Saturday, August 16, 2008

The problem with self-esteem

What's wrong with self-esteem? Two thoughts on this. First, self-esteem is an unhealthy distortion of the healthy concept of having a sense of worth and in having an appropriate level of confidence. Second, an idea I heard told not long ago by my Personality Theory professor, is that esteeming yourself at all is problematic. Not just the self-dislike, but the self-like also. What? Yeah, I know. More on that in a bit.

The first thought mentioned above is addressed nicely in an excellent talk given in 1995 by Paul C. Vitz. I could pick at some of what he says, or at least wish to discuss with him some points he briefly made, but all in all what he says is spot on. My main gripe would be found in this statement, "... only two things can truly change how we feel about ourselves. Real accomplishment and real love." This is well and good, but he goes on to explain that in order to develop genuine self-worth, real love has to be received. What he does not discuss is the importance of developing self-worth by giving love. Giving, I would suggest, is of greater importance than receiving. (I could go on and on about love and it's definition/s, but will save that for a later post. Maybe.) Vitz further writes that self-esteem is a "narcissistic emphasis in American society [that] is a disguised form of self worship." Ouch. Is self-esteem so bad? In it's often expressed incarnation, it really is. This is because it is a distorion of a true principle, but it is not the true principle. His entire talk may be read by clicking here.

The second thought, about the problem of esteeming yourself at all, goes like this. Rather than seeking to be happy, instead of seeking to love self, one should not consider such things. Instead, we ought to focus on others. This idea would say that if I'm down on myself it is only because I am focused on myself. Turn that focus toward others in a positive, serving sort of way, and *poof* no more problem with self-esteem; no more problem with depression. An accurate sense of self-worth will then follow. While self-esteem seeks to be fed, self-worth is content, and is fed mostly by course of feeding others. (I can go on and on about depression and it's definition/s, but will save that for a later post/s. Almost certainly.)

I find myself wanting to continue, to elaborate. But this is good enough for now. Read Vitz's talk. It's good to think about.

More Vitz: Psychology As Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship

[Although a professional photographer, psychology was my area of study in school. I expect to return to psychology related topics frequently in future posts.]

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