Argumentative essay on the sociometer theory, based on the article titled Making Sense of Self-Esteem Mark R. Leary1

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The psychological definition of self-esteem is a self-reflection of one's total evaluation or assessment of his or her own value. The first question to be posed is what is the role of self-esteem in the social realm of humans and why are so many human behaviours devoted to maintain it? In Mark R Leary's article, he states that while "social engineers have suggested that high self-esteem is a remedy for many psychological and social problems," there is no solid conclusion as to why "low self-esteem is associated with psychological difficulties." Leary then presents his sociometer theory which is a theory of self-esteem from an evolutionary psychological perspective that proposes that self-esteem is a gauge of interpersonal relationships. I agree with Leary's theory and the fact that there are limits to what people think about themselves and what the society makes them think and believe about themselves alongside the results of such direct influences on one's esteem of their self.

Human beings are social creatures and "they possess an inherent "need" to feel good about themselves." As such the human species is naturally driven toward establishing and sustaining belongingness and a desire to attain some minimum level of acceptance from and closeness to, a interpersonal motive that guides human behavior. A predominated human need for belongingness presumably requires some systematic means of monitoring others' reactions to oneself, and Leary suggested that self-esteem serves that very function. Self-esteem functions to propel a person's real and ideal self, and it signals people to behave accordingly to pursue the ideal self with "subjective feedback about the adequacy of the self' with the measurements from their self-esteem. This feedback then allows a person a method to be able to maintain dominance in social relationships. The reactions from others assert the dominance factor and as such, "feelings of self-esteem became tied to social approval and deference."The sociometer monitors the quality of relationships in human beings between one's self and others. Humans readily form relation bonds with others, spend considerable time thinking about their relationships, resist the dissolution of their existing attachments, and suffer various forma of physical and mental maladies if their belongingness needs are not met. "The theory is based on the assumption that human beings possess a pervasive drive to maintain significant interpersonal relationships, a drive that evolved because early human beings who belonged to social groups were more likely to survive than those who did not." Being rejected would limit one's survival and reproductive success and as such, human beings developed internal socimeters which monitored the "degree to which other people valued and accepted them." The sociometer reads into cues of acceptance and rejection of one's self and this defines one's level of self-esteem. The need to belong is intimately tied to emotions, even potential threats to social bonds generate a variety of unpleasant emotional states, with self esteem working on the sociometer even negative affect is common when people face any kind of real or imagined rejection from others.

While psychologists have "assumed that the people possess a motive or need to maintain self-esteem," Leary's sociometer theory states that self-esteem is not meant to maintain itself, it is more to decrease the likelihood of social rejection. One's self-esteem creates the formula by which one behaves socially to increase their relational value and this in turn increases one's 'self-esteem.' Leary argues that "if self-esteem involved only private self-judgments, as many psychologists have assumed, public events should have no greater impact on self-esteem than private ones." The fact is however, that self-esteem is strongly tied to people's beliefs about how they are evaluated by others and so self-esteem is not a self-evaluation, it is based on the judgments made by other people's standards. This is why the function of the self-esteem is more to warn one's self of 'possible relational devaluation in time to take corrective action." The sociometer theory shows that the self-esteem is responsive to other's reactions to avoid social rejection and the need is so inherent that "this system may lead people to do things that are not always beneficial, but it does so protect their interpersonal relationships rather than their inner integrity."Although it is commonly believed that low self-esteem correlates with psychological difficulties social problems, the data in support of the link is exaggerated and "the relationships are weaker and more scattered than typically assumed." For example, the idea of teen pregnancy, a teenaged girl does not get pregnant because she has 'low self-esteem' and feels badly about her self-worth but it could be a variety of factors such as her lack of sense in using protection or her desire to merely have a child so that she could form a bond with something that is an integral part of her. She might find it difficult to keep up her education and social life once she has a child. This added responsibility might result in the young woman devaluing herself as she isn't as capable as she once was and this might result in her self-esteem becoming lower since society also tends to look down on teenage pregnancies. Being a teenaged mother is a personal problem and it may lead to lower self-esteem because the young mothers have lead other people to devalue or reject them, this means that although "self-esteem may parallel these problems, it is a coeffect rather than a cause." A better example is substance abuse, I personally don't do recreational drugs because I feel badly about my self. I have lots of confidence in my self, I used to do drugs on the rare occasion merely as a stress-reliever from reality. Some of my acquaintances do drugs because they want a release and because a lot of their 'gangster friends' do it. This shows that their self-esteem actually increases in doing drugs as they are accepted by their social circle and even though it is harmful for their health, their sociometer cues that not smoking could make them unfit for that particular social circle. The actual problem is the fact that those who do too many drugs and don't follow the rule of moderation become unmotivated and lethargic, this is a result of the drugs but not a cause of doing the drugs. Self-esteem is much like a social evaluation fuel gauge, it is high when we are confident that others hold us in high regard, but low when we fear that others are unimpressed. Leary agrees with this when he states that "from the standpoint of the sociometer theory, these problems are not caused by low self-esteem but rather by a history of low relational devaluation." The sociometer theory shows that common definition of self-esteem is too broad or misplaced as it plays a more different role than that which its definition assigns it. The cause of this is the fact that there has been greater study and focus on what self-esteem is as opposed to what self-esteem measures or works for and this ignorance has taken away from looking at the interpersonal relations and their importance in human beings. This would help realize that the self-esteem as defined by the sociometer theory by Mark R Leary shows that whenever some event, or even implication about the self, raises the threat of social rejection or interpersonal failure, it is advantageous, both to avoid such negative emotions and maximize ones long term prospects for survival to "learn and conform to these standards, rules and norms of their culture because these embody the criteria for inclusion and exclusion. The immediate, involuntary responses to situations that increase the salience of social evaluation suggest that the human species is especially attentive to judgments of their conspecifics. There are limits to what people think about themselves and what the society makes them think and believe about themselves alongside the results of such direct influences on one's esteem of their self and these limits are measured by the sociometer with the function of self-esteem.

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