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PCP: The self-esteem myth and why it’s a problem

Kevin Griffin

The following is part of Point / Counter-Point discussing our culture’s approach to self-esteem and how we are affected.

Read the counter-point here.


Kevin GriffinIt seems detrimental attempts are made to elevate people’s self-esteem. 

We give children participation awards, and people are always hasty to follow their critical statements with empty compliments.

But would Americans really suffer irreparable damage to their psyches if nobody patted their heads for trying?

In reality, the message of those pushing the modern conception of “self-esteem” is causing more harm than the criticism is.

One can already in some ways judge the self-esteem movement a failure, and what a well-deserved failure it is. 

All that I have seen and read of concerning the self-esteem movement amount to little more than misguided attempts to make people feel good about themselves no matter what.

The chief tool for building self-esteem seems to be slogans. We have all heard them, probably as children. My personal favorite is “You’re special,” because this phrase captures perfectly the two worst features: narcissism and detachment from reality. 

Studies have shown that the inordinate focus placed on the minor achievements of children and the continual hyping of each child’s specific greatness makes them less likely to work hard or improve.

After all, hearing your own merits heralded over and over might give you the impression that you are superior to others. 

This leads into separation from reality. 

Self-esteem should come from what you are and reasonably can be, not from a meaningless utopian slogan. 

As I write this, the university is hosting a “A Month to Celebrate You” in order to foster better self-image. 

The initiative appears to be a positive attempt to instill feelings of dignity to those who have been ostracized – a legitimate cause.

However, keep in mind as you go through this month the differences between real and fake self-esteem, and be sure that what you are embracing is the real thing.

Griffin, a freshman journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

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