How do your feelings about yourself affect how you treat others? I think there are two very different views about this, and people can feel quite strongly about it.
Some people assume that feeling good about yourself makes you self-centred and arrogant, and leads to treating other people badly. Others assume that feeling good about yourself makes you less defensive and threatened and leads to treating other people better.
This is an empirical matter, and one that can be settled by psychological research, and I think the answer is very clear: feeling good about yourself leads to treating other people well.
There are many studies showing a positive correlation between self-esteem and helping behaviour (and positive attitudes to other people). But there is now experimental evidence to back this up, in a recent British research summarised in Psychology Today.
Some participants (teenagers) gave themselves mini self-affirmations. They were asked whether they had forgiven someone else, or been concerned about their happiness, etc. If they said ‘Yes’, they were asked to give examples. They were compared with people who were asked neutral questions about the weather, etc.
A month later, the people who had recalled acts of kindness to other people were more likely to have engaged in more such acts. The researchers thought that was because the questions had led to self-affirmations, which in turn had made the teenagers less defensive and more outgoing. That interpretation fits a large body of other research.
I think this has broad social implications. Society seems to be getting more cynical and less inclined to treat each other well. This is evidenced a lot on social media and especially true of those who feel under threat. For example, it is those who feel most insecure about their own employment or personal circumstances who are most concerned to stop immigrants ‘taking their jobs’. That can lead on to all sorts of hostility.
If society is not to fall apart we need to find ways in which people feel affirmed and supported and supportive rather than threatened. Only then will we be able to feel good about ourselves and treat each other well.