Skip to comments.Low self-esteem is good for you! We’ve been too successful at making people feel good
Posted on 05/26/2014 2:00:02 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Adapted from "Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself" by Anneli Rufus
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. Bertrand Russell
Is low self-esteem all that bad? Self-loathing is. But between self-loathing and narcissism is a vast spectrum comprising infinitely various degrees of self-regard. Neither extreme is good. If only we could just reach medium.
In 1986, California state assembly member John Vasconcellos proposed the State Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem. This ignited a new movement: Based on the notion that low self-esteem caused every kind of social woe from teenage pregnancy to low test scores and high dropout rates, school curricula and parenting techniques were radically transformed, their main objective now being to cultivate high self-esteem among the young, which activists proclaimed would cure those social woes and make America a safer, happier, and better place. A multibillion-dollar industry surged around self-esteem. Kids were taught to make me flags of their putative me nations, to view history and fiction through the filter of their feelings, and to start schooldays with affirmations such as I always make good choices and Everyone is happy to see me.
The aftermath has not worked out as planned. Since 1986, self-esteem among young people has increased. Studies show that students hold themselves in higher regard than students in decades past. But to the shock and horror of the self-esteem movements boosters, soaring self-esteem has done nothing to stem crime, addiction and those other ills the boosters claimed high self-esteem would stem. In fact, ambient sky-high self-esteem might present new problems of its own: One long-term study found that college students are now twice as narcissistic as college students were in 1982; other studies link high self-esteem with high rates of aggression, territorialism, elitism, racism, and other negative qualities.
And other studies show that the so-called Millennial Generation young adults born after the self-esteem movement began are demonstrably less likely than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to care about social problems, current events or energy conservation. Millennials are also less likely to have jobs whose main purpose is to help other people. In one study, three times as many Millennials as Boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.
Certain forms of high self-esteem seem to increase ones proneness to violence, reads one report published in the journal of the American Psychological Association. An uncritical endorsement of the cultural value of high self-esteem may therefore be counterproductive and even dangerous. The societal pursuit of high self-esteem for everyone may literally end up doing considerable harm.
Noting that there are almost no findings showing that [high] self-esteem causes anything [beneficial] at all, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman laments:
Something striking has happened to the self-esteem of American children during the era of raising our children to feel good. They have never been more depressed.
This is no doubt partly because, raised to believe that they are special and perfect and entitled to all good things, they face terrible comedowns in the real world.
If (as often happens nowadays) every student in a class gets an A grade or every player in a tournament gets a trophy not because they all deserved these things, but rather in order to boost their self-esteem, then A becomes commonplace and meaningless, an average grade of no particular pride-inducing significance, just as C was a few decades ago. And the notion of victory is blurred. If everyone is special, then no one is special. Q.E.D.
Such revelations might shock the self-esteem boosters, who envisioned high self-esteem as an all-powerful magic potion, but will probably not shock us. Researchers have found that high self-esteem does not guarantee happiness and is often linked with depression because those whose self-esteem is elevated on false or flimsy pretexts e.g., being told that everyone adores you or being told youre perfect just for existing are highly susceptible to all perceived slights. So-called beneficiaries of the self-esteem boom have been brainwashed to believe they deserve the best grades, the best treatment, the best of everything. Thus they are very easily offended, angered, disappointed, and crushed by even the faintest criticism. Psychologists call that kind of sky-high but baseless self-esteem fragile self-esteem. Its healthy opposite is achievement-based secure self-esteem otherwise known as earned self-respect which is not necessarily sky-high, but less likely to leave its possessors sulking and raging when the real world delivers its usual harsh doses of reality.
People with high self-esteem often seem like aliens to us, and icky aliens at that. We blame ourselves for everything. They take no blame. Were always sorry. They never are. We fear punishment. They dont. Often, they do the punishing. Our flaws obsess us. They think they have none.
One has only to go into a prison, writes former jail doctor Theodore Dalrymple, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate.
But see, we could have told you that.
A comprehensive review of self-esteem research published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science in 2003 is titled Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?
According to its authors, a team of professors from major universities, the answer is no, no, no, and no.
Our findings do not support continued widespread efforts to boost self-esteem in the hope that it will by itself foster improved outcomes, the authors warn. In fact, indiscriminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism, with its less desirable consequences.
They recommend instead that high self-esteem be promoted not as a basic birthright but rather as a goal attained through achievements and ethical behavior. (Hey, why did no one ever think of this before? Oh wait, they did. It was how every culture on Earth functioned until a few years ago.) In other words, feeling good should stem from doing good.
Self-loathing and narcissism are both unhealthy because both are forms of self-absorption, albeit at opposite extremes. Whether we are always sorry or never sorry, it is all about us.
Most spiritual paths advocate a conscientious middle ground. According to these doctrines, good people just do good, which generally entails neither playing dead nor playing God.
According to the Tao Te Ching, a sage does not consider himself right, and thus is illustrious. He does not brag, and thus has merit. The sage knows himself but does not display himself.
A sage, the Tao Te Ching asserts, emulates water:
Nothing in the world is as soft and gentle as water. Yet it has great strength. It flows downhill and can easily wear away the hardest stone. The soft and gentle can conquer the hard and firm.
In Christian tradition, pride is not just one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but is considered the worst sin of all, a mortal sin, and the cause of all others. The original term for this sin was not pride but the Greek word hubris, which some scholars say should be more accurately translated as unmerited high self-esteem. For two thousand years in the Western world, high self-esteem or pride was considered a moral failing yet now children are brought up believing that its the highest virtue.
Spiritual texts laud the modest and the humble. The palace pillar is wide, but the human heart should be modest, reads a Shinto poem. The inhabitants of Paradise will be all the humble and the weak, reads Islams Hadith of Bukhari. Be humble; be harmless; have no pretension, urges the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita.
Modesty is not shame but decorum. Humility is not self-abasement but respect.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father, warns the New Testaments Book of Matthew. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility is wisdom, notes the Book of Proverbs. Saint Augustine observed: There can only be two basic loves: The love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.
Through a practice known as bodhicitta, devout Buddhists pledge to spread compassion through the world, aiming to end the suffering of all sentient beings. The funny thing that happens in the midst of all this liberating, shimmering compassion is that somewhere down the road, you realize that all sentient beings include you.
Low self-esteem does not enlighten us. Self-loathing is not holy. But, all else aside, low self-esteem makes us contemplative and introspective. Our perfectionism makes us diligent. We celebrate small pleasures albeit because we believe ourselves unworthy of big ones. We try hard. We aim to please. Low self-esteem makes some of us creative as we seek meaning in pain. Low self-esteem makes some of us respectful because we assume everyone is better than us. Low self-esteem makes some of us gentle because we are not strong. Low self-esteem makes some of us hilarious because self-deprecating humor is humor indeed. Low self-esteem makes some of us good listeners because we do not want to listen to ourselves. Low self-esteem makes some of us empathic because we have suffered, so we know.
* * *
We who hate ourselves are not saints. And yet self-loathing in spite of itself has given us gifts that we get to keep.
Terms once used to describe state of mind and outcome have become, according to author, an illusionary obstruction of thought.
Well, except if we allow self esteem to be determined by achievement and character then we’ll hurt the feelings of all those little darlings who are unsuccessful and we’ll have to adopt commonly agreed upon standards of morality.
(Yeah, I’m being sarcastic)
What a concept!... Self-loathing is GOOD FOR YOU!..
Must be better for some than others.. but all could use a little of it..
Actually I know some that should SLAP themselves HARD first...
Before they put their head up their ass..
Henrys quip about the bone in the nose elicited the expected quota of outrage from culture-cultists. But the outrage missed the serious and, ultimately, the deeply humane point of the observation. What Sandall calls romantic primitivism puts a premium on quaintness, which it then embroiders with the rhetoric of authenticity. There are two casualties of this process. One is an intellectual casualty: it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the truth about the achievements and liabilities of other cultures. The other casualty is a moral, social, and political one. Who suffers from the expression of romantic primitivism? Not the Lauren Huttons and Claude Lévi-Strausses of the world. On the contrary, the people who suffer are the objects of the romantic primitives compassion, respect, and pretended emulation. Sandall asks:
Should American Indians and New Zealand Maoris and Australian Aborigines be urged to preserve their traditional cultures at all costs? Should they be told that assimilation is wrong? And is it wise to leave them entirely to their own devices?
Sandall is right that the answers, respectively, are No, No, and No: The best chance of a good life for indigenes is the same as for you and me: full fluency and literacy in English, as much math as we can handle, and a job.
This is a truth that was broadly recognized at least through the 1950s. With the failure of colonialism, however, came a gigantic failure of nerve. (It might be said, in fact, that the failure of colonialism was a gigantic failure of nerve.) More and more, confusion replaced confidence, and with confusion came the pathologies of guilt.
Since the folly of locking up native peoples in their old-time cultures is obvious, but it is tactless to say so, governments have everywhere resorted to the rhetoric of reconciliation. This pretends that the problem is psychological and moral: rejig the public mind, ask leading political figures to adopt a contrite demeanor and apologize for the sins of history, and all will be well. Underlying this is the assumption that we are all on the same plain of social development divided only by misunderstanding.
But this assumption, Sandall emphasizes, is false. And it was recognized as false by governments everywhere until quite recently. Around 1970, the big change set in. Then, instead of attempting to help primitives enter the modern world, we were enjoined to admire them and their (suitably idealized) way of life. As Sandall observes, the effect on indigenes of romanticizing their past has been devastating.
If your traditonal way of life has no alphabet, no writing, no books, and no libraries, and yet you are continually told that you have a culture which is rich, complex, and sophisticated, how can you realistically see your place in the scheme of things? If all such hyperbole were true, who would need books or writing? Why not hang up a Gone Fishing sign and head for the beach? I might do that myself. In Australia, policies inspired by the Culture Cult have brought the illiterization of thousands of Aborigines whose grandparents could read and write.
The statistics are grim. Between 1965 and 1975, Sandall reports, Aborigines arrived at one college with sixth-grade reading levels; in 1990, after primary education had been handed over to local Aboriginal communities, that had fallen to third grade. Today most Aborigines arrive at the college in question almost completely illiterate.
This social disaster was the result of specific political policies. But the policies themselves were the result of a moral attitude, one that many anthropologists have actively nurtured. In part, the attitude is a reflection of the Lévi-Straussian non-hierarchical view of culture: the view which denies that there are important distinctions to be made between la pensée sauvage and the mind, for example, of Claude Lévi-Strauss. In part, what we might call the anthropological attitude is a coefficient of the ideaalso fostered by Lévi-Strauss, among many othersthat culture is at bottom a narrative, a product of social construction. And the results of that developmentcorrosive skepticism, blasé nihilism, irresponsible relativismhave helped to place anthropology in the intellectual slum wherein it now molders. For more than twenty years, Sandall writes, anthropologists have written about constructing reality as if the world and everything in it were mere artifact, about building identity as if any old self-glamourizing fiction will do, about creating the past as an enterprise more exciting than history, about inventing tradition as if traditions were as changeable as store windows. As if, indeed. Sandall is very good on all this, and I only wish that he had devoted more space to discussing the work of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who is mentioned only in passing. He is one of the most influential and oleaginous proponents of the all-is-narrative, all-cultures-are-equal position now writing. He is a real postmodern culture-cultist who would have benefitedwell, we would have benefitedfrom a closer look.
It is part of the ethos of designer tribalism to foist all of ones own attitudes and longings onto the apparently blank canvas of whatever primitive populace happens to be in vogue at the moment. To some extent, this is simply a matter of ignorance, as illustrated, for example, by Christopher Columbuss report that the people he discovered are very gentle, and know nothing of evil. But the culture cultist supplements ignorance with heavy helpings of ideology and idealization. He looks at an exotic culture and, lo and behold, he finds himself looking into a flattering mirror. This is one reason that natives always seem to be non-smoking, vegetarian, sex-worshipping, drug-taking, eco-conscious, progressive-thinking pacifistsaccording, anyway, to the press releases distributed by the culture cultists."............................
I don’t think the “outrage” missed the point, I think it was intended to drown out the point.
Excellent point. How did the descriptive become the prescriptive??
Small but interesting discussion going on in comments at the Source. But mostly it appears that this article is producing mostly “crickets” at Salon.
Something striking has happened to the self-esteem of American children during the era of raising our children to feel good. They have never been more depressed.
Unable to handle rejection, ex: the Santa Barbara killer.
Perhaps I missed it. No mention of the fact that black students have much higher self esteem than whites.
I grew up in an area where there is a large number of American Indians. The worst the government ever did was put them on the reservation and feed them liquor. It will take generations to undo the damage
It’s best to teach children that their true value comes because they are created by the Almighty, and were worth dying for. That’s the only sane and workable self esteem.
