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Self-Esteem Breeds Violence and Aggression


PSYC E-1019 

Stress, Coping and Resilience 

Submission # 5 

 Self-Esteem Breeds Violence and Aggression 


Curiosity, Hedonism and Self-Esteem 



Kim Byrd-Rider   




Self-Esteem Breeds Violence and Aggression 


“Wars harm both sides, most crimes yield little financial gain, terrorism and assassination almost never bring about the desired political changes, most rapes fail to bring sexual pleasure, torture rarely elicits accurate or useful information and most murders soon regret their actions as pointless and self-defeating,” (Baumeister, Boden, & Smart, 1996, p. 5). Traditional psychological studies claim low self-esteem is the underlying perpetrator to these acts but new psychology theories report it is the polar opposite; high self-esteem (Baumeister, Boden, & Smart, 1996). This paper is not about the pros vs. cons of virtue levels. It is an examination of the violence predicament America is in and how to escape it but first an examination of the pros and cons is in order. 

The broad definition for self-esteem is a favorable global evaluation of self. Studies like Anderson (1994), Jankowski (1991), Renzetti (1992), Staub (1989) find low self-esteem the generator of violence. Gondolf (1985), Walker (1979), Long (1990), MacDonald (1975), Wiehe (1991), Kirschner (1992), Levin ad McDevitt (1993), and Toch (1969, 1993), Oats and Forrest (1985), Schoenfield (1988) and many other 1970-1995 studies proclaim low-self esteem as the foundation of violence, too. These studies are questionable. Baumeister and colleagues (1996) were unable to find any authoritative or definitive statements claiming low self-esteem as the cause of violence in these or any other articles on the subject. They found the low self-esteem articles listed here contained ambiguities, inconsistencies and contradictory empirical evidence. In other words, the evidence is weak. Baumeister and colleagues (1996) found evidence for the opposite: threatened egotism (high self-esteem) causes aggression and many times perpetuates violence. The more inflated the self-esteem, the higher the proneness to violence (Baumeister, et al., 1996). The amount of inflated high self-esteem positively correlation to the level of violence. Valuing and nurturing high self-esteem is counterproductive and also dangerous for individuals and society (Baumeister, et al., 1996). 

So, should the idea of low self-esteem be completely discarded? As the Buameister study (1996) points out, the low self-esteem articles are weak. But are they wrong? A study by Grant and Schwartz (2011) write about the “Inverted U” of psychological processes, referencing to Aristotle’s “The Mean” idea.  Aristotle’s Mean Theory says the two extremes of an emotion can be detrimental to the person/society, while the mean; the intermediate level between excess and deficiency of the virtue, is most beneficial for optimal well-being.  

For example, below is Aristotle’s chart for nine virtues existing at intermediate points and their extremes (Grant, & Swartz, 2011): 

Table 1. Aristotelian Virtues  


Domain                          Deficiency                       Excess                 Virtue at the mean  

Fear                                 Cowardice                  Recklessness                 Courage  

Pleasure                             Prudence                 Self-indulgence           Temperance  

Giving and taking            Meanness                      Prodigality                Generosity 

small sums of money  

Giving and taking             Stinginess                  Tastelessness             Magnificence 

large sums of money 

Great honor                       Humility                       Vanity                          Pride  

Anger                             Spinelessness                Irascibility                 Good temper  

Self-presentation          Self-deprecation            Boastfulness                    Honesty  

Giving amusement           Boorishness                Buffoonery                    Wittiness  

Pleasing others                   Surliness                Obsequiousness              Friendliness 


(Table 1, p. 63)  

According to Aristotle and Grant and Schwartz (2011), both low self-esteem and high self-esteem are undesirable for optimal well-being, performance and quality of life. The Grant and Schwartz (2011) article has an entire section devoted to a virtue’s optimal mean. While this is a wonderful coping solution for self-esteem and other virtues, the focus of the real problem has been diverted.  

The cultivation of virtue levels is part of the “search for glory” process. The “search for glory” is an unhealthy imagination-generated distortion of reality (Horney, 1950). The process creates the idealized image of oneself, the false-self (Horney, 1950).  In contrast, a healthy imagination is an attribute of the true-self and brings us closer to the truth about ourselves.  

