People with high self-esteem are more likely to feel threatened when a particular situation does not support their goals and/or behaviour and as a result may be less flexible to change, however people with lower self-esteem are more flexible and likely to change their behaviour after constructive feedback or when the situation or circumstance is getting in the way of their goals.
This is because people with higher self-esteem have enough understanding of who they are and therefore effective in setting their goals and staying committed. However, when situations are creating conflict toward their sense of self and goals, then they are more likely to feel threatened and defensive resulting in irrational behaviour. On the hand when somebody has lower self-esteem and a situation is creating conflict to their sense of self, then they will have more room to reflect as they have not yet fully understood who they are and open to constructive feedback.
The conflicting circumstance of self and situation may bring the person back to a crisis and need to explore, which is identity foreclosure in James Marcia's (1968) four identity statuses. When the person is willing to commit to change through negotiation of self and situation, then achievement of identity formation will occur. Achievement means that the person has gone through various forms of exploration due to crisis as they were committed to manage the crisis and flexible enough to change their behaviour so when a similar crisis occurs they can effectively cope with it in self-supporting ways that would lead to growth, rather than behave in self-defeating ways.
Lastly, when a person with high self-esteem is behaving irrationally and may respond in self-defeating ways, they will still have the capability to think about the situation, understand it is a crisis and then begin to explore the conflict for change. Therefore, change is possible when space is provided between the situation and self to reflect.
Source: Hogan, R., Johnson, J., Briggs, S. (1997). Handbook of Personality Psychology. California, USA: Academic Press.
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