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Descriptions of self-esteem as self-affection point to personal, moral, or existential worth, as opposed to pragmatic, or instrumental, value. Self-evaluation tends to view the self as an “it,” with varying degrees of value, whereas self-love tends to view the self as a “thou,” with varying degrees of worth. One is based upon personal accomplishment and recognition; the other, upon ontological acceptance, or the valuing of one’s own being.
These two forms of self-esteem operate in all persons. persons affectively evaluate what they can do (instrumental achievement). our culture seems to value the instrumental approach more than the existential approach, and perhaps this is the reason some writers feel there is an epidemic of self-doubt, despair, and self-hatred in our society.
As a complex value judgment about personhood, self-esteem can be further understood by examining two dimensions related to it – breadth and depth.
Self-esteem has breadth to the extent that persons judge themselves positively in many specific areas of life – preaching, visiting, parenting, swimming, or cooking; it is narrowed when individuals restrict positive evaluations to only one or two aspects of their personhood, and all other areas are viewed negatively.
Self-esteem demonstrates a high degree of depth when it endures in spite of minor or major setbacks – flunking a test or being seriously ill; it is superficial when it gives way to minor, or even imaginary, experiences (e.g., fear of not doing well).
Most persons have a mixture of positive and negative feelings about themselves, growing out of their life experiences. These feelings have emerged from being recognized or ignored, and cover the whole gamut of self-pictures, in varying degrees of breadth and depth.