Do you ever glance at the “hot topics” on the front covers of popular magazines that strive to keep pace with what’s hip and what’s not? If so, it would have been hard not to notice that self-esteem has come to the fore as one of THE issues of our time.
There’s no doubt that self-esteem has turned into a bandwagon. Now that so many teachers, counsellors, therapists and coaches around the world have jumped upon it, more and more people are trying to overturn it and leave it with its wheels spinning in the dust.
You can find self-esteem advice everywhere. And, since there are so many inconsistencies in what’s being said, it is very easy to become overwhelmed, disheartened, or both.
In this article, I’ll describe the vital missing ingredient without which improving your self-esteem is almost impossible. I’ll review why self-esteem is important, I’ll show you why certain types of advice do more harm than good. And – most important of all – I’ll tell you the secrets of how to build and maintain your own self-esteem at an appropriate level.
What the self-esteem movement has missed for 20 years:
Those of you in California may have seen a recent article in the Los Angeles Times by Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, drawing attention to the fallacy that the encouragement of high self-esteem would, in itself, promote a better society for us all. Professor Baumeister, along with several other experts in the field, was commissioned five years ago to wade through the enormous amounts of published research on the subject and assess the benefits of high self-esteem.
The results have been startling. In fact, so startling that Professor Baumeister has now suggested that we should forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline.
To that I say, with some reservations, thank goodness!
I’ll come to my reservations in a moment, but first let me agree wholeheartedly with Professor Baumeister’s conclusion that much of the output from the “self-esteem movement” over the last few years has failed to deliver on its promises.
In my view, it’s largely because many of those who have been encouraging us to build our self-esteem have failed to notice a vital missing ingredient in their recipes for success. Because of this, their advice has often delivered results that have been disappointing, or worse still, damaging for those who have taken it to heart.
That value-set within the “self-esteem movement” can be characterised as saying it’s understandable not to be doing so well in life if your self-esteem is low. At face value, this seems to be a caring and empathetic statement, but it has some dangerous consequences if it is not interpreted with care.
In effect, it has encouraged some people to use their low self-esteem as a crutch to lean on if their lives are not as good as they would like them to be. If you have low self-esteem, many in the “self-esteem movement” would have you believe that it has been pushed upon you by society or by individuals in society, and that you are simply an innocent victim.
It’s almost as if low self-esteem is being de-personalized. It’s as if your low self-esteem has nothing to do with you, it has to do with erm… someone else. As I write this, I am reminded of an argument that I once witnessed, in which one party spluttered “it’s nothing personal, I just don’t like you!”
So, based on flawed logic, some who hitched a ride on the self-esteem bandwagon have created de-personalized victims. Victims with no personal characteristics; nothing to distinguish them from others with similarly low self-esteem. Clearly all such victims have been wronged, and they deserve to feel better – irrespective of who they are and what they choose to do with their lives. And from there, it’s a simple step to suggest that higher self-esteem is their birthright – a right that they should reach out and claim.
In fact, many on the bandwagon subscribe to the notion that we ALL deserve to feel great, because we would all be EQUALLY special people if only things hadn’t conspired against us. Those snake-oil salesmen offer us comfort by shifting the blame for low self-esteem away from ourselves. It’s never OUR fault. We are helpless. And we must remember that high self-esteem is our right that has been taken from us.
I disagree with this flawed “logic”. It is simply wrong, and can be very damaging.
Just one final thought before we leave the bandwagon alone for a while. Have you come across the theory that high self-esteem in children promotes better grades? The theory that has caused some teachers to be more concerned about protecting children’s self-esteem than about their academic achievements?
Surely we might, after only a moment’s reflection, wonder if this is putting the bandwagon before the horse. If instead we worked on improving children’s actual knowledge and capabilities then their schoolwork might attain better grades. Wouldn’t that more legitimately boost their self-esteem and give them something valuable that they could carry and use in their adult lives?
The vital missing ingredient:
I like to define self-esteem simply as the extent to which we like and respect ourselves. There are many more complex definitions, but I don’t see any need to be more complex.
My own interpretation of Professor Baumeister’s recent conclusions is that he believes we need to take some responsibility for our actions, and allow our self-esteem to rise when those actions display some merit. To my way of thinking, self-esteem is an OUTCOME of what we do. And what we DO is always influenced by choices that we make for ourselves.
So, what are those reservations about his article that I mentioned earlier?
Professor Baumeister recommends that we forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline. I am only half-supportive of this statement.
I don’t agree that we should forget about self-esteem, because self-esteem is very important. If you didn’t agree, I doubt that you would have visited this website. And just because there’s been a lot of hot air associated with a subject, doesn’t mean that the subject should be dismissed or that it is unworthy of proper consideration.
