Social Question

hominid's avatar

Is self-esteem still considered a good thing in modern psychology?

Asked by hominid (7347points) April 15th, 2015

I seem to recall that the concept had taken a beating over the past few years. When I was a kid, it seems that the goal of raising children was to instill a high level of self-esteem, by praising inherent qualities, such as intelligence, beauty, etc.

But by the time I was having children, it seemed that this approach was considered harmful, and was replaced with praise being directed towards effort rather than results or inherent characteristics. This makes sense to me, and it seems to completely skirt the issue of self-esteem. Self-esteem, in my understanding, is inherently fragile and requires constant grooming. It feels closed and requires a sense of self that may not be entirely justified.

Lately, however, I have come across people in my life who express a need to improve their self-esteem. I’ve learned a ton in the past few years about how to be better listener, and how even the best of intentions delivered as advice can be received. “Have you considered self-compassion rather than self-esteem?” would be a sh*tty thing to say. But I’m not sure self-esteem is in any way useful.

Is self-esteem useful for some people?

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16 Answers

janbb's avatar

Is it really that the concept of self-esteem is out of fashion or that the concept of being valued solely for your external attributes and accomplishments is out moded? If we substitute the phrase “inherent self-worth” for self-esteem are we nearer to the mark of what one is attempting to instill nowadays? Like you, I have more questions than answers.

filmfann's avatar

Long ago I embraced the practice of Self-Loathing. It has made me a better person, and much happier, because I acknowledge that I have done terrible things, and that I am not a good person that deserves better.

kritiper's avatar

You bet! After all, if you don’t like yourself, others won’t like you either.

zenvelo's avatar

The concept of improving self esteem was overblown; what was really needed and is still needed is really self love, self valuation. One is worthy, not one is owed.

There is little boundary between self esteem and narcissism. Prisons are full of people full of self esteem, that’s why they think rules (laws) don’t apply to them.

josie's avatar

The “self esteem” movement was an attempt to a reasonably objective basis at any age for regarding oneself as an effective, and as a result happy, human being.

It became a focus of skepticism when it changed into the justification to engineer the illusion of effectiveness in children (such as the “participation medal” or never keeping score in contests), with no objective basis, as the secret helping to create a happy grown up.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I believe true self-esteem is valuable: that which comes from achievement, which engenders confidence. Recognition by others for that achievement can be helpful, as second opinions, and it can boost self-esteem/confidence quickly, but it is not necessary really to have a second opinion in order to hold oneself in good esteem. It may keep someone from appearing delusional, however. Today, what I usually see, is that people often mistake self-esteem for braggadocio, cockiness, grandiloquence—or just hot air by any other name.

These are usually loud people who feel somehow comfortable blowing their own horns to all who can hear, possibly in hopes that no one will notice that they have not really achieved anything, that they haven’t actually done anything. Cockiness is an empty thing with nothing behind it, no knowledge, no effort, no achievement, just hot air to propel it inevitably into our annoyance.

You see, you can’t just say that you’re good at something, you have to be good at something—and that takes effort. Cockiness is what I mostly see in the media and it seems to have become an acceptable replacement for true self-esteem.

I think people are confused.

Blackberry's avatar

Like @zenvelo said. Self esteem in high amounts is also correlated with sociopathic tendencies as well.

fluthernutter's avatar

Technically…I think realistic self-valuation and self-acceptance > self-esteem.

But self-esteem as a generally understood shorthand is fine with me.

