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PROCESELE COGNITIVE ȘI STIMA DE SINE ÎN ADOLESCENȚĂ COGNITIVE PROCESSES AND SELF-ESTEEM IN ADOLESCENCE
Dr. Marinela Rusu Academia Română, Institutul de Cercetări Economice și Sociale ”Gh. Zane ", Iaşi
Abstract In adolescence, self-esteem is an important milestone in personality development. This psychological dimension implies a positive affective tone on several factors, such as self appreciation, feeling good about yourself as a positive self-perception. An important role in forming a positive self-esteem is hold by the cognitive processes, ideal-ego, external expectations, cognitive maturation adventure, plus a good capacity for selfevaluation. Thinking-schemes acquired in these years will lead to further positive profile of the young and will contribute largely to his subsequent success. Yet, we can not ignore the fact that the major determinants of self-esteem include both successes and failures of past, hopes and aspirations of family and social group that individual belongs, and certain characteristic traits of his personality. However, many times, the positive self-esteem in adolescence is affected by some errors in the educational relationship between teachers-teenagers or parents-adolescents. This paper proposes, not only to define the involvement of positive thinking in a positive self-esteem training, but also gives a description of the factors that induce negative self-esteem in adolescence, such as unrealistic standards, incorrect assessments or self-explanatory style.
For adolescence age, positive self-esteem is an important milestone in personality development. This psychological dimension implies a positive affective tone on several factors, such as: self esteem, feeling good about yourself and positive self-perception. For Freudenberger H. and A. Overby (1969) and Escalona (1968), the major determinants of self-esteem include both successes and failures, hopes and aspirations of family and of the social group that individual belongs, and some characteristic features of his personality. Self esteem reflects the nature of its inner imaging with its expression of approach or departure from the child's feelings
of omnipotence and affiliation analyzed by Freud. It is the core identity of someone, although it may be fragile as a cake of ice, a flake ready to take flight at the slightest cold blow. For Freud, ego development assumes an ego-body emerged from the gender-specific attributes (girl / boy), being a mental representation of their own body. Sullivan (quoted by Kestenbaum, 1999), together with other development psychoanalysts and psychologists have noticed that a child feels happy and a possible sense of security, which Freud (1914) called "infantile omnipotence" or "primary narcissism". Essential for further development of a sense of competence is the support coming from the environment - that parent "good enough", which provides a sense of protection and security (Freudenberger H. and A. Overby 1969). Mothers learn pretty quickly why their babies cry and they know the methods that make them feel comfortable. Mothers who are attentive to signals of their children help them develop feelings of security and later, of control. If the child matches with his mother expectations, the result is a harmonious interaction, but if, by chance, the two are on different levels of tension, some turbulence may result. Escalona S. (1968) reminds us that the temperament is inborn and not the result of environmental influences that shape the overall personality. Mother must adapt itself to the particular style of her child, so the close interactions to be continued, despite differences in temperament between the two participants. As Clarice J. Kestenbaum (1998) assessed, children at this age, gets an unnatural ideal self in relation to the ideal object (mother) in order to reduce tension. Child's real self begins to crystallize with the differences that will appear later between self image and the objects image in the outside world. But there are times when self-esteem is adversely affected. We will try out below, to understand the psychological sources of low self-esteem and which could be the consequences in youth development. We know that a source of positive self-esteem results from the need to control and acquire, from the joy of action (search, learning, competition, creativity) that are inborn rights of every child. So, the first basic interactions, the concept of self in relationship with others are associated with mastery and effective solution to external applications and the adoption of models offered by those who took care of the child. One example are those tasks related to the development of childhood instincts control (bowel and bladder), which if are not acquired in time, may occur early on a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. As Jacobson (1954) describes, there are some effects of inappropriate ties in preschool years. In the absence of human ties, consciousness can not be modeled because children could not form self-observation skills, the sense of self-critical and therefore, no normal self esteem. Some research shows that it can be distinguished two types of