The Hype of Self-Esteem

I am not a fan of the self-esteem movement because I have always thought that a person’s self-esteem comes from his or her own self-talk. This self-talk emanates primarily from a person’s nature and experiences, rather than from some external agent(s). 

The “Scientific American Mind”—volume 16, number 4—contains an interesting article entitled, “Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth,” with the subtitle: “Boosting People’s Sense of Self-Worth Has Become a National Preoccupation. Yet Surprisingly, Research Shows that Such Efforts Do Little to Improve Academic Performance or Prevent Troublesome Behavior.”

One study cited eludes to responsibility as a prime factor in self-esteem: “…students who take responsibility for their grades not only get better grades but they also learn that they, personally, can control the grades they get.

“In fact, in one study researchers had students write down what went through their minds when they were trying to get better grades. Students who improved with each test were thinking:

  • “I need to work harder.
  • “I can learn this material if I apply myself.
  • “I can control what happens to me in this class.
  • “I have what it takes to do this.

“Students who did not improve were thinking:

  • “It’s not my fault.
  • “This test was too hard.
  • “I’m not good at this.”

The authors conclude the article by stating: “We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.”

The study reinforces the opening paragraph of the book, Discipline without Stress, Punishments or Rewards, of which the first few sentences are: “Life is a conversation. Interestingly, the most influential person we talk with all day is ourself, and what we tell ourself has a direct bearing on our behavior, our performance, and our influence on others. In fact, a good case can be made that our self-talk creates our reality.” (page 1)

If your self-talk is constantly positive; if you realize that you can always choose your response to any situation, stimulation, or urge; and if you form the habit of reflection, not only will your self-esteem be strong but you will also be happier.