Hippocampus and self-esteem

Hippocampus and self-esteem

The relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem is so direct that it has been possible to observe that people with a negative view of themselves have smaller dimensions of this brain structure.

Hippocampus and self-esteem

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

The hippocampus has a direct link with the sense of identity, with the memories and with the internal history that we create based on how we see and talk about ourselves. In the event that our self-esteem is low and we have traumatic memories, this brain structure will even be reduced in size. The close relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem is therefore evident. 

The XNUMXth century anatomist, Giulio Cesare Aranzio, named this small region in this way due to a certain resemblance to the seahorse.

For almost four centuries no one has been able to grasp the relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem and, therefore, the importance that this structure has on our life. At first it was related to smell and only at the beginning of the twentieth century did Vladimir Bejterev discover the close relationship with memory and, above all, with our emotional world.

On the other hand, during the XNUMXst century, researchers such as Tim Keller of the Faculty of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, found that some people have a much larger hippocampus than others. Taxi drivers, experts in spatial memory, are an example of this.

People who play sports and who, moreover, have an optimistic point of view and with a solid self-esteem are another segment of the population with this neurological characteristic. Certainly an interesting fact that we explore further below.

"Having low self-esteem is like walking the road of life with the handbrake on."

-Maxwell Maltz-

How do you explain the relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem?

The relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem can be explained above all thanks to the link with another structure: the amygdala. This small region of the limbic system is particularly known for evoking feelings of fear, alarm and threat. In this way, if the amygdala is not always active and functioning adequately, the hippocampus performs its functions normally.

Often when we try to define happiness in a simple way, we always use the same phrase: "happiness is lack of fear". We cannot overlook how devastating this emotion can be for life and for the brain. Anguish, the feeling of perennial threat and feeling helpless creates a very harmful neurochemistry that mainly affects the hippocampus.

Hippocampus, emotions, identity and health

At the end of 2018, the University of Renming, China, conducted an interesting study to understand the relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem. Although there was already a literature on this link, the researchers wanted to get more data. MRI examinations were thus conducted on a large sample of the population:

The Rosenberg self-esteem scale was applied to all people in the study; subsequently, the volume of the hippocampus was measured by magnetic resonance imaging. It was thus possible to actually notice the aforementioned relationship. People with high self-esteem presented a hippocampus with greater connectivity and size.

This finding became more evident with the addition of a third factor: an active life, physical activity.

Low self-esteem, traumatic memories and hippocampus

The relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem is quite evident. There is a neural circuit that has greater connectivity, as long as the person trains some basic aspects every day:

  • Optimism;
  • Gratitude;
  • Cheerfulness;
  • Relaxation;
  • Positive self-image;
  • Self-confidence;
  • Exercise.

That said, what happens if we show low self-esteem? It is important to say that this dimension usually varies over time. There are times when we feel safer, more confident, days when we appreciate ourselves more. At other times, and based on the factors that surround us, this positive outlook can weaken.

All of this will not affect our hippocampus. In reality, this structure is only affected when a person suffers from post-traumatic stress and has chronic low self-esteem. This is very common, for example, in people who have been abused in childhood.

In these situations, the recalled memories that enter the hippocampus always have a negative and painful aspect. This feeling of vulnerability and negative self-image activates the amygdala. Fear arises again. The feeling of alarm, of constant danger appears. Shortly thereafter, cortisol enters the bloodstream, which can damage the hippocampus by reducing its size.

It is undoubtedly a singular fact that must make us reflect.

How to strengthen the relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem?

How can we improve the relationship between hippocampus and self-esteem? How can we take care of this neurological area and this psychological construct?

Well, there is one aspect to consider. It is not enough to take into account our identity, self-concept or self-image. Self-esteem is also about our internal history, that is, the way we talk to ourselves. Doing it with compassion, affection and respect will greatly improve this muscle of our personality.

On the other hand, there are other aspects to keep in mind. Good hippocampal health, as well as memory and emotions, depend on our health. In this way, trying at all costs to keep stress under control will help us directly.

Carry out physical activity, set aside time for physical and above all mental rest are two sensational strategies to practice every day. We begin to initiate the changes to win in well-being, it is worth it. Our health is at stake.

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