Self esteem versus self worth versus confidence

Uh-oh.  Research has now found that we’ve gone overboard with this self esteem stuff.  And it’s led to all kinds of unintended consequences like rampant narcissism and entitlement, especially among children and young adults.  As a culture, we’ve bought into the idea that we have to pump up a child’s self esteem, making sure he or she feels good about himself.  In doing so, however, research has shown that all the things we’ve done to ensure this also ensures that little John or little Jane fully expects everyone else out there in the big world to continue doing all those things for them to make them feel good!  Without any effort on their part!  Unfortunately, when things don’t go their way, because they’ve been so sheltered from loss and disappointment (to spare them any bad feelings that may impair their self esteem), they get flattened, depressed, surly, angry.   They show poor resilience to bounce back, become helpless and dependent (yet entitled) on others, often Mom and Dad, to make it all right again.  And woe to Mom and Dad if they don’t jump to make it all better!  Even adult children with an artificial sense of high self esteem will lash out at parents or freeze them out to punish them for not making the world perfect.

High self esteem, unearned, is a form of self absorption.  The only antidote is true achievement over difficulties and a redirection of attention from self to the world.  The best time for this to take place, of course, is throughout childhood in small steps.  When a child makes a mistake, big or small, he or she must face the consequences.  Left lunch or lunch money at home?  It won’t kill you to go hungry for a day.  You won’t forget again.  Left your homework?  Didn’t do your homework?  Take the zero and strive to make up for it before semester’s end.

In the end, though, it’s the parents – the grown-ups that set the tone for this and sometimes I think parents have become cowards.  That’s a strong word. It may be that in the name of building self esteem in their children, parents refuse to face the wrath of their children when those children don’t get what they want or have to be trained away from being self-centered toddlers into outward looking, confident adults.

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Karen Mori Bonner, MS, LPC
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Ridgeland, MS 39157
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Email: info@dreamcounselor.ms

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