The Buameister study (1996) is essentially saying too much “search for glory” is destructive, using self-esteem as an example. Grant and Schwartz (2011) are basically saying; participate in the neurotic “search for glory” but not too much nor too little. Participating too little is an act of “resigning” from the “search for glory” (Horney, 1950). The strategy of too little engagement is a descriptor of the neurotic Resignation Personality Type (Horney, 1950). According to Horney (1950), the solution is to get rid of the “search for glory” and it’s unhealthy pride system of self-hate which gives the true-self authority to operate in it’s stead.   

This process uproots the entire imaginary tree of the idealized false-self and leaves the cultivator free to enliven what is authentic and real, the true-self.  American citizens could reap the benefits of sewing the seeds of self-realization (the true-self) to the benefit society. A healthy pride system resides in the true-self (Horney, 1950). A healthy pride system consists of having “autonomous convictions and acting upon them, having the self-reliance that stems from tapping our own resources, assuming responsibility for ourselves, taking a realistic appraisal of our assets, liabilities and limitations, having strength and directness of feelings, and having the capacity for establishing and cultivating good human relations,” (Horney, 1950, p. 88) as opposed to trying to cultivating the proper level of self-esteem (virtues). The level of impairment to healthy pride equates to the level of self-confidence and self-esteem impairment (Horney, 1950). For example, if these healthy pride descriptors are highly impaired, then self-confidence and self-esteem are highly impaired too. Impairment would appear as either too high or too low, depending on the individual and his/her circumstances.  

The true-self (self-realization) emerges and strengthens through self-actualization methods and interventions. Self-realization (the true self) brings the “clarity and depth of feelings, thoughts, wishes, interests, the ability to tap one’s own resources, the strength of one’s own resources, will power strength, the special capacities or gifts, self-expression and inter-relations with spontaneous feelings” (Horney, 1950, p. 17). 

When the true-self solution emerges, one does not need to focus on developing and nurturing virtues nor to what extent. Thus, programs need to be developed for citizen self-actualization skills with goals for reaching self-realization.  Like virtue development (“the search for glory”), practicing self-actualization skills is an ongoing lifetime process. The goal of self-realization does not need an equal time commitment to balancing the correct amounts in virtues (“the search for glory”). It needs to replace it. 

The Flow Hack 

Inside Dr. Bobby Hoffman book Hack Your Motivation, he explains 50 science-based strategies to improve one’s performance.  One is the Flow Hack. He says, “Achieving flow is a highly personal experience, but when everything is in place and you reach flow, it almost guaranteed optimal performance” (Hoffman, 2017). Flow also acts as a catalyst for learning (Fisher, et al., 2016). If flow experiences guarantee optimal performance, then it is important to know what flow is, what generates it and how you improve it. 

Described by many as the sensation of flowing from moment to moment, flow happens when action merges with awareness (Csiszentmihalyi (1991). It has five simultaneous components: control, curiosity, heightened enjoyment, time distortion and focused immersion (Agarwal and Karahanna, 2000).  Fisher and Santana Gonzalez (2016) have an extensive definition what one must already posses in order to attain the state of flow: mental and emotional fitness, physical fitness and nutrition, act within abilities, free-flowing action, ecstatic state, motor skill performance, attention blindness and masking distraction factors.  Thankfully not all of these are needed as a precursor to flow. The authors (2016) propose flow can develop with two or more of these attributes in place. In neuro imaging, the brain firing patterns are precise and efficient during flow states (Goleman, 1998). 

When applying focus to a team, a sixth component must be added: communication (Keith, et al., 2014). The team definition of flow is when a team completely immersed in an interdependent task and members are intrinsically gratified together (Keith, et al., 2014).  This can be a sports team or a work team (Keith, et al., 2014). Work-team flow development is more productive than increasing team cohesion or goal commitment (Keith, et al., 2014).  