groups of children with such problems. The first group of children is not connected, does not interact with adults early to provide security and they are found usually, in institutionalized homes or in slums. Many have been abused – experiencing cumulative trauma - and were moved from one home to another. In school, these children appear clearly as lacking a sense of humor, with reduced intellectual function and a lack of self-control behavior. They are children hard to deal with in terms of psychotherapy, because they cannot form a transfer to the therapist and the prognosis is considered poor. A second group of children who exhibit a low self-esteem were still able, over the years, to form weak attachments, although they frequently experienced separation or loss or have had an inadequate maternal care. These children have not been based on a stable adult, which makes them defend themselves against the others and other losses, keeping all their emotions as "secret". They appear to be suspicious and ready to defend. These kids are the future people without substance or high moral values; Clarice J. Kestenbaum (1998) comments about them, that will become abandoned, unwanted in the society and not-connected. Such children have
varying degrees of depression, feelings of powerlessness, low self esteem and a devalued image of their body. Bowlby (1966) and Escalona (1968) shows that low self-esteem is often linked to maternal depression. Increasingly becoming an undeniable evidence that the mother's mental state, anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, affects a certain extent, psychological ascendancy of the child and the future teenager. Self-esteem in school years, again, depends on the degree of fulfillment of specific tasks of that age. The child must be linked to authorities, to master certain cognitive skills, but also skills of communication and behavior. Children with learning difficulties, for example, can isolate when they see the differences between them and other children concerning their school attainments. The offenses and the irony of colleagues can cause a child to stop communicating with others, to become marginalized, filled with guilt or feelings of inferiority and powerlessness. You cannot talk about self-esteem in adolescence, without taking into question the notion of ideal-self. There are many definitions of this concept. Laufer, for example, believes that the ideal ego is a part of superego, seeking to restore the narcissistic balance. As a teenager, this process derives from two sources: the superego and external expectations of contemporaries with which the adolescent has been identified. Special attributes of an individual or group "often become a basis according to which contemporaries are judged" (M. Laufer, p. 1998). In other words, teens themselves are judged according to how they think that are perceived by others. If a boy is low height for his age or a girl have no clear signs of femininity the same with their colleagues, he or she will suffer intense feelings of shame or inferiority. Appearance is always a problem, so, we find adolescents needing to look like clones, with the same kind of hair, jeans, jackets or anything else would choose the young fashion. In part, teens can see themselves in their friends and develop a concept of self through the eyes of others. The ideal-ego of young man often remains one immature, idealized self, a hope that will be fulfilled in the future. The adventure of cognitive maturation, the ability of abstraction and the achievement of elevated awareness can lead to low self esteem, just because an idealized-self is too far from the self as perceived in the present. John Updike (quoted by Susan Harter, 1988) describes the feelings of shame and culpable self-awareness in his autobiographical account about confrontation in adolescence, with psoriasis: ”Psoriasis makes you think again. Conciliation and self-examination strategies branches out forever. You are pushed to the mirror again and again, psoriasis force you to narcissism, if we conceive that Narcissus did not like what he saw. Anyone can hate nature that has generated this disease but also, Nature is the one that will be addressed for healing. Only nature can forgive psoriasis; the suffering person, in his self-contemplation can not guarantee that power to others "(p. 40). The same happens, when appearance of adolescents can cause great unhappiness if it does not comply with the idealized self or when, the failure to comply with self-imposed performance standards, both, academic and social; this can lead to self-perception problems. Many teenagers simply abandon the fight, when low self-esteem interferes with motivation to succeed in the academic, sporting or social. Low self-esteem is many times correlated with devalued self-image and is one of the often problems that parents brought to the attention of clinicians, in connection with their adolescents, although self-esteem problems, the depreciate self-image, the exaggerated selfcriticism and disproportionate self-evaluation, may appear as features of multiple categories of disease. Among these, we can mention depression, attention disorders, social phobia, bulimia nervosa.
