Skip to comments.A short history of self-esteem
Posted on 02/14/2007 2:04:54 PM PST by shrinkermd
The rise of the self-esteem movement
From the late 1960s on self-esteem became a fashionable and influential idea. One of the first exponents was a young psychology professor called Stanley Coopersmith from California. A more influential figure was Nathaniel Branden. Branden was a psychtherapist and devotee of the philosopher Ayn Rand. He has written countless books on self-esteem and is considered the intellectual father of the self-esteem movement. As we shall see in another section, Brandens work is sophisticated and his definition of self-esteem, and notions of how it can be boosted, is a far cry from the exhortations to feel special that have come to characterise self-esteem building exercises in American schools.
Self-esteem may simply have remained a psychological and philosophical concept, debated by academics, if it hadnt been taken up by politicians in California in the late 1980s. John Vasconcellos was a state assemblyman who believed that low self-esteem was the cause of crime, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and school underachievement. He believed that boosting young peoples self-esteem could be seen as a social vaccine. Money spent on this, he argued, would dramatically reduce the problems plaguing modern society. John Vasconcellos even believed that improving self-esteem would help the state balance the budget since those with high self-esteem earned more money and so paid more in tax.
Vasconcellos persuaded the California State Governor George Deukmejian to set up a task-force on self-esteem and personal and social responsibility. Following a three-year study of the literature it produced a report which did not completely corroborate Vasconcellos views. Indeed in the introduction to the report one of its authors writes: ' one of the disappointing aspects of every chapter in this volume ... is how low the associations beween self-esteem and its [presumed] consequences are in research to date.' The response of those involved in the movement was not to question the importance they were attaching to self-esteem but to try and find more evidence. The task-force was disbanded in 1995 and replaced by a not-for-profit organised called the National Association for Self-Esteem (NASE).
Roy Baumeister was a psychology professor in the US and a supporter of the self-esteem movement and he was concerned about the the paucity of hard evidence to support the claims being made for self-esteem. He was also concerned about some of the approaches and underlying assumptions of the research which had been undertaken. Many of the studies which were repeatedly quoted only used subjective assessments of self-esteem and, since self-esteem is a socially desirable characteristic in western societies, such self-reports had to be viewed sceptically. Moreover, although there appeared to be some link between self-esteem and academic performance, for example, it was difficult to discern if the academic performance caused the self-esteem or vice versa.
As a result of his research carried out in the 1990s, Baumeister concluded that the premise that low self-esteem was a problem, and that curing it could cure many social ills, was completely false. The link between self-esteem and academic achievement, he concluded, was weak or non-existent. It just wasnt true that bullies always lacked self-esteem or that high self-esteem was important for good relationships. On the plus side he did find that people with high self-esteem tend to be happier, show more initiative and are less prone to eating disorders. But he no longer believed that it was simply possible to artificially boost self-esteem. Later Baumeister said that coming to these conclusions was one of the biggest disappointments of his career.
The demise of the notion that raising self-esteem is some kind of panacea was further hastened in 2001 with the publication of Professor Nicholas Emlers work. Emler was at that time a professor of psychology at the LSE in England. His research, including longitudinal studies of children, supported Baumeisters findings that low self-esteem was not a risk factor for educational problems or problems such as violence, bullying, delinquency, racism, drug-taking or alcohol abuse. His research indicated that violent, anti-social men do not have problems liking or valuing themselves. If anything they like and value themselves too much.
However, his research showed that low self-esteem was involved in some problems such as suicide, teenage pregnancy and eating disorders, however he also stressed low self-esteem was only one risk factor among many.
What is most significant in Emlers work is that it led him to argue that those with high self-esteem posed a greater threat to society than those with low self-esteem. Those with low self-esteem are only likely to damage themselves whereas those with high self-esteem are more likely to indulge in behaviour which has negative effects on others. (For more on Emlers research see next section.)
Another challenging critique of self-esteem came from Professor Martin Seligman. Seligman put forward a number of powerful arguments against the idea that self-esteem was something that could be externally boosted. In fact he thought the type of self-esteem building activities parents and teachers were using with children were, if anything, fuelling the epidemic of depression. (Seligmans critique is set out fully in another section.) Another psychology professor, Jennifer Crocker from the University of Michigan, conducted empirical research which indicated that the pursuit of self-esteem has considerable costs for individuals and could undermine well-being. Again Crockers research is summarised elsewhere and you can also listen to her outline her work in the audio section.
