Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa

October 6, 2019

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Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa

Does having close friends boost your self-esteem, or does having high self-esteem influence the quality of your friendships?

Both, according to a meta-analysis of more than two decades of research, published by the American Psychological Association (of which I am a member) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

What the researchers say: “For the first time, we have a systematic answer to a key question in the field of self-esteem research: Whether and to what extent a person’s social relationships influence his or her self-esteem development, and vice versa, and at what ages,” said the study’s lead author. “The answer to what age groups is across the life span.”

The researchers analyzed 52 studies involving more than 47,000 participants (54 percent female) looking at either the effect of self-esteem on social relationships over time or the reverse effect. The studies were published between 1992 and 2016, across 10 countries. Samples ranged from early childhood to late adulthood.

They found that positive social relationships, social support and social acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem in people over time across ages four to 76. The authors also found a significant effect in the reverse direction. While earlier research had yielded inconsistent findings, the meta-analysis supports the classic and contemporary theories of the influence of self-esteem on social connections and the influence of social connections on self-esteem. The findings were the same after accounting for gender and ethnicity.

“The reciprocal link between self-esteem and social relationships implies that the effects of a positive feedback loop accumulate over time and could be substantial as people go through life,” according to the lead author.

When self-esteem or quality of social relationships is low, they noted, it can negatively affect the other factor, and set off a downward spiral, making clinical interventions especially important to offset this potentially adverse development.

So, what? Other studies have shown that lack of social support - or deep friendships - and low self-esteem weakens the immune system, which is why lonely people tend to die early. This is one of the reasons why constant working from home without the support of an office environment (most people’s tribe, or center of belonging) is so dangerous.

Employers may love the idea that employees’ homes are their offices—which employers don’t have to pay for—but the social, stress level and medical repercussions will be very high and have only just begun to show up in suicide rates, the increase in major depression and other mood disorders, not to mention cardiovascular and other physical disease resulting from the lowered immune system.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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