It’s high time we followed some basic logical principles about cause and effect. That’s where the self-control and self-discipline that Professor Baumeister talks about come in very handy.
If you’ve spent any time looking around the body of our website, you’ll have come across a really important bit of reasoning. A bit of reasoning that works in the real world. It will work for you. Here it is, in a simple equation:
Self-Esteem = DOING WELL x feelgood factor
It’s the “doing well” element that’s been missing all these years in so many of the self-esteem books that stuff the bookshelves of almost every library you’ll ever visit. Even in our schools the doing well concept has been devalued, to be increasingly replaced by suggestions that we are all equally good irrespective of how well we do. Did you know that many schools in the UK are now refusing to include competitive activities on Sports’ Day in case the losers suffer a loss of self-esteem? How is such an over-protective attitude by their mentors going to prepare children for the tough world they will face as adults, where competition for jobs and so on inevitably results in “losing” and rejection?
Sport’s Day competitions are a form of playing which, if managed in an enlightened way with clear and fair rules, adds value to children’s lives EVEN if they lose!
I passionately believe that you have to do something well in order to feel good about yourself. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to be excellent at everything (such expectations would be absurd), but you do need to recognize the difference between doing something well and doing it badly or without care.
Look at that simple equation again: you can tell yourself a million times a day that you deserve to feel great, and you might – just might – manage to push up your feelgood factor. But unless you start to do something well at the same time your self-esteem just cannot rise. I’ll illustrate this further with an example towards the end of this article.
First, let me emphasise the point one more time. Doesn’t it follow that doing something a bit better today than you did it yesterday would be a legitimate reason for you to feel good about yourself? Can you see what would happen? You’d have BOTH elements of the self-esteem equation in place and your self-esteem would go up!
Try it for yourself
Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting that we should all aspire to win medals for something or obtain straight A-grades if we study. No, I’m talking about doing well in the things that matter to us, and those things vary from person to person. Things such as getting along with your partner, overcoming irrational and disproportionate feelings of jealousy, putting in a day’s work that you feel proud of, or maybe even something physical like losing weight if that’s an important objective for you.
Here’s a very quick but powerful exercise: write down a list of 10 things that really matter to you, active things like “feeling close to and connected with my partner”. Then put a check-mark by the ones where you’re doing really well. Do you see how those things are affecting your self-esteem? Imagine how your self-esteem would rise if you made some improvements in those areas that matter to you over the coming weeks. And if you don’t know quite what you can do differently, this website is here to help you make the best possible choices.
But, make no mistake, maintaining healthy levels of self-esteem takes a bit of effort.
And rightly so. You live in the real world, not a fantasy world. Whether you are a good swimmer, or a good painter, or a good mother, or a good girlfriend, depends on a great many things that you DO, not just on what you think of yourself after consuming a heady cocktail of self-affirmation statements served up out of the back of that self-esteem bandwagon.
The REAL recipe for success:
Improving your self-esteem is a journey that requires from YOU some commitment to do well in those aspects of your life that matter most to you. It also requires a bit of effort to turn that commitment into results. Remember that equation again:
Self-Esteem = doing well x feelgood factor
Embarking on that journey can be a bit like deciding to climb a steep hill. In spite of the teachings from some quarters within the “self-esteem movement”, you can’t get to the top by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, telling yourself that you special and deserve to be at the summit… without moving a muscle.
Your motivation to climb that hill is much stronger if you can visualize the steps you’re going to take to get to the summit, how exhilarated you will feel when you approach your target, and how proud of yourself you will be for having shown the determination to make such terrific progress.
And you don’t have to climb that hill alone, or without help. Here at Selfesteem4women.com we have exactly the route-maps and resources that you need, and we are standing by to support any of our members who need additional guidance as they work through our Self-help Programs.
I’d like to end this longer-than-usual article on a very personal note. I created this website because I felt that the “self-esteem movement” has for a long time been sending out superficial messages and in some cases doing more harm than good.
I wanted to share some of the useful things that I’ve absorbed in my own life, having first learned about my own self-esteem the hard way because I stumbled along a few paths that hurt me. The pain helped me to grow up, but I made mistakes along the way that I’d like to help other women to avoid. Over the last thirteen years I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of women, and I’ve amassed a great deal of empirical evidence that has allowed me to be very confident about what works and what does not.
I believe that self-esteem is very important, and this website is dedicated to helping YOU to bolster yours.
So take your free Self-Esteem test – see what your score is, and then take a look at which Self-Esteem eWorkbooks are recommended for YOU! Remember: we recommend ONLY the self-help resources that you need, as indicated by your test results.
You can take Alison’s FREE Ultimate Self-esteem Test for women and get your own (we have them) FREE, personalized Self-Esteem eReport with recommendations to increase your self-esteem fast – right here: Free Self-Esteem Test