self esteem

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

self esteem : Psychobabble that shields the seriously selfish 2

When someone says that he lacks self-esteem he says it as if he were denied something that is his of right. Merely by virtue of drawing breath, each person has the right to think well of himself. Are not all men created equal, in some not-quite-specifiable metaphysical sense? And is not man the paragon of animals, the beauty of the world, like unto a god? Should we not all, then, think well of ourselves?

There are several layers to the concept of self-esteem, which is not a purely psychological notion. It has, or ought to have, a moral content or dimension: for if it is possible to have too little self-esteem, it is surely possible also to have too much. And in deciding who has too much, we have to take into account the moral qualities of the person.

Does anyone not know someone who is too full of self-esteem, who is pompous, puffed up, self-important, vainglorious, self-regarding and altogether too pleased with himself? Whose achievements or qualities are minimal, yet who seems walled around by an awareness of his own assumed superiority? And is it not the case that such inflated self-esteem is one of the most unpleasant qualities anyone can have, drawing immediate censure from almost everyone? But in saying that someone has too high an opinion of himself, we are not using the language of psychology: we are using the language of morals.

It is always possible to argue that people such as I have described are exhibiting only a brittle carapace to protect themselves from their inner vulnerability and sense of their own worthlessness, but to do so is to empty the concept of self-esteem of all empirical content whatsoever. Would there be anyone in the world of whom it could not be said that he lacked self-esteem?

by Theodore Dalrymple


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