ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Defensive Mechanisms of Self-Esteem.

Updated on May 21, 2011

Self-esteem can be simply described as the worth that one assigns themselves. This self-appraisal can affect many aspects of one’s life such as self-confidence and assertiveness, and ultimately their relationships with others. Self-esteem is essentially an essential process designed to balance one’s attitudes and behaviors. Being an essential psychological process, humans have developed defenses to maintain and enhance one’s sense of self-worth.

For these defense mechanisms to become activated, two conditions are required; an event relevant to the person must transpire, and the event must contain processes showing relevancy to self-esteem (Snyder et al. 1978). Once the mind becomes aware that a threat to self-esteem exists, internal defense mechanisms are activated. Once this happens, people may try to distort the realities of the event in an effort to marginalize its impact, or they may altogether deny its relevancy (Rogers, 1965).

Examples of these defensive devices of self-esteem maintenance occur frequently and are easily observable in our society. The reaction to failure is a prime example of these processes. When someone perceives that they have failed at something, they tend to make excuses. These excuses range from unfair circumstances to directly blaming other people for their failure. This “blame game”, is directly related to the process of defending the self-esteem from a perceived threat by creating distance.

Conversely, when positive events occur, they will often have an enhancement effect on one’s self-esteem. Interestingly enough, people experiencing positive events will often take “credit” for the event. Instead of blaming others, they will attribute the success to their own abilities and their own decisions (Agostinelli, Sherman, Presson, & Chasson 1992; Bradley, 1978; Snyder et al., 1976, 1978; Taylor & Brown, 1988). While these defense mechanisms may initially seem somewhat self-serving, they are primarily an inherent process utilized by the psyche to achieve a healthy and fully functioning self-esteem.

To buffer against the actualization of negative self-esteem experiences, the mind has constructed several methods of carrying out denial and distortion. In order for an event to have a negative effect on the self-esteem, one must have had the initial expectation of a positive outcome. To combat this, people often engage in self-handicapping. Self-handicapping is an unconscious process that involves creating situations where the only possible outcome could be failure. In layman’s terms, you can’t fail if you never expected to win.

It is important to point out that even members of an entire social group may be affected by a form of self-handicapping known as a stereotype threat. Stereotypes are assumptions or generalizations assigned to all members of a certain group. An example of a stereotype would be to say that Caucasian men are bad at dancing. Stereotype threats are these negative assumptions about certain groups that have been internalized by members of that specific group. Therefore, it’s plausible that Caucasian men may be likely to assume that since it’s been said that men of their race cannot dance, they simply cannot dance. Essentially, stereotype threats breed negative thinking, and negative thinking breeds negative outcomes (Cadinu, Maass, Rosabianca, & Kiesner, 2005).

As mentioned earlier, self-esteem plays a significant role in many aspects of one’s life. And as we’ve discussed, people will go to great lengths to protect their self-esteem. As I discussed, positive events have the ability to enhance self-esteem. However, people with a poor sense of self-worth may have a very hard time attributing their successes to their abilities. This can have a very detrimental effect on their ability to live life to the fullest. Additionally, this type of thought pattern can lead to depression, aggressiveness, and a cornucopia of other mental health issues. While humans have developed these defense mechanisms to protect self-esteem, it is important to note that it is not a fool-proof system and some may need cognitive therapy to achieve a healthy self-esteem.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Pamela Sarzana profile image

      Pamela Sarzana 

      7 years ago from northern Indiana

      Self esteem involves some work, some people just don't try hard enough because its easier for them to make lame excuses I think. Great Hub


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)