Flow happens when a clear set of goals requires appropriate responses (Fisher, et al., 2016). Challenges as well as skill level (within the person’s ability) must be high (Fisher, et al., 2016). In the work place, it is management’s responsibility to develop workers’ skills if they want team flow to happen (Fisher, et al., 2016). People who already have high skill levels need to be provided with additional challenges or they will shift into relaxation (Fisher, et al., 2016). Apathy and boredom are the result of low challenges and low skills levels (Fisher, et al., 2016). Arousal, including anxiety and worry, result from high challenges and low skills (Fisher, et al., 2016). The task needs to be marginally interesting, reasonably challenging and a form of performance feedback provided (Hoffman, 2017). The person also needs to see value in the task and wants to engage/complete the task (Hoffman, 2017). When people set their own goals for a task, engagement increases (Fisher, et al., 2016). Deterrents to flow are distractions, internal an external (Hoffman, 2017). If the task seems too challenging and lack of confidence begins to operate, motivation decreases. Because distractions are everywhere and concentration must remain uninterrupted, being able to skillfully quite the mind becomes an asset for flow (Hoffman, 2017). 

A research study on how to generate flow quickly for a work team, had the whole group play a video game together for one hour (Keith, et al., 2014). It’s ease and cost effective method improved productivity by 20%. Video games also meet the flow criteria; players choose the appropriate challenge level, communicate with each other for a single goal, already have video paying skills, focus and attention are high and little distractions appear. Leisure and play activities result in fewer flow reports due to the low level of challenge (Keith, et al., 2014). For individuals or groups, 10 minutes of working a puzzle before beginning work might shift them towards flow. Similar interventions could easily be constructed around this idea. 

Curiosity, Hedonism and Self-Esteem 


 Interestingly, four year-olds playing basketball at their local YMCA do not keep score during games.  The YMCA prohibits score keeping with the intent of preserving the “little ones’” self-esteem to improve their continued quality of life. Valid and reliable research reports high self-esteem breeds violence and aggression (Baumeister, Boden, & Smart, 1996), not quality of life. When psychology made the term popular 1960’s, parents and teachers have obsessed over building self-esteem, often using sources like praise to achieve it. If self-esteem were the desired goal, praise falls short. Praise contributes to ego-centricity and narcissism (Jongman-Sereno, 2017).  While the circus of praise and increasing self-esteem strategies continues, curiosity remains overlooked and undervalued.  

If the goal is to improve well-being and life satisfaction, the trait of curiosity is as high achieving as gratitude and kindness in this realm (Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Otake et al., 2006). Curiosity is a trait, not a virtue, and is also a component of the flow of state (Agarwal and Karahanna, 2000).   Curious people move toward complex, uncertain and/or novel activities (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006). The curiosity trait is associated with the willingness to choose activities that develop skills, increase potential, stretch abilities and it promotes self growth-oriented behaviors (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006).   Pleasure, joy and other emotions strengthen relationships but curiosity intrinsically (as opposed to extrinsically) motivates exploration of the self and world (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006). Intrinsic motivations are more powerful than extrinsic motivations. Curiosity expands knowledge and skills (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006) and is most definitely a protective factor for mental and physical health. So why is curiosity not cultivated as a major asset in scholastic settings, homes or social settings?  

Americans have a strong tendency to strive for high pleasure and high stability goals instead. For example, schools promote development for a stable job and entertainment revolves around pleasure seeking. Parents strive to provide both for their children.  Commercialism uses pleasure and stability motivations to promote their goods. These motivations, implanted in advertisements, provides propaganda for pleasure and stability equating to improved quality of life. This is a false correlation, according to Kashdan and Steger’s research (2007).  

