The costly pursuit of self-esteem

Psychol Bull. 2004 May;130(3):392-414. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.3.392.


Researchers have recently questioned the benefits associated with having high self-esteem. The authors propose that the importance of self-esteem lies more in how people strive for it rather than whether it is high or low. They argue that in domains in which their self-worth is invested, people adopt the goal to validate their abilities and qualities, and hence their self-worth. When people have self-validation goals, they react to threats in these domains in ways that undermine learning; relatedness; autonomy and self-regulation; and over time, mental and physical health. The short-term emotional benefits of pursuing self-esteem are often outweighed by long-term costs. Previous research on self-esteem is reinterpreted in terms of self-esteem striving. Cultural roots of the pursuit of self-esteem are considered. Finally, the alternatives to pursuing self-esteem, and ways of avoiding its costs, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Motivation*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception
  • Time