The Error of the Self-Esteem Movement

by | Jun 24, 2004 | Psychology & Living

In recent decades, the field of psychology made a mistake. That mistake was treating self-esteem as the root of mental health. The root of mental health is actually personal responsibility. Personal responsibility refers to a core conviction that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life; that while it is not possible to […]

In recent decades, the field of psychology made a mistake. That mistake was treating self-esteem as the root of mental health. The root of mental health is actually personal responsibility. Personal responsibility refers to a core conviction that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life; that while it is not possible to control everything, you are responsible for managing your life the way you should manage your car on the road: competently, seriously, in full focus and with a wide as well as a narrow perspective.

The self-esteem movement communicated to people that if you somehow “get” self-esteem, you will automatically be happy. Volumes of self-help books have been written, saying the same thing over and over in different ways, leaving most readers with the feeling that they can’t practice what’s written in those books.

The field of education particularly latched on to the idea of self-esteem as the sole purpose of everything, especially in the public school system, by almost entirely abandoning the notion of personal responsibility for children and totally replacing it with feel-good nonsense. Examples include changing testing standards for economically disadvantaged children or eliminating valedictorians from high school graduations.

Self-esteem is crucially important, but it’s a byproduct of more fundamental factors–the core one being a deeply embedded sense of personal responsibility over one’s life. If you act in a personally responsible way and operate continuously on this premise, the sense of control and efficacy associated with self-esteem will largely follow. I have never once met a high self-esteemed individual without this core sense of personal responsibility. I don’t expect I ever will.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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