What Is Self-Esteem?
What is self-esteem? Before discussing self-esteem therapy (SET) we need to define self-esteem, nominally, operationally, and in terms of a real definition. It is imperative to distinguish between the nominal and the real definition in order to clarify the concept so that it can be used meaningfully within the therapeutic modality. Nominal definitions are a declaration of an intention to use a word as a substitute for another phrase or word. Adlerian psychology, the individual psychology of Alfred Adler, is a humanistic psychology, a psychology of self-esteem. Self-esteem is the very core of the personality and consequently the basis of all behavior, normal or pathological. Personality itself is an expression of self-esteem.
This emphasis upon clarity of definition is not an exercise in pedantry or an exercise in intellectualization, but has the goal of clarifying the most important concept in the therapeutic process so that the therapist as well as the client can gain a better understanding of the machinations that provide the underpinnings for observable behavior. William James ( 1890) formulated the simple equation: Success over pretensions equals self-esteem. This particular definition has been considered in greater depth in an article by Steffenhagen ( 1983). We need to look at the term's pretensions in order to gain an understanding of what was meant by James during that time period. By "pretensions," we mean here: intention, purpose or goal. Success with one's goals equaling self-esteem is inherent in Adler's work on the striving for superiority. Within the Adlerian framework an individual tends to evaluate himself in relationship to his goals, with the goals providing the basic motivational force for the individual. Goal setting formulates the