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Study – Self Esteem Not So Esteemed

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Finally!! A major study by an expert in self esteem commissioned by the American Psychological Society to study the benefits of self-esteem, and the finding is “disappointing.” Professor Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State writes in the Tuesday Opinion Section of the Los Angeles Times:

1. Does not produce better grades
2. Does not produce better work habits or quality
3. Does not result in more friends or better relationships
4. Does not produce better leaders
5. Does not keep people from becoming bullies
6. Does not keep people from cheating, stealing or experimenting with sex or drugs

Other findings suggested that

1. Humility was better predictor for leadership
2. Kids told to suck it up were more likely to get better grades

Some benefits may be that those with self-esteem are happier, bounce back from problems faster, and exhibit more initiative. It is not clear that these benefits can be derived from trying to build self-esteem. It may be that these individuals think well of themselves because they are predisposed to, or that they are actually doing well.

The author suggests discipline and self control are more likely to produce the results that the self-esteem movement only promised, but didn’t deliver.

In an e-mail exchange with the professor, I suggested that unconditional love resulting in feelings of being valued or having worth might also produce the results that the self-esteem folks hoped for. The only source of such unconditional love is God. He responded: “ as for feeling valued rather than esteemed, this is an interesting distinction i had not thought about. boosting self-esteem for its own sake probably contributes to narcissism, and the christians among my friends seem refreshingly immune to becoming narcissistic, so they must be doing something right!”

Once again the Bible of the ages trumps the scientists of our times.

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About Randy

  • 1. Humility was better predictor for leadership

    This does not bode well for Bush then. His ‘my way or the highway’ would not be the best trait for leadership according to you.

    It’s odd how people need to pay scientists to study these things, when I would think all we have to do is ask around.

    In my youth, I went through a suicidal period. The rest of the time, I was just depressed and had no sense of self-worth, not even enough to bother committing suicide. But I had good grades the whole time. I could have told people there’s no correlation, I’m sure millions of others could too.

    the christians among my friends seem refreshingly immune to becoming narcissistic, so they must be doing something right!”

    it’s my impression that Christians are immune to narcissism because their ideology is all about the frailty and weakness of man. Man is nothing but a beast without the Lord, without being saved. Without the Bible, apparently Man will revert to murder without conscious. Man will lose all morals and hump anything that moves without the morality of Christianity.

    Or so, these are the messages that the Christian faith sent to me, when I was an active member in the faith. How can a Christian be narcissistic when the entire religion is based on the premise that man is scum without God?

  • George Bush looks cocky. I think it is the Texas stroll. I believe he is very humble, but personally I’d rather not go on that tangent.

    Your other points are very well taken. A bit harsh against Christians, but with a little softening, I might be able to agree with almost all of it.

  • I wonder what the test subjects were, and where they were located. I think it does differ from region to region…

  • from the back cover of the book…

    *It’s Jesus’ promise to you-the promise that you live triumphantly. But what keeps you from really walking in the joy of the Lord? The powers of darkness attack us daily. But, as Dr. Neil Anderson shows in Victory over the Darkness, you can have the power to conquer them by knowing who you are in Christ.*

    more evangelism attempting to disguise itself as something else

    i am curious , since discipline and self control are highly valued…according to the Post, does the source of such character traits matter?

    my own comes from studying gung fu since an early age, it stood me well in school, and in the military and continues on to this very day…certain tenets of philosophy and ethics were involved…including that of self Responsibility…but no “religion” per se

    religion was left to my time in church until my Communion, which required no small amount of study and a final examination from an episcopal bishop…i passed the exams, made my communion and have had nothing to do with any form of “church” since walking out that door that day

    i do continue to study religion, philosophy, mythology, cultural anthropology and other related topics, since i find them not only fascinating, but crucial in my attempt at understanding other people

    once again Rational Thought trumps mindless obediance

    but then again, one of my own tenets has been

    gnosis > dogma

    just my one sixth billionths of the world’s Opinion…


  • A bit harsh against Christians, but with a little softening

    Now how does saying that an ideology is all about the weakness of men, (which you pretty much agree with) harsh against Christians? It wasn’t directed at an individual but an ideology. I can’t help it if some people CHOOSE to be solely identified by an ideology.

  • Steve. My point exactly. I meant the way you said it, but specifically said I could agree with the underlying message.

    Gonzo. No argument that discipline and self-control learned at anyone’s knee will be huge helps in living a balanced ane useful life.

    The real issue here, however, is self esteem vs self worth. That was what the professor, who went in to prove the value of self esteem methodology, found so intriguing in our email correspondence.

    Feeling valued comes from being loved unconditionally, but having the love result in appropriate discipline for untoward behavior or to improve behavior. It also comes from being humble enough to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Finally, my belief is that the lynchpin is in knowing oneself. Strengths, weakness, being ok with the hand you’re dealt and maximizing the strengths to benefit others. Oh. That’s what the Bible says. Now, psychology is starting to say the same thing.

  • Evan

    Jesus Christ.

    There should be rules against this kind of posting.

  • Evan,

    If the Bible had nothing to do with a religion, it would still be the most fascinating book ever written. I first read it from cover-to-cover in college to prepare an English term paper on the Old Testament as literature.

    So, you don’t need to be uptight when the Bible is mentioned. It is an important source book to 2 billion folks.

  • Evan

    I’d argue that perhaps James Joyce’s Ulysses is a better book, but that’s all opinion.

    I don’t get uptight when the Bible is mentioned. I have the utmost respect for it. As a piece of literature… that’s a different discussion. What I have no respect for is people like you who continually portray false information, hide important information that shows clear bias, play word games, pick and choose questions to answer, and show an extreme lack of respect for the opinions of others, all for the purpose of discrediting science.