Research shows that low self-esteem appears more among adolescents with learning disabilities (Shirk, Stephen, Burwell, Rebecca and Harter, Susan, 2006) especially for girls. Low self-esteem is also found among adolescents and among maltreated children with alcoholic parents (J Clarice Kestenbaum - 1998). Moreover, low self esteem is a predictor of substance abuse and is frecvent among adolescents with nutritional disorders, and even among those who do not exhibit depressive symptoms. Low self-esteem, although it is a disorder in itself, however, it may be associated with a number of clinical problems. For example, in the case of depressed young people, thinking schemes suffer some distortion (Stephen Shirk and others, 2006), characterized by over-generalisation ("Once I am not good at math, I am a weak student"), exclusive thinking (all or anything: "I am very stupid!") and dysfunctional attitudes ("If something is wrong in my work, I'm a loser!"). Negative self-perception schema, accessible in terms of negative statements about themselves has been demonstrated for depressed youth (Zupan, Hammen, and Jaenicke, quoted by S. Shirk, 2006). In essence, low self esteem is seen as a symptom, rather than a cause of emotional and behavioral disorders. However, recent research indicates that self-esteem has a more important functional role in adaptation than previously thought. Undeniably, we can talk about the role of cognitive processes in forming self-esteem, overall. Identifying cognitive mechanisms that induce low self-esteem becomes important in determining the appropriate psychotherapeutic intervention appeal. Cognitive theory has some empirical elements which contribute to the initiation and amplification process. 1. Unrealistic standards. One pathogenic mechanism related to low self-esteem is representated by the unrealistic standards in self evaluation. Perhaps, the best known example involves perfectionist expectations for oneself. Researches indicates perfectionism as maladaptive, the same as the social perfectionism (the belief that others expect perfection from us), being negatively correlated with self-esteem (M Laufer - 1964). Unrealistic expectations from themselves have been conceptualized as dysfunctional attitudes in relation to self and society. Perfectionist attitudes require rigid adherence to standards of exceptional performance, as means to acquire such feelings of acceptance and merit ("If at least I am partly wrong, it's like I lost everything"). Leahy (1981, quoted by S. Shirk and others, 2006) show that higher standards are incorporated in the ideal self-image and after that, they are applied to the real image, which will result in time, in the increasing of the negative selfassessments. Idealized expectations for oneself, appear to be difficult to obtain in real life. 2. Incorrect self-assessments. Very close to the previous criterion is the problem of inadequate self-assessments. From a developmental perspective, unfairness of self-evaluation might be expected among young adolescents. In fact, adolescents, especially those in middle school, overstate their abilities (Harter, 1988). Harter has interpreted this as an expression that, at this age, they still do not distinguish between real self-image and what they wish to be. However, in the high school years, teens begin to make connections between specific areas with global assessments of self-evaluations, such as self-esteem. Although adolescence implies to become closer to a more realistic criteria in assessing their personalities, some adolescents are faced with inaccurate, deformed self-assessment. It is not yet clear whether these patterns reflect a delay in self-assessment or is a defense mechanism to mask a feeling of inferiority. Teenagers often compare their characteristics with those of peers and participate selectively in representative groups, which reduces self-confidence. For example, children were found to differ in choice goals, comparable tasks, in the absence of clearly defined performance criteria. Some of them (eg. those with large endeavors for success), compared themselves only with the top performers for an accomplished task. The same happens with evaluating their own appearances, closely related to self-esteem (Susan Harter, 1999). Thus, despite the clear feedback
and specific performance criteria, some adolescents may have internal unrealistic standards, resulting incorrect self-assessment. 3. Another cognitive process that may affect the accuracy of self-evaluation is the explanatory-subjective style. In agreement with the reformulated model of learned helplessness (Abramson, Seligman and Teasdale, quoted by Harter, 1988), the tend to attribute negative events to stable internal causes, produces a range of disabling features, including low self esteem. Research with adolescents has shown a consistent link between explanatory-subjective style, low self-esteem and depressive symptoms. Therefore, a number of cognitive processes, including unrealistic standards, social information processing in a subjective way and the explanatorysubjective style may contribute to incorrect self-assessment (M. Rusu, 2010). Level of complexity or degree of differentiation of the self, represents an important element in shaping positive thinking and attitudes towards themselves. With the transition to new stages of adolescence, young people increasingly differentiate new aspects or areas of selfevaluation, including especially those which are linked to a relational context (Harter, 1999). In this connection, a structural feature of the self, that has received considerable attention, is the level of self-complexity, or number of aspects of self, which an individual uses in order to organize information and their degree of distinctness. It was found that the low level of self-compelxity in adolescence is correlated directly with the subjects low self-assessment. Kestenbaum (1998) argues that low levels of complexity of self, made individuals vulnerable to affective disorders and cause dramatic changes in selfevaluation. In short, limited differentiation provides the conditions