Research on Self-Esteem – What Do You Think?

Self-esteem is a challenging concept for many people – if you don’t have a strong sense of it, you can be vulnerable to negative people around you and even your own negative thoughts. You can ‘talk’ yourself into negative experiences and talk yourself out of positive experiences and learning opportunities by listening to a soundtrack in your head that tells you “You’re not worthy.”

Conversely, we also find that some sociopaths – extremely dangerous individuals in most any form – tend to have an inflated sense of self-esteem – as if what THEY want is all that matters, no matter who it hurts or who is negatively affected by their actions.

A recent article in O, The Oprah Magazine, gave me some food for thought regarding self-esteem and how it became such an important part of our society, and, how experts now view the concept. This quote from the article got me thinking:

…in recent years, researchers have found that self-esteem falls far short of its anticipated benefits. What’s more important is a sense of self-mastery—getting along in the world and knowing you can handle yourself in myriad situations. The concept is liberating for adults too: Rather than facing the daunting task of going back into your childhood to figure out why you are insecure, you can learn specific skills right now to become competent. No one’s suggesting that you deny your feelings of inadequacy; you simply prove them wrong.

Very interesting concept – knowing you can handle yourself in many different situations is more valuable than simply having high self-esteem? I tend to agree, though I’m not quite ready to throw out the concept of self-esteem entirely. I believe if you do not hold yourself in at least a moderately high level of esteem – if you do not feel good about yourself, your accomplishments, and your abilities – you can never progress to feelings of competency.

Roy Baumeister, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, adds this contribution to the article:

“There’s no question you get the best results with highly contingent praise and criticism,” says Baumeister. “That means praising exactly what you did right and criticizing exactly what you did wrong. Just praising kids regardless of how they do contains very little useful information; if anything, it has a negative effect on learning. I’ve had to revise my opinions about self-esteem several times; I’m kind of done with it. I don’t think it can deliver much of what we want. Self-control, self-regulation—these give a whole lot more bang for the buck, deliver a lot more in practical results. I think self-esteem is relegated, if not to Siberia, at least to the Urals.”

“Contingent praise and criticism” – interesting use of the word contingent. Praising what you did right and admitting (I prefer to evaluate rather than criticize) what you’ve done wrong leads further into self-control. You are in charge of your actions, your impulses, your motivation. Don’t throw out an entire experience simply because it did not turn out 100% like you wanted it to – this is where your parents’ assertion that ‘learning the lesson, even when you fail’ comes in handy. No matter what the experience – even if it wasn’t 100% positive – there is a lesson to be learned. Don’t dwell on it too long or obsess about it, just note it and move on.

Daniel Goleman’s best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, made popular the idea that children, not to mention adults, can and should be instructed about empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively. At the time, IQ was the unquestioned gauge for getting ahead in life, but Goleman argued that these other abilities are of equal consequence, key to both enhancing learning and preventing pervasive problems such as violence. Self-esteem is a part of SEL (social and emotional learning), but only a narrow slice, according to Goleman. “Self-esteem or self-efficacy has to do with a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses,” he says, “but SEL includes other things: how you manage stress and mobilize paralyzing emotions. Self-esteem is much better reframed as self-mastery.”

This partial paragraph from the article really intrigued me – I have noticed a lack of empathy in situations I’ve read about – especially where the epidemic of bullying is concerned. Why any group of people – or an individual – would feel comfortable bullying another human being to the point where the bullied individual seeks to end their life rather than continue suffering is unconscionable to me. Where is the empathy? I especially like the sentence at the end – that self-esteem can be reframed as self-mastery – and that’s a concept I can agree with and promote.

Finally, I am quoting this passage from the end of the article, which describes the philosophy taught to first graders in the Hinsdale, Illinois school district, which was mentioned at the beginning of the article:

“When we care about each other and our classroom, we are kind and respectful, we listen carefully, help each other learn, always try our best, raise our hand, and have fun together. We keep our hands and feet to ourselves. We stand up for ourselves and others. When someone asks us to stop, we stop. We do all of this, even when no one is watching!”

Sounds like something we can all agree that we need MORE of in this sometimes contentious world we live in, yes? I’d love to know YOUR thoughts – comment below, or send me an email!

To read the full article, visit: Groundbreaking-Research-on-Self-Esteem