Psychology of Personality Topic Paper Dr. Larsen

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My first article, “The Relationship Between Self-Esteem and Lesbian Identity During Adolescence,” covers a study done by Stephanie K. Swann and Christina A. Spivey (2004), which is included in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Though this journal does not focus specifically on personality-related topics, the issue of self-esteem is one that is covered by personality psychologists. This article is pertinent to my research topic and effectively sheds light on how different stages of sexual identity development shape self-esteem among lesbian youth.

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Of all three articles that I located, I found this study to be the most thought-provoking. It also has the most complex methodology and setup, so my description of this study is longer than that of the other two. Swann and Spivey (2004) begin by highlighting existing literature that has found a significant relationship between self-esteem and lesbian identity. This particular study stems from their attention to gaps in the current research; there is a paucity of scholarship on the assessment of self-esteem at different temporal points of the coming-out process for lesbian youth. Swann and Spivey (2004) note that there is a distinction between the development of a coherent sense of self internally and the development of an identity within a group.

Though internal awareness and involvement in the LGBTQ community are often seen as happening simultaneously, the authors note that lesbian adolescents differ in where they lie on these two continuums and that the two points do not always line up. For example, some individuals may have already formed a cohesive lesbian sexual identity internally, but have not disclosed this identity to friends and family. This dissonance between internal acceptance and external disclosure can also manifest in the opposite direction: a person may be “out” within their social circles, but lack a fully formed and synthesized sense of self as a sexual minority. Swann and Spivey (2004) divide and label these two dimensions of sexual identity development: individual sexual identity and group membership identity. Both of these dimensions include four separate phases: awareness, exploration, deepening/commitment, and internalization/synthesis. The first question the authors explore is whether the participants’ phases on the individual and group dimensions relate to self-esteem. They next interrogate whether there are sub-groups within their sample of adolescents that are at different stages within the two dimensions, exhibiting a discrepancy in development (i.e., stage I in group development and stage III in individual development).

Finally, they asked how these inequalities in the two dimensions related to self-esteem. Swann and Spivey’s experiment used self-report questionnaires to answer their research questions. To assess sexual-identity development, they utilized the Lesbian Identity Questionnaire (LIQ), which asked the participants about the four phases for each of the two dimensions. To measure self-esteem, the authors relied on Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Inventory (RSEI), which is the most popular way of assessing global self-esteem. Although I searched for explicit hypotheses, Swann and Spivey (2004) made no concrete predictions about the results; this may be a practice less customary within social work journals. It appeared, however, as though the authors expected that differences in phase between the two dimensions would impact self-esteem, but specifics were not provided. Of the six major domains of knowledge that we covered in class, I believe this research largely falls under the cognitive experiential domain. This domain feels most fitting because the research focused on issues of self-esteem, self-concept, and emotional experiences in general and over time. The article explored identity development, role confusion, and the process of attaining a stable and comfortable social identity. The main finding of this study was that self-esteem was highest for those who had already engaged in an exploration of their sexual identity and had internalized, or grown comfortable with, their lesbian identity.

Those who had more fragmented senses of their sexual identity, whether it was within the individual or within their social groups, had lower levels of self-esteem. Specifically, the authors found that for individual sexual identity, while no relationship existed between self-esteem and the first three phases, self-esteem was positively correlated with being at the fourth phase of development (synthesis/internalization). For group membership identity, the relationship between all four phases and self-esteem was statistically significant. The first three phases negatively correlated with self-esteem, while the fourth (like for individual identity) was positively correlated with self-esteem. These findings are significant because they suggest that the final synthesis of identity is related to a more positive self-concept, not just in individual identity, but also in group membership sexual identity. The authors also found that certain subgroups experienced an inequality between the two dimensions of lesbian identity development.

Three separate groups captured this phenomenon: one that demonstrated higher phase development in the group membership dimension (“group-identified participants”), one that showed higher phase development for the individual sexual identity dimension (“individual-identified participants”), and one that had equal scores (“equally-identified participants”). Their results also pointed to differences in self-esteem based on membership within these subgroups. They found that self-esteem was highest for those who were equally identified. This most frequently occurred when participants had reached stage IV in both arenas. Self-esteem was lowest when individuals were further along in their individual sexual identity formation than their group membership development. These were lesbian young women who understood themselves as lesbian but lacked a strong connection to a larger social group. Group membership, thus, emerges as an important factor in the development of self-esteem for sexual minority youth.

My second article was “Self-Esteem and Supportiveness as Predictors of Emotional Distress in Gay Male and Lesbian Youth,” by Arnold Grossman and Matthew Kerner (1998), published in the Journal of Homosexuality. Grossman and Kerner (1998) underscore that LGBTQ youth experience a unique host of daily stressors, physical, mental, and emotional. This demographic is particularly prone to substance use, suicidal ideation and attempts, stigmatization, social isolation, violence, feelings of inauthenticity, and risky sexual behavior, among other issues.

This study focuses on how self-esteem and supportiveness impact emotional distress for LGBTQ youth. I choose to focus on their results relating to self-esteem for the purposes of this paper. Grossman and Kerner (1998) examine self-esteem not as a result of a marginalized sexual identity (as my first article did and my third article will do), but rather as a moderator of the many emotional stressors sexual minority youth experience. They hypothesized that gay and lesbian youth with higher self-esteem scores would experience less psychological distress (based on scores on the Brief Symptom Inventory). They also expected that there wouldn’t be any differences based on gender, “as the experience of being gay or bisexual in American society would overwhelm any potential differences in the two social categories” (Grossman & Kerner, 1998, pg. 27). Their methodology was fairly straightforward. Participants took a sociodemographic and risk-factor questionnaire to identify high-risk behavior, in addition to the Support Network Survey (SNS) to learn about their perceived social support. Subjects also took the RSEI to assess self-esteem and the Brief Symptom Inventory to determine psychiatric symptoms.

