What are the effects of stressful live events on self-esteem?

Subject: Psychology
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1152
Topics: Depression, Emotions, Self Esteem, Stress


Stressful life events are inevitable in a person’s life as some emanate even from natural events. Research has revealed that stressful life events have significant effects on the people who have experienced them. Stressful life events are those distinct experiences that people undergo due to external influence that affect their normal functioning leading to change in the perceptions and behaviours (Emil, 2013). On the other hand, self-esteem is the perception that a person has on their skills and qualities. There is a close relationship between the two as the wake of stressful life events tends to have an impact on the affected individual’s self-esteem. On the other hand, a person’s self-esteem can be used to determine the effects of a stressful life condition on their life (Updegraff & Taylor 2010).The main purpose of this literature review is to show how stressful life events can affect a person’s self-esteem. The study will particularly investigate the relationship that coexists between the independent and dependent variables which are stressful life events and self-esteem respectively. Also, the study will try to investigate what effects do stressful life events have on affected people’s self-esteem.

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Literature review

Emil (2013), in his research on stress and stressful life events denotes that stress is a common figure of speech in a human’s life. He also adds that there is no definite definition of the term stress since the term is used differently by different people depending on how they are affected by something. However, stressful life events as pointed out by Sparrenberger and colleagues, it is the discrete experiences that affect the normal performance of an individual resulting to significant change and readjustment. Some of the most common stressful life events comprise of death of spouse, imprisonment, war and the aftermath of war, natural events such as floods, poverty, illness and dismissal from work among many other things (Updegraff & Taylor 2010). On the other hand, self esteem is defined as a person’s personal perception of their abilities, skills and general qualities that guide their functioning and behaviours.

Homes and Rahe are considered to be the founding fathers of the study of life events. Their prominence in this study is as a result of developing the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) which allows the evaluation of the relationship between major life events with physical and psychological disorders. Since the period in which the SRRS was created, only negative life events which are dimmed stressful have been found to result in low self esteem and a cause to psychical and psychological disorders (Updegraff & Taylor 2010).

There is also a correlation between stressful life events and depression and chronic illnesses. In an article by Pan et al (2017) in which he uses SRRS, he identifies that there is a positive correlation between life change and illness scores. On the other hand, depression and illness have been noted in many studies to lower a person’s self-esteem. Therefore, it can be asserted that stressful life events greatly lower a person’s self esteem. Furthermore, stress has been found to be associated with self-esteem because there is evidence that stress worsens the symptoms of nearly all medical and emotional conditions to which self esteem lies under.

When a person suffers from depression and mood disorders, it is likely that these conditions which might be termed stressful life conditions results to low self esteem which in turn leads to more stress and less able to manage personal stresses. These is also evidence showing that the extent and strength of a person’s social support system is strongly related with their notions and experience of stress (Sparrenberger et al. 2008).

On the other hand, there have also been records of possible effects that result from stressful life experiences. For many years, many philosophers and psychologists have written regarding the paradoxical positive impact that come in the aftermath of traumatic events such as severe illness, natural disasters and holocaust. Scientific and scholarly statistics show that positive effects of stressful life events are relatively understudied in comparison to negative effects. Studies that have explored stressful life events have indicated that there are some people who show some degree of positive outcomes in the wake of a stressful experience. These positive impacts are in terms of life perspective, self-perceptions and social relationships. In Juth, Smyth & Santuzzi’s (2008) study, it has been denoted that there is a significant number of spouses who report positive changes that are brought about as a result of deaths of their spouses with many recording that they positively changed in terms of self-perception; a constituent of self-esteem.


From the introduction and the literature review, it can be ascertained that stressful life events are those events that leads to a negative change in a person’s life to a point that the individual’s find it hard to manage. On the other hand, self-esteem is the perceptions that people have regarding their strengths and weaknesses in life and the ability to manage them. There are numerous events that are known to lead to stressful life events, among them the most common ones comprise of holocaust, severe illness, death of a spouse, marital differences, divorce and dismissal from work among others.

The most common instrument that is used in psychological study to evaluate the effects of life events on people’s lives is the SRRS that was developed by Homes and Rahe. The instrument has noted that numerous instances of stressful life events lead to low self-esteem. There are also studies that have investigated whether stressful life events might lead to positive impacts that lead to high self-esteem. The evidence from these studies has revealed that there are some people who get positive impact after stressful life event such as the death of a spouse. The most common type of positive impact that these individuals experience has been recorded to be in terms of self-perception. Even though there are both positive and negative effects of stressful life events, negative effects surpass positive effects by far. Many people who have undergone stressful life conditions often realize low self-esteem in the aftermath of the event.

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From the literature review, it can also be seen that stress worsens symptoms of emotional conditions to which self-esteem is a component, therefore, it is true that stressful condition negatively affects a person’s self-esteem. An implication for study from this particular study is that there is need of the society to be educated on how to handle stressful life events. This education can be provided in schools to children from their formative ages. A limitation with this study is that there are so many stressful life events and focusing on some might not result to findings that reflect on the neglected stressful life events. Future studies should expand the scope of this study and focus on how people can use stressful life events for positive gains such as being role models in the society and motivational speakers.

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  1. Emil, S. E. R. A. P. (2013). Self-esteem and stressful life events of university students. Middle East Technical Studies, The Department of Educational Science.
  2. Juth, V., Smyth, J. M., & Santuzzi, A. M. (2008). How do you feel? Self-esteem predicts affect, stress, social interaction, and symptom severity during daily life in patients with chronic illness. Journal of health psychology, 13(7), 884-894.
  3. Pan, L. A., Goldstein, T. R., Rooks, B. T., Hickey, M., Fan, J. Y., Merranko, J., … & Iyengar, S. (2017). The Relationship Between Stressful Life Events and Axis I Diagnoses Among Adolescent Offspring of Probands With Bipolar and Non-Bipolar Psychiatric Disorders and Healthy Controls: The Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study (BIOS). The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 78(3), e234.
  4. Sparrenberger, F., Fuchs, S. C., Moreira, L. B., & Fuchs, F. D. (2008). Stressful life events and current psychological distress are associated with self-reported hypertension but not with true hypertension: results from a cross-sectional population-based study. BMC Public Health, 8(1), 357.
  5. Updegraff, J. A., & Taylor, S. E. (2010). From vulnerability to growth: Positive and negative effects of stressful life events. Loss and trauma: General and close relationship perspectives, 25, 3-28.
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