Written by Hal Bronson
Low Self-Esteem’s Involvement in Relationships
While in relationships, individuals often find themselves desiring to be closer to their partners. Behaviors, such as sharing emotions, engaging in intimacy, and providing support to one another, provide opportunities for partners to increase the closeness of their relationship, but these behaviors are risky because partners may react undesirably. Due to the risk involved in disclosing and forming such closeness in romantic relationships, individuals tend to avoid these behaviors when they feel as if they are likely to result in rejection (Baker & McNulty, 2013). Regarding the risk regulation model, individuals with low self-esteem (LSE) are more likely to expect rejection, so they often avoid behaviors that increase interdependence, while the opposite can be said of individuals with high self-esteem (HSE; Murray, Holmes, & Collins, 2006). However, according to Leary and colleagues’ (1995) sociometer theory, individuals with LSE are more likely to participate in behaviors that heighten their interdependence in relationships due to the goal of increasing relational value. Is self-esteem the key in relational intimacy, or does a different factor carry more weight in this process?
Relational Self-Construal’s Involvement in Relationships
Relational self-construal is the extent to which the self is defined independently of others or interdependently with others (Baker & McNulty, 2013). Individuals high in relational self-construal define themselves by their close relationships, while individuals low in relational self-construal define themselves by their independent qualities (Baker & McNulty, 2013). While LSE can be an indicator of interdependence, relational self-construal must be considered as well. It is possible that individuals with LSE who are lower in relational self-construal may be likely to avoid risky behaviors that increase interdependence in favor of self-protection. Meanwhile, individuals with LSE who are higher in relational self-construal may look to increase their connections in relationships. Baker and McNulty (2013) conducted six studies and discovered that individuals with LSE are dependent on relational self-construal to determine if they value self-protection or connection goals more.
In conclusion, HSE is frequently associated with positive traits, and LSE is shown to be associated with numerous psychological disorders and a factor in lowering romantic relationship satisfaction by instilling fear in individuals with LSE that they are undeserving of love (Branden, 1995). However, this does not necessarily mean that the only way that individuals with LSE can increase intimacy and satisfaction within their romantic relationships is by increasing their self-worth. While having HSE may seem incredibly beneficial, this research (Baker & McNulty, 2013) shows that relational self-construal may carry more weight as a factor in determining relational quality and leading to an increase in interdependence in relationships.
Baker, L. R., & Mcnulty, J. K. (2013). When low self-esteem encourages behaviors that risk rejection to increase interdependence: The role of relational self-construal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 995-1018. doi: 10.1037/a0032137
Branden, N. (1995). The six pillars of self-esteem: The definitive work on self-esteem by the leading pioneer in the field. New York, NY: Bantam.
Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518–530. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998
Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Collins, N. L. (2006). Optimizing assurance: The risk regulation system in relationships. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 641–666. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.5.641
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor