A Study of the Associations Between Relationship Contingent Self-Esteem, Relationship Functioning, and Mental Health

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Clinical Psychology


Advisor: Lee Dixon


There has been much research done on self-esteem in the field of psychology, and its effect on mental health, such as depression, has also been well-documented. More recently, the concept of contingent self-esteem has been introduced, and initial research suggests that individuals high in contingent self-esteem, meaning they base their self-esteem on external factors, have a higher rate of depressive symptoms. A relatively new type of contingent self-esteem, known as relationship contingent self-esteem (RCSE), is used to describe those who base their self-esteem predominately on their romantic relationships. Due to the research confirming the relationship between contingent self-esteem and depressive symptoms, it stands to reason that individuals high in RCSE would also experience higher levels of depressive symptoms. However, the association between RCSE and mental health had not yet been studied.This study examined the direct relationship between RCSE and mental health. It also analyzed whether current relationship functioning could serve as a moderator between RCSE and mental health. The current study hypothesized a moderated mediation relationship in which general self-esteem would mediate the relationship between the interaction of RCSE and relationship functioning (RCSE*Relationship Functioning) and mental health. Participants (n=121) were recruited from introductory psychology courses at a mid-size Midwestern Catholic university. Participants were administered six self-report questionnaires in groups of no more than 30, and were instructed to complete each questionnaire independently, and silently. The questionnaires were randomized in terms of order, with the order of the questionnaires having been determined using Latin Square design.Results indicated that the relationship between RCSE and depression was not significant as hypothesized. However, RCSE was found to be positively correlated with anxiety; meaning that the higher the individual is on RCSE, the higher their levels of anxiety. Relationship functioning did not serve as a moderator between RCSE and mental health. The indirect effect of RCSE on mental health was nonsignificant, and relationship functioning was not significantly related to the strength of this relationship. More research is needed with a larger, more diverse sample of participants, as well as more varied methods of data collection, in order to accurately determine the relationship between RCSE and mental health, as well as which other factors may strengthen or weaken this relationship.


Clinical Psychology, Relationship contingent self-esteem, self-esteem, mental health, relationship functioning, relationship satisfaction, romantic relationships

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