of negative self-esteem typically originate from early developmental experiences in which significant caregivers provide feedback to the developing person that communicates negative self-appraisal.  When children and adolescents are told repeatedly they “cannot do anything right,” or “have no abilities,” they develop negative thoughts and feelings about themselves.  Such individuals tend to view themselves as those who will not be successful at getting a job, or unable to do a number of the tasks required to maintain the job.  Conversely, the specific perspective focuses on discrete parts of the self-system and is related to instances where inappropriate feedback was received from particular experiences.   The inappropriate feedback may come from significant others or from their personal feedback processes.  For example, if individuals who participated in a public speaking contest attended to their physiological reactions, they might process a rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms and feeling faint as indicators of poor performance.  From such experiences, they might conclude that they were not good at public speaking or at any occupation that might require such abilities.

Career counsellors who focus on helping clients understand the criteria used to voice their self-esteem help them gain insight into the perceptions of their self-knowledge and their resultant decision-making difficulties. From this perspective, self-esteem is an indicator of a deeper psychological dynamic, that of the criteria used by individuals to frame their self-perception.  Career counsellors who help individuals understand their issues of self-esteem as the application of unreasonable or inaccurate appraisal criteria enable them to gain an accurate appraisal of their self-knowledge.


Johnson, D. W. (2009). Reaching out: Interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualization (10th ed.) (pp. 340-363). Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Ltd.

Savickas, M. L. (2002). Career construction: A developmental theory of vocational behavior. In D. Brown and Associated (Eds.), Career choice and development (4th ed.) (pp. 149-205). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Super, D. (1982). Self-concepts in career development: Theory and findings after thirty years. Paper presented as the 20th International Congress of Applied Psychology, Edinburgh, Scotland.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *