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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

self esteem : The Problem with Self-Esteem

Today, the largest and most familiar part of American Psychology is the popular psychology of self-esteem, now found throughout American society. Self-esteem and the obsession that so many have with it, is familiar to almost all of us these days. Self-esteem programs affect the lives of countless school children, because this idea, really an ideal, has been taken and applied primarily in education.
Historically, the concept of self-esteem has no clear or obvious intellectual origins. No major psychological theorist made it a central concept. Many psychologists, however, have emphasized the self in various ways but the usual focus has been on self-actualization or fulfillment of one's potential. As a result, it is difficult to trace the source of this emphasis on self-esteem. Apparently, this widespread preoccupation is a distillation of the general concern with the self found in so many psychological theories. Self-esteem seems to be the common denominator pervading the writings of such varied theorists as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, ego-strength psychologists, and moral educators especially recently. In any case, the concern with self-esteem hovers everywhere in the US today. It is, however, most reliably found in the world of education — from professors of education, to principals, teachers, school boards, and the television programs that are concerned with education, particularly those programs concerned with preschool education like Sesame Street.

Self worth, a feeling of respect and confidence in one's being has merit as we shall see. But an ego-centered, let me feel good self-esteem, where we can ignore our failures and our need for God is quite another thing. What is wrong with the concept of self-esteem? Lots, and it's fundamental in nature. There have been thousands of psychological studies on self-esteem. Often the term self-esteem is muddled and confused as it becomes a label for such various aspects as self image, as self acceptance, self worth, self love, self trust, etcetera. The bottom line is that no agreed upon definition or measure for self-esteem exists. And whatever self-esteem is, no reliable evidence supports self-esteem scores as meaning much at all.

There is no evidence that high self-esteem reliably causes anything. Indeed, a lot of people with little of it, have achieved a great deal in one kind of activity or the other. For instance, Gloria Steinem, who has written a number of books and been a major leader of the feminist movement, recently revealed in a book long statement that she suffers from low self-esteem. And many people with high self-esteem are happy just being rich, beautiful, or socially connected. Some other people, whose high self-esteem has been noted are successful inner-city drug dealers who generally feel quite good about themselves. After all they have succeeded in making a lot of money in a hostile and competitive environment.



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