In reality, pleasure and stability are weak motivational substitutes for curiosity. When compared to pleasure and stability, researchers found that curiosity-based novelty and challenge seeking increased personal well-being longer and with more sustainability than pleasure and stability (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Even after controlling for personality traits and positive/negative affect, the study documented that well-being findings increased over time with curiosity, meaning in life and life satisfaction. Pleasure events do not predict future meaning of life or life satisfaction and led to less search for meaning in the days following a pleasurable event (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Pleasure events can also be described as mood-boosting, sensation seeking and Hedonism. Hedonism is associated with material consumption, substance abuse, and sex; all of which increase short-term life satisfaction but do not have daily carryover ability (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Stable, simple and familiar properties positively correlate to pleasure related feeling. Curiosity positively correlates to growth, expansion, knowledge, skills and goal directed effort, making it different from other positive emotions (Ailey et al., 2002; Crozier, 1974; Cupchik & Gebotys, 1990). It may be time to set aside stable, simple, and familiar (pleasure) motivations/goals and promote curiosity as the foundational motivation for future endeavors. 

Strategically this should be implemented early in life.  The Montessori education method, taught to preschoolers, implements this methodology by allowing children to guide themselves to various activity-stations they are curious about. The children curiously ask questions of the teacher, instead of the teacher guiding the activity. Montessori has shown success with increasing curiosity in young children (Justice, 2017).  Implementation of curiosity at age three, four and five seems optimal for life span usage but why must only children benefit? Executive brain processes continue to change and develop throughout a lifetime (Volkman, 2018).  Curiosity can be introduced, accepted and life changing at any age, according to the well accepted and thoroughly researched theory of brain plasticity (Lamprecht, & LeDoux, 2004; Volkman, 2018). 

The children of America are America’s future but, arguably, the geriatrics of America are America’s future too. America has given up on the societal contribution ability of the geriatric community.  Geriatric people are gathered together and encouraged to go into nursing homes or senior living facilities/neighborhoods. Some live secluded and alone. Whole communities, the size of cities, are now dedicated to senior living.  Shopping malls, hospitals and golf courses thrive within them for the geriatrics’ pleasure. Step down programs are available when the geriatric person’s health deteriorates, enabling the person to stay in the familiar community. Aligned with the movie “Stepford Wives”, these communities revolve around familiarity, stability and pleasure: the ultimate American retirement goal. As outlined here, it is the really the ultimate trap into hedonism. 

Geriatrics are arguably America’s future. They posses all that the 20, 30 and 40 something crowd desperately strives for: wisdom, knowledge, experience, patience and perspective. Geriatrics’ ultimate asset (which no one seems to have and everyone complains about) is free time. Yes, some of them only have 10 years left to live but why is society not hyper-vigilantly nurturing, improving and gleaning geriatrics’ assets?  Maybe society needs to take away familiarity, stability and pleasure which lull geriatrics into hedonism, then nurture their assets, with curiosity building activities, and plug them into the new generation as models and guides? This seems to be more productive to humanity than the self-indulgent pleasures of golf and shopping malls.  

Inter-generational day-care facilities for geriatrics and preschoolers, with healthcare workers (psychologists, physical therapists, others) applying curiosity building activity curriculum, could provide the culture for the described situation. Previous curriculum, such as the Montessori education method, has already been developed and need only be adapted for geriatric activities by healthcare professionals. Simply put: build curiosity skills for both groups instead of hedonism for geriatrics and self-esteem for preschoolers. All activities would need to be thoughtfully constructed and guided by healthcare professionals with the goal of curiosity implementation in mind.  

For example, a physical therapist might organize a mixed basketball game of geriatrics and preschoolers with new rules.  Each person has an enclosed pouch for the ball and the idea is to hide the ball in the pouches. Secretly, players hand the ball off to team members who hide it in their pouch until someone gets near enough to the goal to reveal the ball and throw it in a low basket. Everyone is doing fakes and curiously trying to figure out where the ball is. The geriatrics are “coached” by the healthcare professional to model patience or maybe good sportsmanship for that one game. Any player can learn the score…if they ask. The entirety promotes curiosity through inter-generational play. 

Healthcare professionals posses graduate level educations on the subjects of mental and physical needs, goal setting and activity building strategies to achieve solution resolution. Who is better and more prepared then they to equip the people of the future? With this curiosity generating strategy, America and humanity can glean the superior contributions of both groups and utilize the activity building assets of healthcare professionals more constructively.  


