This Mood Is Familiar and I Don’t Deserve to Feel Better Anyway


People with low self-esteem are less inclined to take measures to improve their mood as in contrast to people with high self-esteem. People with high self-esteem are more motivated to improve a sad mood. Take this recognizable striking example:

Holly and Lucy, who share an apartment in Toronto, are each feeling down in the dumps after a bad day at work. To lift her spirits, Holly calls a friend to arrange a night out. She encourages Lucy to join them, pointing out that eating at their favorite restaurant and watching a new comedy movie should make Lucy feel better. Lucy knows that this is true but declines, saying she is “just not in the mood.”

Recent research hypothesized that people with low self-esteem (LSEs) feel less deserving of positive affect— happiness, joy, pleasure, and so forth—than do people with high self-esteem (HSEs) and that feeling relatively undeserving dampens their motivation to lift themselves out of a sad mood. This hypothesis as based on the theory that the more people regard themselves as possessing positive characteristics, as honorable, and as likable, the more they should believe that they themselves deserve desirable outcomes. This assumption is based on the social justice literature and the sociometer theory. In the sociometer theory one’s self-esteem—is largely a reflected appraisal of other people’s judgments. People determine their own “worth” by how much they think they are valued by the social community.

How was this study done?

Four experiments with undergraduate participants involved a sad mood induction, a manipulation of personal deservingness, or both.


From the first experiment, the induction of sad mood, it was learned that when they are sad, HSEs and LSEs differ: LSEs report being less motivated to feel better, less deserving of a good mood, and feeling that their sad mood is more typical of them. LSEs and HSEs do not differ in their mood regulation when they are in neutral mood states, but only when they experience a departure from that affective baseline—in the sad direction.

LSEs appear to be less motivated than HSEs to improve their moods, then, in part because they have more doubts about whether they deserve to feel better and in part because they are more accustomed to sad moods.

In the other experiments deservingness was manipulated. In experiment 2 rejection was invoked on the participants by asking them and make them imagine situations in which rejection played a role and focusing on personal flaws. LSEs in the rejection condition felt less deserving than did LSEs in the neutral condition, but HSEs did not differ between conditions.

In the third experiment although the rejection condition undermined both LSEs’ and HSEs’ feelings of deservingness, HSEs managed to maintain their motivation to improve their mood. Low feelings of deservingness are not a barrier to mood repair for HSEs.

In experiment 4, they induced sad moods in all participants, manipulated their feelings of deservingness through the same manipulation as in experiments 2 and 3, and measured their motivation to improve their moods by letting the participants select a videotape to watch from an array of videotapes that varied in their mood-enhancing potential. They predicted that participants in the rejection condition would be less interested in watching a funny videotape than those in the neutral condition because they would feel relatively undeserving of a better mood. In this experiment rejection participants expressed less motivation to watch the comedy video than did neutral participants.

In summary, Study 4 yielded experimental evidence for deservingness beliefs as a contributor to LSEs’ relatively low motivation to improve sad moods. Sad LSE participants induced to feel especially undeserving of desirable outcomes expressed less interest in doing something to lift their spirits than did sad LSE participants not so induced. This finding indicates that feelings of low deservingness underlie, at least in part, LSEs’ relatively low motivation to improve sad moods.

People with LSEs feel less deserving of positive outcomes and of positive moods than do HSEs, feelings of personal deservingness can vary with the situation, and be lowered through reminders of social rejection and personal flaws, and feeling relatively undeserving dampens LSEs’, but not HSEs’, motivation to repair sad moods.

Depressed patients compared to LSE’s and HSE’s when given a choice between receiving relatively favorable or unfavorable feedback, preferred unfavorable feedback. In contrast, high self-esteem participants preferred favorable feedback, and low self-esteem participants preferred favorable and unfavorable feedback equally. It is unclear whether this is a state or a trait characteristic for depressed patients. Follow up research previous to the depression and assessment after recovery are needed.

Now why is this important?

This kind of research demystifies certain basic assumptions and negative feelings in depressed patients. These theories could be good starting points for psychotherapy, what do you think?
Joanne V. Wood, Sara A. Heimpel, Laurie A. Manwell, Elizabeth J. Whittington (2009). This mood is familiar and I don’t deserve to feel better anyway: Mechanisms underlying self-esteem differences in motivation to repair sad moods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96 (2), 363-380 DOI: 10.1037/a0012881

Self-verification in clinical depression: The desire for negative evaluation. Giesler, R. Brian; Josephs, Robert A.; Swann Jr., William B.Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol 105(3), Aug 1996, 358-368.