Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Self-esteem is overrated

Topic of self-esteem can easily extends to many posts, but for now I will exposed the general idea of self-esteem.

Instead of explicitly defining self esteem or self worth, I can explain self-esteem by describing it's relationship with a person's subjective appraisal of herself. It's the factor influencing whether someone subjective appraisal of herself is considered positive or negative.

A more concise definition of self-esteem can be found here. Quoting from there: self-esteem includes a person's subjective appraisal of himself or herself as intrinsically positive or negative to some degree (Sedikides & Gregg, 2003).


Self-esteem is considered very important especially in American culture. The themes of many popular literature/media and popular self-help books evolved around the importance of self-esteem, as indicated from corny phrases such as "You can do it" or "I know you can". People with high self esteem is depicted to be "complete" or perfect, attractive or cool, etc. Many developmental problems are attributed to lack of self-esteem so that an positive self-esteem automatically eliminated problems.

Interestingly, you can see that many of those movies encourage a "You can do" attitude without any reasonable basis. For example, a boy whose track record in baseball sucks, somehow due to a "You can do" attitude, can hit a home run in a critical moment for his team. It's unreasonable yet such attitude is encouraged.

This type of encouragement causes a high but fragile self-esteem. The boy might have a high self-esteem believing that he's good at base ball, but without any evidences in the past supporting such believe, his self-esteem is easily shattered once he fail to hit in one critical moment.

After such incident, other people or himself will try to instill to himself more self-esteem by undermining such failure. Such method will work. But his self-esteem will be more and more fragile making failure much more hurting. It will hurt so much that the boy might start relying on maladaptive behavior (such as cognitive dissonance, or bullying) to cope.

This unreasonable emphasize in self-esteem regardless of reality, is a big problem in the US, and becoming a problem in countries strongly influenced by US culture. A psychological experiment that measures US students and Japan students' assessment of theirself, indicates that US students significantly overestimate themselves.

*Updated: Spelling, grammar, and structure, not yet*

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