The Reasons Why People Maintain Negative Self-Evaluations

Why would people maintain negative self-evaluations when they result in a great degree of distress? What purpose do negative self-evaluations have? Do they help us solve our problems, or do they help us in some other way? It seems not.

Negative self-evaluations are inevitable. They often appear in performance situations, but they may also originate from feelings of guilt and shame.

It is worth mentioning that there is a difference between experiencing a negative self-evaluation at some point and maintaining a constant negative self-evaluation.

So, why is it that people maintain negative self-evaluations?

Within the literature of psychology, a number of explanations can be found. One explanation is found within the Cognitive Experiential  Self-Theory, which proposes that people have a need to maintain a coherent self-view.

A negative coherent self-view produces less distress and existential anxiety than an unstable self-view, so people unconsciously maintain a negative self-view (Epstein, 1973, 1980, 1992).

Another explanation is that when people maintain a negative self-evaluation, they gain a sense of control over themselves and their emotions.

In other words, a constant negative self-view produces more controllable emotions than a sudden increase in negative emotions (Epstein, 1992).

Epstein & Morling (1995) uses the following analogy to illustrate the idea:

The situation is analogous to one in which people invest their entire capital in insurance, thereby permanently depriving themselves of the opportunity for leading an enjoyable life, but providing them with security with respect to future misfortunes (p. 24).

This post has pointed to reasons why people maintain negative self-evaluations and why they may be so difficult to change.

You might wonder how someone improves a negative self-evaluation? Self-acceptance and mindfulness techniques can help one do so.

Photo: Lotus Carrol
  • Great post! Negative self-evaluations are so common and yet can have such a detrimental effect! Thank you for sharing – hopefully it will increase awareness surrounding negative self-evaluations and encourage people to work on their self-esteem.

    • Thanks Jenny.
      Indeed, I think everyone experiences negative self-evaluations to different degrees and these thoughts often manifest themselves as “negative automatic thoughts”. So, how we deal with our negative automatic thoughts is essential in regard to our well-being.
      Best wishes, Simon.