The Failure of Self-Esteem and Other Movements

I was raised in the hey-day of the self-esteem movement. Or at least it seemed like it. When I was young, I can remember coaches, teachers and adults all-around fretting about the self-esteem of youngsters. Self-esteem was the answer to all life's challenges.

Depressed? You need high self-esteem! You'll feel better about yourself and won't be so sad.

Eating disorder? It's because your self-esteem is low, so you're seeing a fat person in the mirror.

Anxious? Relax! We weren't so good at even recognizing anxiety in those days, so we often didn't graft self-esteem on 

Bullies had low self-esteem, and somehow so did the kids they were bullying. Criminals? Suffering from low self-esteem. If only we could raise the collective self-esteem, we could sure solve a lot of problems.

The Solution Graft

Seen with 2017 eyes, all of the above seems ridiculous. In fact, the pendulum seems to have swung so far in the other direction. "Kids these days" are criticized for their excessive self-esteem. They want everything right now because they are so special, so precious, right?

Meanwhile, all the problems that self-esteem was supposed to solve are still there and getting worse. 

The lesson here is not about self-esteem. Rather, it's about how we graft whatever piece of psychology that goes mainstream to the problems we want to solve, occasionally to disastrous results. It's how we fail to interrogate the solution as we race to apply it.

For all the talk about how people are throwing pills at their problems, there is an almost equal willingness to plug the solution du jour into any situation. Last week I wrote about how "mindfulness", especially in the form of meditation, has grown as a "solution" that can be grafted onto a lot of problems. 

As a coach and writer, I know there is a long list of concepts I don't write about because I simply don't know enough about them. I don't know enough about a lot of things to ensure that if I put it out there I wouldn't do harm. It's humbling, even sometimes crippling, to consider all of the things you don't know. 

When it comes to the psychological trends of the day, the best way I've found to avoid the "self-esteem" problem is to cast doubt on them until I'm out of disputations. It's one of the reasons that, while my ego absolutely hates it, my rational mind loves when people are highly critical of what I write.

They've often come up with a new argument, one I hadn't thought of, and i'm a little bit wiser for it. So, I guess what I'm saying is, to all the biggest critics of this blog: thanks.