The Link Between the Hippocampus and Self-Esteem
The link between the hippocampus and self-esteem is very interesting. Your sense of identity is directly linked to this brain structure, your memories, and your internal narrative.
Nobody knew how important this structure was until four centuries ago. At first, it was linked to the sense of smell. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vladímir Béjterev discovered that it was related to memory and our emotional world.
Recently, Tim Keller from the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Psychology in Pittsburgh discovered that some people have a much larger hippocampus than others. Taxi drivers, who are experts in special memories, are an example. People who play sports and have a positive attitude and high self-esteem also have a large hippocampus.
“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on.”
The link between the hippocampus and self-esteem
The hippocampus is also linked to a second brain structure: the amygdala. This small limbic system structure evokes fear, alarm, and danger. If the amygdala isn’t always activated and working properly, the hippocampus functions as it should.
We can’t ignore how devastating fear is. This anguish and helplessness damages our neurochemistry and affect the hippocampus.
Hippocampus, emotions, identity, and health
In 2018, Renmin University of China carried out an interesting study that sought to understand the relationship between the hippocampus and self-esteem. Although there was already a lot of information on it, researchers wanted to learn more. For this purpose, they studied a large sample of the population through magnetic resonance imaging:
- All of the participants were divided into categories according to the Rosenberg self-esteem scale.
- Then, their hippocampus was measured with magnetic resonance imaging.
- After studying the images, the scientists concluded that people with high self-esteem had a larger hippocampus.
- This was even more evident if people who led active lifestyles and exercised.
Low self-esteem, traumatic memories, and the hippocampus
In addition, a neural circuit shows greater connectivity if a person practices the following every day:
- Positive self-image.
But what happens if one has low self-esteem? Well, it’s important to mention that self-esteem fluctuates considerably. There are times when we like ourselves a lot and days when we don’t feel confident at all.
Those fluctuations don’t affect our hippocampus. In fact, this structure gets damaged only when a person suffers from post-traumatic stress and has chronic low self-esteem. For example, people who have been victims of child abuse.
In these kinds of traumatic situations, the memories that integrate into the hippocampus are negative and painful. The feeling of helplessness and the negative self-image we experience when we remember them activate our amygdala. Thus, we’re afraid again. This leads to the release of cortisol in our blood, which can damage the hippocampus by reducing its size considerably.
How to maximize the relationship between your hippocampus and self-esteem
Your self-esteem is affected by your internal narrative. Thus, having a positive internal narrative characterized by compassion, affection, and respect will help boost your self-esteem.
The health of your hippocampus depends on your overall well-being. Thus, you should try to keep stress under control so it doesn’t affect this important structure.
In addition, you should stay physically active and enjoy physical and mental downtime. Start making changes that’ll improve your well-being. It’s worth it!
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Lu H, Li X, Wang Y, Song Y and Liu J. (2018). The hippocampus underlies the association between self-esteem and physical health. Scientific Reports, 8:17141. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-34793-x