Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Self-esteem or Humility?

My favorite family psychologist, John Rosemond, gave me something to think about last week. His syndicated column last Thursday was titled "High-self esteem makes for manipulative children." When I taught school, many of the workshops we had to attend were about ways we should give our students high self-esteem. I never totally understood what that meant, nor how I could give anyone self-esteem.

Dr. Rosemond writes that psychologists had no empirical evidence to support the claim that parents should do all in their power to make sure their children acquired high self-esteem. The evidence, he goes on to write, is now in and says that people with high self-esteem possess low regard for others. "Instead of seeking opportunities to serve others, they seek to manipulate others. Furthermore, people with high self-regard tend to antisocial behavior. For example, people incarcerated in maximum-security prisons have very high self-regard."

"Pre-psychological parenting (like the kind my parents used on me and I used on my children)emphasized respect for others. . .seek opportunities to serve. . .pay attention to other people." Parents confuse self-esteem with confidence. Dr. Rosemond says "there is no evidence that people who are humble, modest and possess high regard for others lack the belief they are capable of dealing with life's challenges."

I believe I'd rather be employed by, work with or be married to someone who is humble and modest rather than someone who has high self-esteem and is more interested in serving themselves than others. I believe, as does the good doctor, that we have damaged children, families, school and culture with this psychobabble.

Along with this kind of skewed parenting is doublespeak, as in George Orwell's novel "1984." The new Homeland Security Department chief no long calls terrorist attacks by that name. Instead she calls them man-caused disasters. The Albuquerque School District has stopped calling kids who play hooky from school "truant." They are to be termed "students in need of early intervention."

All this goes together. Instead of telling their children they can't hit another child or they must share what they have because that is the kind thing to do, parents give in to their tyrannical children by trying to "distract" them with something good--a lollipop, a bird in the sky, whatever is around so their little darling won't be damaged by being told "no" or by being paddled on their soft little bottoms when they are rude and selfish. Those are the kids teachers are trying to teach today in out-of-control classrooms. Those are the adults that shoot or abuse others when they "don't get their way." Can't you just hear them now? "It's not my fault." And the parent's only response is "He's a good boy. It was those other kids that made him do it."

Seems to me that very often high self-esteem equals selfishness. What is it God says in Isaiah 57? "For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place with him who has a contrite and humble spirit. . ." Come to think about it, I don't find anywhere in scripture where we are told to have high self-esteem.


  1. Genuine self-esteem is always connected with esteem toward others otherwise it isn't self-esteem.

  2. Any change you make in your life means that you have to move out of your “comfort zone”. Sometimes you have to step on unexplored terrains to reach your goals, which could be challenging.
    But, you have to make certain changes in order to live the life you deserve.

  3. John Rosemond is my favorite parenting expert, too. Good post! My parents, both former teachers, told me about this link between criminals and "high self-esteem."

    My dad made a good point about it. He said that the problem is that parents and teachers are told to build high self-esteem in their kids, and so they praise them for nothing and give them all sorts of feelings of entitlement.

    I like your substitution of the word confidence for self-esteem. When we use the word confidence, it becomes very clear that confidence is not something that someone else can build in you. Confidence comes from developing skills and achieving. If kids realize that they need to work hard for their achivements, they don't develop a criminal mentality.

    The criminal mentality says: "I'm entitled to this by any means necessary because I'm special."

    Healthy confidence says: "I have the ability to work hard for this and attain it by honest means, which may involve sacrifice and delayed gratification."

  4. I linked over from Rosslyn's site. I'll be a regular reader! Thanks. This was a great article.