I don’t think self-esteem is outdated necessarily. Maybe the way in which we used to define it?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Having an appropriate level of self-esteem by any name is still a reasonable goal. Good social relation are under minded by self-esteem that is unduly high or low.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction, looking at self-esteem as a negative is a steaming pile of redacted. That is some PC poppycock to make people who are societally unattractive, un-intelligent, fat, uncoordinated, mediocre, or poor. In this age everyone is supposed to get a trophy, have game time, get speaking part in the play, etc. What do the media say? They reflect on the true pulse of this world, you have to be the best and not only that, but better than the rest. The thing is people can’t tell the difference from pride and self-esteem. Just about every prideful person has self-esteem, they just mishandle it. Because we are supposed to be so politically correct, no one dare openly use their self-esteem to the full because they do not want to seem arrogant, or prideful. You can edify someone all day long n a healthy was and still have your self-esteem intact if you know who you are and what you are. If you are going to let others define you, then your self-esteem will take a shellacking almost daily. There is nothing to be afraid of about having some self-esteem about one’s self, how in the world are they to have a spine enough to demand respect?

hominid's avatar

Thanks everyone!

Mimishu1995's avatar

In my place self-esteem is highly underrated. People seem to be encouraged to criticize more than praise. They think it is better that people realize their mistakes and improve themselves. That’s good, but criticizing has been overused. Whenever someone do something, many people will try to find as many faults as possible. When someone acts so differently, they will become the subject of exploitation. As a result everyone is reluctant to try new things, become too critical and pessimistic and loses trust in themselves (myself included, at one point).

Yeah, self-esteem may be something too overblown, but for some people they seriously need to love themselves a bit.

Pandora's avatar

@zenvelo I don’t think self esteem is the reason so many people are in prison. It has more to do with people raising children with no respect for others and sometimes little to no real consequences for their actions.

Self-esteem is necessary. We need to learn to value ourselves without devaluing others in order to do it. I look at self esteem like taking a vitamin. Too much is a bad thing and so is too little. You need to take a dose of reality with it for it to function correctly. There is nothing wrong with praising your children for hard work. They need to know that it is something they should always aspire to do. But when we award children all the time for trivial things, like, best dresser, or little helper instead of hard work, it sends a message that it’s ok to be lazy. You will be rewarded just for being cute.

Life is a course set with rewards for those who work hard to better their lives. When we mix that message up, you have those who feel they should always be entitled to have the best because they simply are, and they will grow frustrated when they find cuteness wears off and the rewards stop coming. As an adult self esteem will take a blow. And either they will take things or crumble.
Then you have the ones who work hard and give up because they see others getting rewarded for nothing. Then you have those who are taught at home that their are rewards for working hard and nothing gained for being lazy, and their parents are determined to fall flat on their face when they fail. It doesn’t mean they don’t love them. Love is another matter separate from achievements or working hard. At least in my home it was. I didn’t love them for being smart or working hard. I loved them for being themselves and let them know that it’s ok if others dont’ love them because they will not love everyone either. A fact of life.

I didn’t coddle either of my children and I encouraged hard work. I loved them for being themselves and let them know that I would not always be around to help them put their lives in order and that someday they needed to stand on their own two feet, resolve their problems and work hard to achieve their goals in life. Nothing would be handed to them. Not because they didn’t deserve things but rather because the best rewards in life are the one you worked hard to accomplish on your own. It lets you know that you are strong and a value member of society and can face most of life’s curve balls because they have the self esteem they need to come out stronger on the other side of things.

Best thing my dad ever told me, was that he was not concerned about leaving me some day because he knew without a doubt that I would always land on my feet. In times of hardship, when I was scared and unsure. I would remember those words and march on. I never felt entitled. If anything I felt blessed that I had the strength, mind and self esteem to make myself stronger with each struggle.

thorninmud's avatar

Just saw this TED talk by a psychology professor: How to Lose Your Self-Esteem.

He makes a case that both high and low self-esteem can be problematic, and that it’s healthier to get out of the habit of self-reference altogether. I doubt this is “mainstream”, but it is at least a thing.

janbb's avatar

@thorninmud It ‘s a good thought but if I didn’t “self-reference” I wouldn’t have no reference at all. Still, I’ll watch the TED.

hominid's avatar

Thanks @thorninmud. What a great talk. There’s some good stuff in there.

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