Just Believe In Yourself: Who And How Sold The Self-Esteem Myth To The World

A life 2023

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Just Believe In Yourself: Who And How Sold The Self-Esteem Myth To The World
Just Believe In Yourself: Who And How Sold The Self-Esteem Myth To The World
Video: Just Believe In Yourself: Who And How Sold The Self-Esteem Myth To The World
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While self-esteem has always been an important barometer the psychological state of a person, its influence is often exaggerated, and she herself is not quite correctly presented as the root of all human troubles. Our failures do lead to the fact that we begin to value less ourselves and our own abilities, and this, in turn, can suppress motivation and social adaptation skills. Once in an environment where they are bullied or discriminated against, a person really begins to feel superfluous and worthless.


Dmitry Kurkin


Low self-esteem is also a sure sign of unsettledness, and this seems to give reason to draw the opposite conclusion: if you want to succeed, work on self-esteem. This explains why the motto "You just need to believe in yourself!" is still popular - and sells well - and high self-esteem is still considered the key to personal growth, a universal master key, thanks to which you can ignore complex social problems (like the same discrimination) and personality traits. Moreover, some twenty years ago, it was considered not just a symptom of an illness, but the root cause of almost any failure, so that work on self-esteem turned almost into a religion. We find out who had a hand in the creation of the cult.

The threads of the modern self-esteem movement lead to the Californian politician John Vasconcellos. He, in turn, was inspired by the works of Karl Rogers, the theorist of humanistic psychology, and inherited his belief that a person is by nature good, and his potential is unlimited - you just need to reveal him correctly. Vasconcellos found a clue on how to do this in studies of the relationship between low self-esteem and antisocial behavior and poor adaptation in society.

Having made the classic mistake and presented the correlation as a direct cause-and-effect relationship (low self-esteem could just as well be the result of social disorder, as well as its cause - in addition, the connection between them does not have to be direct at all), Vasconcellos fired up the project of the correct upbringing of a new generation. He argued that many "social ills" - from unemployment, banditry and domestic violence to the rise of alcohol and drug addiction and teenage pregnancies - can be cured by raising people's self-esteem from an early age.

High self-esteem is still considered the key to personal growth, a universal master key, thanks to which you can ignore problems.

Vasconcellos' faith in the power of positive thinking was great. Will Storr, who has dedicated a chapter to the politician in his book Selfies: Why We Are Obsessed with Ourselves and How It Affects Us, says that when the cheerful idealist was struck by a heart attack in the early 1980s, he asked his supporters to imagine small brushes wiping away cholesterol plaques in his arteries (this approach did not help much, and in the end the politician had to resort to coronary artery bypass grafting).

With the idea of ​​creating a committee to promote self-esteem and personal and social responsibility, Vasconcellos came to the office of then California Governor George Dukmejian. There they were skeptical about his idea, but John insisted that his social project in the long term would save a lot of money for the state budget - after all, working on self-esteem was much cheaper than stopping what he considered the consequences of low self-esteem. This argument helped him convince the governor to create a special commission of scientists at the University of California to study the issue.

In publicly promoting his concept, Vasconcellos faced a profound misunderstanding of positive thinking.Everyone ridiculed his ideas, from political opponents (one of whom offered to “buy a Bible for $ 2.5” as an alternative to the $ 735,000 project) to the media, especially from the painter Harry Trudeau, who laughed at the self-esteem movement in the satirical comic strip "Dunsbury".

The situation changed dramatically when the opinion of a commission examining the results of self-assessment studies was published in 1988. "Correlations were found to be positive and convincing" - this conclusion, published in the media, made self-assessment the main word for the next two years and became the basis of an almost religious faith, which from now on could refer to "the opinion of scientists."


There was only one problem: the actual results of the examination did not support Vasconcellos's theory. In other words, the scientific evidence of the effect of self-esteem on human behavior, replicated in press releases, turned out to be fake. “Self-assessment did not have any impact on any of the six social issues studied by the commission,” said one of its participants, David Schannahoff-Halsa. “That report was an attempt to trick people. There was no scientific basis behind it. " To be fair, it wasn't the report that was lying, but its promo. “More often than not, the results indicate that the relationship between self-esteem and its expected consequences is ambiguous, insignificant or absent,” was the real conclusion of the commission led by Neil Smelzer. It is still not known for sure how these words turned into a "positive and convincing correlation" that was leaked to the media, but according to Storr, the University of California did not argue with Vasconcellos for fear of losing funding.

After breaking the initial skepticism, the self-esteem movement began to quickly gain adherents (including Oprah Winfrey) and swept through the North America of the nineties like wildfire. Although echoes of that fever are still heard - self-esteem training is still in demand, the turnover of the corresponding market for goods and services in 2015 in the United States alone, according to one estimate, reached $ 10 billion annually - at the time it wore a much more epic character. Remembering her, they usually cite as an example the children's book "Cuties in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem", written by Diane Lumens and published in 1991. But this sweeping mantra ("I am beautiful! I am beautiful! These magic words open wide the gates to the Kingdom of Self-Esteem for readers of all ages," the annotation read) was just the icing on the cake of numerous courses and targeted programs, the main platform of which became schools.

One of the common practices was playing kushball: elementary school students had to throw a colored ball to each other, accompanying each throw with a compliment like "I like your jersey" or "You play football well." Similar sessions of mutual praise called "The Magic Circle" were held at a school in Toronto. Some educational institutions installed mirrors with inscriptions like "You are looking at the most special person in the whole world!" Others have decided not to use red ink when checking student papers.

The idea of ​​a panacea was too seductive to give up

and “recruit the best teachers instead

and invest more money in schools"

According to Steve Salerno, author of Wiring: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Powerless, the US education system so eagerly grabbed onto the concept of self-esteem because it offered to solve complex social problems with a wave of a magic wand. “You have poverty-stricken working areas where children - primarily children of African descent - do not perform as well as others. And then you are told that this is due to the fact that they have low self-esteem. "The idea of ​​a panacea was too tempting to abandon it and “hire better teachers and invest more money in schools instead” or systematically fight discrimination.

A complete rejection of criticism, which can harm the self-esteem of children (and, accordingly, worsen their academic performance), however, did not lead to the desired result - an increase in the quality of education, which could be confirmed by research. Moreover, in some cases it even fell. A relatively recent example is Barrowford Elementary School in Lancashire, England: in 2014, it became famous for a letter from its headmistress telling her students that grades were not as important as a sense of their own uniqueness; a year later, inspectors of Ofsted (a supervisory service that evaluates the quality of education) called the school's teaching level unacceptably low.

Another assumption underlying the Vasconcellos program, that the level of aggression and antisociality of a person is inversely proportional to his self-esteem, has not been confirmed either. The results of studies published in the mid-2000s, including in Scientific American, not only did not confirm this assumption, but also refuted it: among the convicted criminals, there were enough of those who had a high opinion of themselves.

What increased self-esteem really goes hand in hand with (again, if we talk about correlation, not causality) is a person's willingness to take initiative and a good mood. At the same time, in people prone to narcissism, self-esteem can cause psychological addiction - and then initiative goes not so much into the desire to change life for the better, but rather into the desire to get another dose of approval from others. Unsurprisingly, in the late 2000s, many studies marked the surge in narcissism in the United States. According to one version, it is explained just twenty years ago by the boom in the fashion for self-esteem.

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