However, the biggest challenge now to the notion of self-esteem as a social vaccine is coming from Professor Jean Twenge. She is a psychology professor in San Diego and she has spent a good number of years undertaking research into how the attitudes and personalities of young Americans are changing. In 2006 she published the conclusions of her research in a book called Generation Me. On the cover it reads: Why Todays Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable than Ever Before. Twenges research is also outlined in more detail in another section but it is worth pointing out here that like Seligman she believes that obsession with self-esteem has fuelled the rise of depression in the US, is encouraging narcissism, and undermining the skills of young people.
Why self-esteem work still goes on in the US
It is now over ten years since Baumeisters research completely demolished the notion that self-esteem building is some kind of magic bullet and more than five years since Emlers research indicating it might be positively harmful. Yet in the US the self-esteem bandwagon rolls on unabated. Twenge reports that in January 2006 a search on Google for Elementary School Mission Statements for Self-Esteem yielded a staggering 308,000 web pages....
"Self-esteem" always comes at the loss of self-respect.
I think having self-respect involves having a conscience- not something I've ever heard much about in discussions of "self-esteem".
pride goes before destruction;
an a haughty spirit before the fall
'self esteem' is not what people want. It is the compliance of and discipline to do the right thing and remain humble to serving God each day that is paramount. Pretty simple. Suddenly when one does this, self obsession becomes less of a focus and one may even find themselves at peace internally, and have some authentic joy.
Our society has plenty of children who hold unrealistic notions about themselves, i.e., who have "self-esteem."
What is lacking in our society is children who are certain that they are loved. The reason is simple: They're not.
They are systematically ignored during their most formative years (0-3) by parents who are physically and/or emotionally absent and/or distracted by work and/or TV. After the age of six, most children are then imprisoned in government facilities for twelve years.
People who are certain that they are loved do not need to be inculcated with narcissistic delusions about themselves (i.e., "self-esteem"). Since we have a shortage of the former, we have an abundance of the latter.
I've always thought of 'self-esteem' as just more political rationalizing than real science. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (no offense) to realize that when you lower standards and expectations, you're telling your protected class that they're idiots and incompetents. So IF self-esteem is the objective, it can't be created by dumbing down standards or creating artificial achievements. Even a moron can see through that.
There is a big difference between being cocky and being confident; between being comfortable and being driven; between being goal-oriented and pleasure-oriented.
Today's cobblers have decided it is better to bind the feet than to resize the shoe.
Do esteemable things.
If someone has my esteem, it is only because they earned it. Nowadays, kids are taught they should have esteem for everyone, including themselves, just because they breathe.
Great book, Laz! A must for every classroom.
The current year's American Idol auditions are a great showcase for self esteem. There are many many notalents who think themselves God's gift to Music that are beyond terrible. They have been "singing since I was 3" and no one had the courage to tell them they were bad.
When rejected they are amazed and angry.
The promotion of self esteem is a great American failing.
Very true. Excellent post.
EXACTLY....."Self Esteem" is EARNED by doing challenging things.....NOT GIVEN.
But, but....Laz....in my little kiddie voice.....What does "esteemable" mean?
Nathaniel Branden wrote numerous best-selling popualar psychology books on the subject of self-esteem. His writings did much to make the general public aware of the term. He is, however, scarcely connected with the mainstream of the self-esteem movement, which grew out of humanistic psychology and the therapuetic ideas of people like Carl Rogers.
Nothing wrong with self-esteem. But what the self-esteem movement doesn't seem to understand is that youo don't teach self-esteem, you show people how ot develop it and earn it.
Most of them are secular humanists. They might love this quote:
"In the modern world, the task of the humanist is to remind man of his spiritual reality." -- Irving Babbitt
Look at how our semantics have changed over time from the more holy, service, and disciplined oriented language to self language and deserve language since the 60's. What a mind fu-- we have been through.
The 60's really were a time of great evil upheaval and it has snowballed since. Just my two cents.
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