for the spread of a tarnished self-assessment. According to his hypothesis, Linville has demonstrated that individuals with less complex cognitive representations of the self are more vulnerable to extreme changes in emotional and self-evaluation, after success or failure experiences than those who have greater complexity. It is possible that in the case of adolescents who have a low self esteem, self-concept may be poorly differentiated and settled all aspects of self knowledge in one basket. Wealth of information, diverse concerns, interests for a deeper understanding, philosophical facts of life, approaching different angles of looking at things can make adaptation easier in situations of stress, trauma, frustration and loss. Differences inside the self can be an important step to increase self-esteem, seeking to protect adolescents from negative to stressful events. In fact, it was found that a greater complexity of self and of the self-knowledge may be self-protective barriers against stress and depression. However, an essential element in the self-assessment is the importance that adolescent attaches to different aspects of self. Perhaps the best example is the theme of physical appearance (or body image) where weight gain can lead to a minor blaming; changing the body perception, however, from another angle, can seriously undermine the self-esteem among adolescents, who generally overstate this issue. One of the goals proposed, is than, to help teens to find and develop other important aspects of self. The False Self (suppression or concealment of an inauthentic self, of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of someone) is another pathogenic mechanism associated with low self esteem. False self is a typical problem in adolescence, a stage of life when self-consciousness is enhanced and adolescents attempt to distinguish multiple sites of the self in different relationships, in order to define "their true self." False-self behavior, as suppressing or hiding the true feelings, thoughts and beliefs is associated with generalized low self esteem, (Harter and others, 1996) and may interfere with the development of mutual relations with friends who are so important in self-identity development. Emergence of false self behavior seems to have roots in interpersonal relationships. Research shows that there is an association between adolescent self and false perception to a primary support, conditionally decreased from others. In shaping
relations between the constructs of self, Harter (1996) found that the association between the immediately support for adolescent and the presentation of the false self, runs through the inability to please others. Note however, that such weakness may be true for some teens. False-self behavior may be challenging and pose serious problems for teenage girls as they begin to identify with social prescriptions involving a woman's expression of thoughts and beliefs. Symptom of "loss of voice” is related to low self esteem and an element which emphasizes gender differences for depressive symptoms during adolescence. Recent studies show that loss of voice is indeed related to gender identity (girls / boys), as noted, girls, especially in a social context, use the lowest tone of voice as a sign of emotional instability, of distrust and low expectations of themselves. Taken together, these findings suggest that false self is involved in cultural and social processes. Constant efforts to alter the false self behavior will be directed not only to cognitive reinterpretations, but will also act on contextual factors that maintain it (M. Laufer, 1964). Of course, we do not support the idea that low self-esteem it is only the result of a maladaptive cognitive process. There are many records indicating that the family may have its guilt through the manifestation of increased criticism, through traumatic life events that have a "corrosive" effect on teens self-esteem. Therefore, we say that self-esteem is not only a function of internal processes. In many cases, there are social processes of a particular consistence that helps to reduce self-esteem of adolescents. These events, however, can be filtered through a cognitive process, as cognitive processes can enhance or improve the impact of negative events. There is also ample evidence that self-esteem has a functional role in emotional and behavioral adjustments and that can be modified by using specialized support; moreover, these changes in self-esteem can impact on other aspects of the adaptive functions. Changing selfesteem may be more successful when it is first considered as a self-evaluative processes. However, without going into details of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic problem, we have identified, psychologically, some empirical formulations of basic low self-esteem: the unrealistic standards, incorrect, distorted, self-assessment, undifferentiated self structures and inauthentic self conduct. Cognitive therapy approach, in such cases is recommended, as it calls for rational factors, awareness of the teenager, actually contributing to the development of his personality. Monitoring thoughts, finding and confronting the interpersonal assumptions and selfdevelopment strategies can be also some means of correcting low self esteem. Such problems related to a low self esteem can be addressed also through psychodynamic therapies. The goal of intervention is to help patients develop positive, realistic self-concept, first, in the context of psychotherapy. Sometimes, the great efforts of others, can become weak attempts from the adolescent, to remove feelings of inferiority and worthlessness; therapist will help to resize pathological defense mechanisms, gradually replacing them with others, more mature, like: sublimation, altruism and humor. Thus, the teenager will be able to overcome past disappointments and develop realistic plans for the future. Moreover, adolescents who will succeed, will be able to look in the mirror with the proper self-esteem, being satisfied with the image they percceive.
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