Striving for self-esteem : Conceptualizations and role in burnout

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Psychology, Stockholm University

Abstract: When self-esteem is dependent on competence individuals invest a great deal of effort in their accomplishments in order to validate themselves. The aim of the present thesis was to develop a theoretically sound and valid concept and measure of contingent self-esteem dependent on competence, and examine its vulnerable implications and role in burnout. In Study I a concept and measure of contingent self-esteem dependent on competence, termed competence-based self-esteem (CBSE), was developed. Confirmatory factor analyses showed its distinctiveness from other sources of self-esteem and revealed two dimensions comprising behaviors referring to: i) Self-esteem conditional upon competence and ii) Frustrated self-critical strivings. The new scale showed high reliability and gained both convergent and discriminative validity through different methods in different samples. Study II set out to experimentally test the vulnerable implications of CBSE in a performance situation. The results showed that high, as compared to low, scorers on the scale exhibited stronger physiological reactivity and momentary exertion coupled with frustrated mood. Study III focused on the role of self-esteem contingent on competence in the burnout process and its association with work- and private-life stressors over time in working women and men. The analyses showed that contingent self-esteem was a predictor of burnout. In addition, women scored higher on both contingent self-esteem and burnout and reported higher general life stress than did men, whereas men showed stronger associations between work stressors and burnout. The results of the three studies suggest that contingent self-esteem, where outcomes of one’s acts and performance serve to compensate an impoverished basic self-worth, facilitates the understanding of stress-related vulnerability and ill-health.

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