Reality Check: Routes to Self-Esteem

Is self-esteem a double-edged sword?

Too little self-esteem? You can find yourself living an unsatisfying life with little confidence. You may treat yourself as if you have low value or worth. Others may take your behaviour as a cue, and treat you likewise.

Too much self-esteem can also bring unsatisfying consequences. You may be perceived as egotistical, arrogant. You may have few satisfying relationships because you act as if you are more valuable and confident than everyone else!

One approach toward reaching the Goldilocks solution (not too much, not too little, it’s just right) is through self-evaluation. Self-evaluation works by examining your actions and asking yourself, “How well is what I’m doing working for me?”

If you’re a parent who feels some responsibility to ensure that your children develop an appropriate level of self-esteem, here’s another question you might consider: Does the route by which a person develops self-esteem matter?

The following scenario describes the result of one route to self-esteem.

Ever since he was little, Brady has been told that he is “awesome.” He need barely lift a finger and mom, grandma, even his teacher go gaga: “You’re so smart! You’re so wonderful!”

Brady enjoys the praise that’s lavished on him. If the adults in his life want to think that he’s great, why not let them? It takes no effort on his part, and sometimes it’s funny just to see how easily impressed they are.

Only when he joined a sports team did he get any kind of “try harder” message. That was discouraging, so he gave it up. His mom said that was ok; she didn’t want his self-esteem to be damaged by some hard-hearted coach. It’s not like he was trying out for the Olympics or anything. But she told Brady that she knows he could have succeeded if he really wanted to; it’s just not that interesting now.

How’s Brady’s self-esteem? He’ll probably tell you he’s pretty content with himself. Why wouldn’t he be?

When Brady started work, he expected the praise to continue. With his charm and people skills, he immediately impressed the boss at his interview. As it was a minimum wage job, Brady figured that meant that he only needed to put in minimum effort.

Oddly enough, his boss wasn’t enthusiastic about Brady’s interpretation of the requirements for performance and work ethic. In their discussions, Brady was astonished to hear, “You can be replaced. There are people who would appreciate the opportunity to have this job, learn, and advance in this company.”

Brady was shocked when he was ultimately fired. This couldn’t be right! “How could the boss believe that I don’t deserve this job? There has to have been a mistake. I’m awesome!”

How’s Brady’s self-esteem now? He’s devastated. His mom has told him it’s the boss’s fault, but could it possibly be that not everybody sees how extraordinary he is? Can it be that there are people who don’t understand his awesomeness?

Worse, what if he is not the awesome person his mom keeps telling him he is? What if he is actually the considerably less-than-awesome person that his ex-boss so clearly perceived?

Having no foundation in reality, Brady’s unearned self-esteem is easily lost. He’s left with few resources to fall back on, and a new fear of trying anything difficult.

Might there be a more effective route to the development of self-esteem? What do you think?

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