Terror management theory explains the conflict between the self-preservation efforts of humans against the anxiety to face death. Religious and cultural beliefs, the superiority of certain values, self-esteem is created as alternative thought, which can preserve personality from the fear of death.
Three social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, proposed Terror management theory (TMT). It is a social evolutionary psychological theory. Originally codified in the book â€˜The Worm at the Core; On the Role of Death in Lifeâ€™ (2015). The theory proposes that even a basic psychological conflict can result in forming a self-preservation instinct even though an individual realizes that death is inevitable and mostly unpredictable. The conflict between self-preservation instinct and the inevitability of death produces terror. Escapism and cultural beliefs create a mechanism to manage that terror. Thus, humans try to counter the biological reality of death in terms of creating enduring forms of value.
Offering literal immortality is one of the acts to give relief from death anxiety. Belief in the afterlife and various rituals to be performed for escaping death or making death easier are examples of this. Many of such beliefs seem unrelated to death- national identity, legacy, and humanâ€™s superiority over other living beings, cultural perspectives on sex, and symbolic immortality are also connected to death anxiety. The superiority of personality over a biological identity is also such a method to reduce death fear.
Self-esteem is connected to the terror feeling to make it more personal and meaningful, where it sees subjectively that how well a person is living up to the satisfactory standards of the cultural values. On a wider scale, society builds symbol such as laws, religious meanings, cultures, and beliefs to explain the importance of life, definitions for explaining these concepts, the superiority of certain people over others, and others. Adherence to these â€œsymbolsâ€ is seen as a relief in stress associated mortality. Self-esteem on an interpersonal basis serves as a shield against the terror of death.
Self-esteem in TMT
Self-esteem lies as the most crucial concept of TMT. This theory seeks to explain the origins of the requirement for self-esteem and its implications. The principles of community and self-esteem of Ernest Becker are utilized to describe this principle in major measure. The need for self-esteem according to this theory is given as:
To cope with the death-anxiety
To make sense of terror
To establish the superiority of humans over animals
To validate oneâ€™s cultural views
To maintain the cultural standards
Hewstone (2002) criticized the causal relationship between self-esteem and death anxiety. He questioned that, it is not clear whether death-anxiety reduces self-esteem or whether death-anxiety arises due to the absence of self-esteem.
Self-esteem to Maintain Physical Health
Self-esteem also leads to self-love and self-attraction. In some cases, people may think that if I am physically attractive and healthy, I would feel good about myself. This leads to non-ignorance and maintenance of physical health. For example, some smokers quit smoking because of peer perceptions, due to anti-death thoughts, ethical influence, etc. Death reminders played in anti-smoking advertisements are also a good example of the relation of self-esteem, death anxiety, and physical health.
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