I know that I am of value, while at the same time, I also know that it’s because of grace and I have to enjoy my position in God and please Him at the same time.
This self worth gives you security, gets your mind off of yourself, and drives you to become a better person all at the same time.
Indeed. Sadly, many have turned their backs on God.
What we sow, we reap.
The entire “self esteem” movement was a plan hatched by liberals to replace god and country.
Liberals hate god and country.
In the old days, you may have felt small and insignificant but you could feel good about being a part of god and god’s plan and the same about being a part of the USA.
Liberals have bashed god and patriotism. You will not see them in church or waving a flag.
The article quotes “If everyone is special, then no one is special.”
That would be communism, the favorite form of a liberals idea of utopia.
“And other studies show that the so-called Millennial Generation young adults born after the self-esteem movement began are demonstrably less likely than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to care about social problems, current events or energy conservation. Millennials are also less likely to have jobs whose main purpose is to help other people. In one study, three times as many Millennials as Boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.”
Libs pushed their agenda too late; schools had already stopped teaching and students had stopped learning by the time they rammed through the curriculum that included white guilt, Bolshevism, and environmentalism. These studies are simply showing that young whites are now behaving like young urban blacks (in case the out-of-wedlock births, high unemployment, and rampant drug use didn;t already warn you).
We have more mass shootings now that the victims of our homes and classrooms are showing the folly of the disastrous “self esteem’ movement. These young men have been told from birth how special they are, so they have zero coping skills when they can’t keep up in their college classes or can’t find a girl friend or can’t find a job. They have no moral foundation or religious faith to withstand the inevitable blows that life delivers. Life doesn’t think they are “special.”
It must be society’s fault that their specialness isn’t appreciated, so they will make society pay. Thanks, you educated idiots. You should have seen this coming .but you know you won’t be held accountable by the Left in government and media.
I don’t usuall bother reading long articles on the 3” screen of my phone, but this was worth it. It has been my opinion for a couple of years now that hubris was the “original sin” of manking, the thought that we could be “as God, knowing what is good and evil.”
Failure is the breeding ground for success - it humbles us. Without it, pride rules and destroys our lives.
Lots of people confuse self esteem with self confidence. A kid can have low self esteem — in the sense of knowing how ignorant he is — but still have the self-confidence needed to cure his ignorance. Too many of today’s blacks are all self esteem and no self confidence.
I love Theodore Dalrymple. I think he’s an atheist, but he sure has some interesting insights into a lot of contemporary social problems, and he pulls no punches, spares no sacred cows.
I know what you’re saying. I’m going back to read it in its entirety later tonight.
I notice that all of the mass murderers of the past two decades are quite young, teens or early-mid twenties.
I have known about the debunking of the self-esteem movement for some time, and known that violent criminals often have very high self-esteem, as well as other fantasies and delusions.
I have two theories about how this silly idea got started.
The first is the great difficulty some people have coming to terms with evil. They see someone do something very bad, very antisocial and try to explain it because they cannot imagine themselves doing it. So they conclude that it must be caused by lack of self-esteem or “sickness” because that’s the only way they could picture themselves doing things like this.
Second, there are problems that young people have—drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, suicide attempts, sexual acting out—that do stem from low self-esteem. But serious criminal behavior is something else again. But I think that the two are lumped together.
Obviously self-esteem building exercises that are divorced from accomplishments are ridiculous.
I remember reading in the paper once several years ago about some Indian tribe that was having trouble with youth gang activity and things like that. One if the tribal leaders seemed to think that teaching their old language would be a panacea. I wonder how that worked for them. It seemed evident to me that us was a crisis of morality and values and language didnt have much to do with it.
It does not just have a humbling effect. Failure teaches, also. By knowing and analyzing what went wrong, one is better prepared to do what is right, and to know why it is right.
I think it is not self-esteem per se that is the problem. It is baseless self-esteem.
A kid who works hard, gets good grades, goes to college, and ends up in a good, challenging career has earned a sense of self-esteem. He or she is aware of the value of hard work.
OTOH, cultivating a sense of unearned self-esteem is very damaging. I remember a conversation with one of my son’s teachers when he was small, where she said something about “But what about his self-esteem?” I was very curt in my reply, I’m afraid. I said that I did not want to instill a false sense of self-esteem when he had done nothing to earn it.