Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Dark Side of Self-Esteem

I was thinking about stuff the other day. In particular, why some people are so messed up and something came to me. There isn’t any one source that’s causing how these people are acting, and these aren’t the ones we usually think about, but if there was something that causes these people to act this way, this may be it.

We live in a society where high self-esteem is synonymous and regarded as essential to well being. And why not? There is a wide range of evidence that supports the positive effects that high self esteem can have for individuals. There are evidence linking high self-esteem to higher expectation to succeed, higher task performance, being more independent, self-directed, and less prone to mood swings and depression.

These findings led to a great push in the shameless promotion of self-esteem by books, popular journals, organizations, and many individuals. Parents, educators, and many other adults blindly push self-esteem as the end all and one stop solution to children’s developmental problems (i.e., games where everyone wins, everyone’s special even without doing any work, etc.).

The great endorsement of self-esteem has gone largely undisputed.

Researchers from UCLA have presented evidence that disputes against the popular notion of self-esteem. They cited research suggesting that the value of self esteem may not be all it’s cracked up to be, and may perhaps be opposite of what we’ve thought.

Some of the most convincing evidence for the negative effects of high self-esteem has been derived from the area of self-regulation. The literature suggests that under conditions of ego-threat, people with a sense of high self-esteem may not be able to suspend their positive illusions to make accurate self-evaluation and therefore interfering in tasks involving complex self-regulation. In other words, an individual’s egotistical illusions can interfere and impair an individual’s judgment by overestimating their own abilities and setting unreachable goals for themselves.

An example of reality interfering with illusions is the degree of lawsuits that you see in our culture today. Everyone sues everyone for anything. This may be a symptom of greed, and wanting to get money out of anything, but there maybe another explanation. With the constant pampering throughout their lives, this high level of self-esteem developed in some people may have prevented them from learning to take responsibility for their own actions. All these years of being rewarded for doing anything trivial, and never receiving any negative feedback cause a great deal of egotistical illusions. Hence if anything goes wrong, it must be someone else’s fault.

For example, if I’m fat, it must be the fast food restaurants making me that way. That may not be the best example, but you know what I mean.

When reality finally catches up with these individuals, there maybe some serious consequences as they are no longer sheltered by their illusions, and if they have developed a strong enough defense, they may lash out at reality (and those in it) to protect their illusions.

More than ever in today’s society, we look for quick fixes and miracle answers to explain and heal all of our problems. We jumped on the bandwagon of self-esteem as the cure-all for all ours and our children’s problems without understanding the possible consequences it may have. Years later we begin to feel a backlash of self-esteem, and only then do we finally begin to investigate what direction this promotion of self-esteem has taken us, and more importantly, the negative consequences it may have had been causing all along.

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