Pic of the day: Self-esteem - too much of a good thing? (Screenshot from the anime Mamotte Shugogetten.)
Down with self-esteem!
In Scientific American for January 2005 there is an article on "exploding the self-esteem myth". It is not the first such article I have seen over the last year or so, but the most thorough. They all say basically the same thing: There is no connection between self-esteem and how well people do in school or work. There is no connection between self-esteem and what other people think of them. There is no improvement in any other way if you boost people's self-esteem, with one exception. People with high self-esteem find it easier to make contact with other people. (The studies did not measure whether people wanted to be contacted by people with high self-esteem. My observation is that this varies wildly, especially among those of the opposite sex. The higher their own self-esteem, the less pleasure they take in the company of others' high self-esteem.)
Studies have also shown that contrary to earlier belief, bullies do not have low self-esteem. They have tremendously high self-esteem. They are generally popular, and think even higher of themselves than their admirers do. On the other hand, victims of bullying have low self- esteem both before and after being bullied.
People with high self-esteem tend to be happier in general. This does however not result in increased productivity in any way, nor do they make an effort to make others happy. On the contrary, people with high self-esteem channel much energy into trying to get what they (think they) deserve. They tend to think of others as their servants and will not hesitate to make their wishes known.
While the high-esteem people have an easier time initiating new relationships, including intimate ones, they have a harder time sustaining them. When problems arise, as they usually do at some point, they will blame it on their partner and start looking for someone more deserving of their attention. And they will normally find such a person ... for a while.
Self-esteem is measured only by self-reporting, as there is no physical trait that can be measured. It turns out that people who report a high self-esteem, tend to report a bit over the top in other ways of life too. They report looking good, but when rated by people who don't know them, they look like anyone else. They report being popular, but others rate them as neither more nor less popular than others. They report being happy, and perhaps they are. Or perhaps they are lying about that too. Since happiness is not measurable by physical means either, we will never know. All we know is that they over-estimate everything else.
Conversely, people who report low self-esteem tend to also report low scores in other areas of life, but more intriguingly, they tend to don't think highly of others either. Despite this, they seem to slog through just as effectively as those who claim high self-esteem. They may have fewer friends, but they keep them longer. They may complain, but they get the job done. The exception being those with clinical depression, of course. But that's a pretty large topic in its own right.
The short of it is: Self-esteem is worthless. What people say about themselves may at best tell something about what they think about themselves. (Maybe not even that.) It doesn't tell anything about what others think about them, or how likely they are to succeed or fail in school, work or other duties. It does however predict that they initiate and break relationships easier. In short, it seems to be just another word for extrovert or outgoing personality. People who are highly focused on how others view them, will tend to portray themselves as positively as possible.
So, then, perhaps people claim to have high self-esteem because they want to be seen as having high self-esteem. This has after all been touted as something good, without any evidence in its favor. (Especially in the USA and its imitators.) In societies where humility is a virtue, they might have claimed to be humble. Just like me...
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.