This article fits well within the cognitive experiential domain. My rationale is the same as that for the study done by Swann and Spivey (2004); the authors focus on the protective nature of self-esteem when it comes to buffering daily stressors, which LGBTQ youth often face in more extreme ways. Also, they explore the emotional experiences of the participants and how they are shaped by the valence of their self-concept. The main takeaway from this study is that self-esteem plays an important role in moderating emotional stress in the lives of LGBTQ youth. More specifically, Grossman and Kerner (1998) used multiple regression analysis and found that for both men and women, self-esteem impacted the strength of emotional distress. For the male sample, self-esteem moderately predicted the strength of emotional distress, while for the female sample, it was an even stronger predictor. They also note two important findings related to self-esteem scores and risk factor scores (as measured on the risk-factor questionnaire): the relationship between self-esteem and alcohol use was statistically significant, as was the relationship between self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. The third article I examined is titled “Internalized Homophobia as a Partial Mediator Between Homophobic Bullying and Self-Esteem Among Youths of Sexual Minorities in Quebec (Canada),” written by Martin Blais, Jesse Gervais, and Martine Hébert (2014). It is published in a journal called Ciência & Saúde Coletiva.

Though the printed version of this publication is in Portuguese, the version I found online is written in English. Blais, Gervais, and Hébert (2014) begin by reviewing literature that has demonstrated repeatedly the fact that sexual minority youth face high rates of homophobic bullying. This particular type of bullying has been shown to lead to a decrease in self-esteem and, uniquely, an increase in internalized homophobia. The authors conceive of self-esteem as “a signal of one’s relational value”, which can help explain why bullying and other forms of social exclusion often lead to a decrease in self-esteem (Blais, Gervais, & Hébert, 2014, p. 728). Internalized homophobia, and its accompanying shame, negative sexual identity, and challenges with self-acceptance, is not only a consequence of homophobic bullying, but also is perhaps a mediator, given that the literature has suggested that sexual minority individuals with high internalized homophobia are more likely to report lower self-esteem. The authors point to the negative impacts of self-esteem and internalized homophobia on psychological distress, victimization, suicidal ideation, physical health problems, and other aspects of well-being more broadly.

The hypothesis most central to my topic is that bullying directly impacts self-esteem, as well as indirectly through internalized homophobia. In other words, internalized homophobia acts as a mediator for this relationship. Internalized homophobia was assessed using several items from the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity Scale (LG-BIS). For example, one item was, “I would rather be straight if I could.” Unlike the other two experiments which utilized the RSEI to measure self-esteem, this study evaluated self-esteem using a few items from the Self-Description Questionnaire (SDQ). Finally, homophobic bullying was assessed by asking, “During the last 6 months, how frequently did you experience the following situations because people think that you might be gay/lesbian/bisexual or trans, or because you are gay/lesbian/bisexual or trans?”

This article fits well within the cognitive experiential domain for the same reasons as the previous two studies. It focuses on self-esteem and how one’s self-concept may be shaped by the internalization of homophobia. Additionally, the social and cultural domain emerges as a relevant framework for this study. Homophobic bullying is one way in which our cultural values (i.e., heteronormativity and the privileging of heterosexuality) are reflected. In this way, the article explores how personality and self-esteem are affected by cultural and social contexts. The social acceptability of homophobia and violence towards sexual minorities is not universal. These values are examples of transmitted culture, which are taught to kids from a young age. As a result of this pervasive socialization, it is not surprising that school-aged children (and as they grow to become adults) engage in the practice of bullying those who stray from the heterosexual norm. Our historical context also plays a role in the prevalence of homophobic bullying.

Though it is certainly still an issue worth addressing and many individuals and institutions still hold strong anti-LGBTQ views, social norms have shifted so that it is less popular and commonplace than it used to be to express homophobic attitudes explicitly (i.e., when the term “fag” or “gay” was used regularly in lay speech to denote anything negative). In these ways, this study is situated within both the cognitive experiential and the social and cultural domain. The authors’ methodology was beyond my understanding, but insofar as it is helpful to the reader, “a structural equations model was tested with the Mplus software, v.7.11, using a nonlinear, robust estimator (WLSMV) and taking into account the complex sample (stratification, clustering, and sampling weights)” (Blais, Gervais, & Hérbert, 2014, p. 730).

After this type of statistical analysis was performed, the authors found, among other results less relevant to my topic, that participants who faced homophobic bullying were more likely to report low levels of self-esteem. The authors explain that “these results suggest that homophobic bullying is likely to generate a general signal of rejection and threat regarding one’s relational value, and thus decreases self-esteem, independently of the internalization of the homophobic stigma” (Blais, Gervais, & Hérbert, 2014, p. 732). The authors, thus, conclude that bullying, regardless of its content, can lead to decreases in self-esteem. Another important finding was that sexual orientation-based bullying was related to higher levels of internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia predicted low self-esteem, suggesting that the negative impacts of bullying on self-esteem also operate through the concept of internalized homophobia.

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Psychology of Personality Topic Paper Dr. Larsen. (2021, May 24). Retrieved from