Rain on My Parade: Perceiving Low Self-Esteem in Close Others Hinders Positive Self-Disclosure
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Ample evidence suggests that the behaviour of people with low self-esteem (LSEs) can lead to problems in close relationships (Wood, Hogle, & McClellan, 2009). To my knowledge, however, no research has investigated the role that perceptions of close others’ self-esteem play in undermining beneficial relationship processes. In the current paper, I propose that capitalization, a process associated with greater relationship quality (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004), might be hindered by the friends, partners, or family members of LSEs. In studies 1 through 3 I obtain experimental and behavioural evidence that people are reluctant to disclose their positive experiences (i.e., capitalize) when they believe the recipient has low self-esteem. In Study 4, I show the external validity of my findings with couples having real discussions. In Studies 5a and b, I examine mechanism and find that although participants have both self- and other-focused concerns regarding capitalizing with LSEs, their self-focused concerns appear to drive their behaviour. Overall, my research suggests that the perception of others’ self-esteem is a variable that guides behaviour in important social situations.