References for Self-Esteem Breeds Violence and Aggression 



Anderson, E. (1994, May). The code of the streets. Atlantic Monthly, 273(5), 81-94.  

Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological review, 103(1), 5. 

Gondolf, E. W. (1985). Men who batter. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications.  

Grant, A. M., & Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: The challenge and opportunity of the inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 61-76. 

Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and human growth. New York: Norton & Company, Inc. 

Jankowski, M. S, (1991). Islands in the street: Gangs and American urban society. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Kirschner, D. (1992). Understanding adoptees who kill: Dissociation, patricide, and the psychodynamics of adoption. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 36, 323-333.  

Levin, J., & McDevitt, J. (1993). Hate crimes: The rising tide of bigotry and bloodshed. New York: Plenum Press.  

Lon, D. E. (1990). The anatomy of terrorism. New York: Free Press.  

MacDonald, J. M. (1975). Armed robbery: Offenders and their victims. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.  

Oates, R. K., & Forrest, D. (1985). Self-esteem and early background of abusive mothers. Child Abuse and Neglect, 9, 89-93.  

Renzetti, C. M. (1992). Violent betrayal: Partner abuse in lesbian relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.  

Schoenfeld, C. G. (1988). Blacks and violent crime: A psychoanalytically oriented analysis. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 16, 269-301.  

Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. (2006). Practical wisdom: Aristotle meets positive psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 377–395. 

Staub, E. (1989). The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence. New York and Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.  

Toch, H. (1993). Violent men: An inquiry into the psychology of violence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Original work published 1969). 

Walker, L. E. (1979). The battered woman. New York: Harper & Row.  

Wiebe, V. R. (1991). Perilous rivalry: When siblings become abusive. Lexington, MA: Heath/Lexington Books. 

References for the Flow Hack 

Agarwal, R. & Karahanna, E. (2000) Time flies when you're having fun: Cognitive absorption and beliefs about information technology usage. Mis (Management Information Systems) Quarterly, 24, 665-694.  

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow-The psychology of optimal experience, New York: Harper Collins. 

Fisher, E. J., Gonzalez, Y. S., & Fisher, E. (2016). Is Performance Improvement possible by generating high levels of Focus in Individuals to create Flow?. Business and Economic Research, 6(1), 290-309. 

Fisher, E.J.P. and Santana Gonzalez, Y. (2013). The ABC manager-how to manage people more effectively in today’s challenging and demanding work environments. Engineering Management Research, 2 (1). 

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. London: Bloomsbury. 

Keith, M., Anderson, G., Dean, D. L., & Gaskin, J. E. (2014). The effects of team flow on performance: a video game experiment. SIGHCI Proceedings, 13. 


References for Curiosity, Hedonism and Self-Esteem 

Agarwal, R. & Karahanna, E. (2000) Time flies when you're having fun: Cognitive absorption and beliefs about information technology usage. Mis (Management Information Systems) Quarterly, 24, 665-694.  

Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning and the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 545–561. 

Cupchik, G. C., & Gebotys, R. J. (1990). Interest and pleasure as dimensions of aesthetic experience. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 8, 1–14. 

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389. 

Jongman-Sereno, K. (2017). Personality and self-knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Psychology, E-1707. 

Justice, B. (2017). Bringing Montessori to America: SS McClure, Maria Montessori, and the Campaign to Publicize Montessori Education.  (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.Journal of American History, 104(2), 515–516. 

Kashdan, T. B., & Steger, M. F. (2007). Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motivation and Emotion, 31(3), 159-173. 

Lamprecht, R., & LeDoux, J. (2004). Structural plasticity and memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(1), 45. 

Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361–375. 

Tomkins, S. S. (1962). Affect, imagery, consciousness: Vol. 1, The positive affects. New York: Springer. 

Turner, S. A. Jr., & Silvia, P. J. (2006). Must interesting things be pleasant? A test of competing appraisal structures. Emotion, 6, 670–674. 

Volkman, J. (2018). Neuroscience of learning: an introduction to mind, brain, health, and education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Psychology, E-1609. 



I'm Dr. Kim
Byrd-Rider, PT

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