  • Sorry you feel that way. I don’t think the shoe fits, but I’ll contemplate your criticisms and see if there is a need for doing better.

    One thing I do know. I’m not interested in discrediting science. I’m interested in keeping science scientific, open, and credible. I believe that part of the reason we are seeing a drift into post modernism (very bad for science) is that a lot of folks are tired of reading the headline this week that changes next week about what some scientist has declared as truth.

    THe press is to blame, but if you go on the NASA website, for instance, you can see that the tone of the discussion of discoveries by Hubble is set in phrases that suggest established fact, not speculation. And these are statements about things that have only been observed in recent months.

  • Evan

    Wouldn’t that make sense? I mean, it’s the NASA website. There’d be a bias. Whatever happened to finding multiple sources and opinions?

    But, when you make posts like this, and end them with “Once again the Bible of the ages trumps the scientists of our times.” it sure as hell seems like you’re trying to discredit science, and clearly shows your entrenched bias.

  • Try reading it this way. For 90 years we have had Freud, Jung, etc., using all kinds of ideas and methods to help people through their emotional illnesses. Now, as psychology has become mature, it has decided that much of what it has been saying for those 90 years is not helpful and potentially distructive.

    Today, most therapists are realizing that unforgiveness is the leading cause of emotional illness in 75% of their patients.

    Interesting that this is the major principle spelled out in the Bible for leading a quality life.

  • Evan

    That is interesting. It’s also interesting how any moral person, regardless of race, religion or sex, can come to that conclusion on their own. It’s also interesting how laughing is good for you. I really fail to see your point, because you failed to make one. You jumped from the Bible, to NASA, and now to phychology? This seems to be your method of defense. As soon as you can’t come up with an answer, you quickly change the subject to something you’re more comfortable with.

    I’m not too familiar with the history of psychology, but just hear me out here.

    “Today, most therapists are realizing that unforgiveness is the leading cause of emotional illness in 75% of their patients.”
    I’m assuming you have some studies, articles from credible journals and medical reports to back this up, since you use statistics so comfortably? (I’d appreciate links by the way) What’s really interesting, and what you fail to see, is that therapists and scientists are coming to this conclusion scientifically (Which I will believe once you’ve given me the links, otherwise, your argument falls flat). That would seem to be the more important thing here than whether an ancient text discusses morals. So did Homer’s Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and countless other historical texts, but you don’t hear anyone talking about how we should live by those books.

  • Gotta say goodnite. I’ll check again in the a.m.

    The 75% figure, I’ll admit, comes from an article in parade Mag last year. However, it quoted some leading folks in the field.

    My own experience with counseling a very small number of people came up with about the same percentage. The author of the book above, who was at one time the head of the Psych dept at Biola University, came to the same #.

    The reason the Bible has become the moral source for so many is that it rings true to them. It is now the basis for jurisprudence in our country. And we’ve build something pretty special.

  • bhw

    Randy, can you provide a link to the study (or a news report about it) and the LA Times opinion piece you cited?

  • Evan

    So lets go over your sources. You cite a “parade Mag” which I can’t seem to find any information on (the one I found hardly seems to fit the description of a medical journal), yourself, the seemingly very Christian author of Victory over the Darkness, and Biola University, which is “a private Christian university founded in 1908” who “offer 145 academic programs, ranging from the B.A. to the Ph.D., through six schools. All are regionally and professionally accredited and based on evangelical Christianity.”

    So that’s four Christian sources, none of which really seem credible. Gee, I guess you do read a lot on both sides.

    As for jurisprudence, welll, so much for that good ol’ notion of the seperation of church and state. Where you say special, I say frightening.

  • Tan the Man writes: “I wonder what the test subjects were, and where they were located. I think it does differ from region to region…

    Reply: Tan, how so?



  • The only unconditional love I’ve received is from my dog.

    I don’t see any link between unconditional love and self esteem. I don’t see any proof for the assertion that God is the only source for unconditional love too.

  • I don’t see any proof for the assertion that God is the only source for unconditional love too.

    Agreed. I won’t dispute the power of unconditional love, but I do believe that I have received it from my mother and if she is God then I am Jesus. She laid no conditions on me.

  • JR

    Well, she is your Creator.

  • Free links (sheesh, Randy, these were easy to find):

    Baumeister, R.F. (1993) (Editor) Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. New York: Plenum. Amazon 0306443732.

    And, more recent than the book, Scientific American Jan 2005: “Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth” by Baumeister, et al.

    A parallel phenomenon affects those with low self-esteem, who are prone to floccinaucinihilipilification, a highfalutin word (among the longest in the Oxford English Dictionary) but one that we can’t resist using here, it being defined as “the action or habit of estimating as worthless.”

    Baumeister has also been published on this topic in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 4, No. 1, pages 1–44; May 2003.

  • carmine

    Oh thank you for writing this! How much torment I have faced over the years for saying this and now I have some evidence, and from the psycho-babblers themselves!!! PC is finally fading fading fading away. Now let’s find out how bogus recovered memory syndromy is and so much more of the hocum in the DSM IV. Great Post!!!

  • Thanks Dr. Pat. Unfortunately, from time to time I have to leave this play yard and go hang out at the factory for a few hours.

    I’m confused by the confusion over unconditional love. This is something we should all strive to give, but clearly non of us can do it pefectly.

    My folks were pretty good, except their praise always ended up sounding like my results were expected. So my goal in life became to do something that eclipsed their expectations. We all have our cross.

  • regarding comment 22 by carmine. I assume that I am a psycho-babbler you are talking about.

    The premise here was that self-esteem has no correlation to intelligence and the ability to get good grades. I can agree with that. However that does not negate the fact that self-esteem is still important towards human development. This is a given. But no, it doesn’t help you figure out where Madagascar is on a map.