Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Self esteem clarified for me!

I am reading this book.
I am only on page 40 something but it appears to be a consolidation (backed up by extensive research) of all hippie lefty values and social ideals. Cool - some welly to wiffly waffly gut feeling about what is right!

Anyway, as I said, it's early days for me and this book but it has already clarified something for me: self esteem is still a good thing. I was a teacher when the first wave of the self esteem movement was underway. Then, the definition of self esteem seemed pretty straightforward: it was your genuine self worth, your resilience in the face of life's difficulties and criticisms. And for a long time people thought this was developed just by praising children. The understanding developed and it was realised that it was more about actually finding opportunities for children to achieve and feel an internal sense of pride etc. This definition was in no way linked to being egotistical as it went hand in hand with a genuine understanding of ones own strengths and weaknesses. It meant your self identity was comfortably accepted by yourself and it was based on good and realistic self-knowledge.

Then I remember reading the first wave of anti-self esteem articles. These cited that you could have too much self esteem because it made you arrogant and feel superior to your fellow human beings. This kind of self esteem could be linked to racism, homophobia and anything the Daily Mail endorsed really. I knew this was talking about something different and I held firm to the original idea that healthy self-worth is still a good thing.

And this book has elucidated this issue for me by defining two types of self esteem. The first is much like my original understanding. The second is demarcated from the first and described as 'insecure-self worth' (or even narcissism). Research has shown that this second type has increased in the last few decades. It is simply about needing to present a fantastic image of yourself to others because your self-image is so completely dependent upon how others see you. This self esteem is fragile and needs to be perpetually fed to be maintained. This kind of self esteem IS about feeling you are better than others and can consequently damage relationships (and ultimately disband communities - with individuals all vying for top dog status).

The book goes on to describe how this fragile self esteem is linked to people's need to improve their social standing and make constant comparisons with others. It also states that this 'narcissism' has probably increased because we no longer tend to be in a solid and settled community where our self-definition is stable and fully understood by those around us.

I just know which of the following two encounters I prefer:

1) A person that name drops, tells you all about their achievements and appears to have no ability to show an interest in you (fragile self esteem) AN UNCOMFORTABLE UNEQUAL CONNECTION


2) A person that gives you the opportunity to ask them questions. They turn out to be very interesting and have achieved lots but modestly only share the bits you have shown an interest in. They also ask you questions and shown genuine interest in you. (genuine self esteem) A PLEASANT AND EQUAL CONNECTION

There are cultural differences of course but in more equal societies like Japan, modesty rules whereas in more unequal societies (UK and USA) declaring your own brilliance in an attempt to make others feel inferior is on the increase!

Bish Bash Bosh. Now to read more......


  1. The second type of self-esteem is what you see splashed all over The Apprentice (I am fantastic, the best, etc etc but which are not backed up by reality. This seems to be the type of self-esteem that young people are developing now (American influence Jim says). I'm not sure where it comes from? Current education system?

    P.S. Of course, I AM fantastic and the best and will give 110 per cent.

  2. I bumped into a friend in town. She lives in a small village and feels like she does not fit in at all. Many of the women at the school gates say things to her like: I am having a terrible dilemma - I am not sure whether to take the kids to Florida's Disney World or get a new kitchen. She (a single mum of three delightful daughters, a nurse fitting in an art degree and a very lovely and interesting person) just cannot relate this this. She therefore has no means by which to start a conversation.

    We have decided to start a Campaign for Real People (those that are comfortable in their own skin and do not need to big themselves up in a way that alienates others.)

  3. Hmm, one to add to the Kindle maybe, though I'm not entirely sure I agree with the premise. I may have just encountered too many of the second kind, I guess. Anything that results in more Real People can't be a bad thing though.

  4. Andy - get ye to a field of hippies now!

  5. Well I'm glad that I surfed over here. I had to set down my latest Blackberry that no one can even buy yet, put off my 6pm meeting with God Almighty himself, and not open a thousand quid bottle of champagne.

    Just kidding, of course. Wait, not about the part of stopping by. Type 2's are the best, but it seems to me like the type 1's can make things interesting if they aren't the sort to embrace hate.

  6. Oh but the book says type 2 is prone to mistrusting, hatred, fear and generally wanting to perpetuate inequality.

    I am also reading interesting things about how violence is always initiated by feelings of shame - by being humiliated and made to feel 'lesser' in some way. Far more likely in unequal societies - especially in males where sexual prowess is felt to instinctively be about seeming superior.

  7. What if I name drop on Tuesdays and Thursdays and confront (challenge) others who do the same on Mondays and Wednesdays as I revert to type 2? I'll keep my mouth shut on Friday and the weekend but look as if i'm paying attention. I'll be violent occasionally, be interesting now and again and from time to time be an absolute bore.
    Seriously, it's good to hear from you, MollyP and this post is making me think.

  8. Hi KenD. Are you in France now?

    What will you do with your occasional violence? If it's good, can i join in.

  9. Got back from France last Friday and am in rehab. I ripped up a perfectly innocent piece of paper today and showed no mercy. I'm moving on to wanting to whack a politician now...please say you'll join me.


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