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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Obsession with self-esteem

Mon, 08 Jun 2015 09:34:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

All people, at all ages of life, need a minimum of self-esteem. They need it to trust in their own possibilities and to avoid possible inner states of insecurity and inferiority. But it is necessary to be forewarned against false self-esteem, which is egolatry and self-complacency.

In adolescence, the phase of fears, doubts, complexes and indecisions, the need for self-esteem usually increases considerably. But it is one thing to recognize that self-esteem is necessary and quite another to consider that it is everything in life or that it is the most important thing. In the same way: it is one thing to favor the conditions for self-esteem to develop in a natural way and quite another to provoke it artificially.

In some countries (especially in the United States), concern for self-esteem has become fashionable lately, to the point of making it an obsession. From some "new" psychological positions that pretend to resurrect the old permissive theories of psychoanalysis, an attempt is being made to frighten parents with a "terrible evil" that stalks their children: the lack of self-esteem. And to prevent the latter from becoming victims of this evil, it is recommended to their parents to develop artificially and in the short term deadline the self-esteem of children and adolescents with procedures such as the following:

Praise children by system, regardless of their behavior (It does not matter that they mistreat their siblings and schoolmates, it does not matter that they squander money and that they live only to satisfy their personal tastes and whims. The only thing that matters is that they love themselves more and more); 2.To lower the ideals of life (so that later they do not suffer possible disappointments); 3.To reduce the exigency until arriving at tolerance without limits (so that they never feel guilty of anything).

What happens to these boys and girls when they try to make their way in professional life? We are already seeing it: they run into unexpected difficulties, revealing that they are not as capable as they had assumed. For the first time they come face to face with their limitations and shortcomings: for the first time someone tells them that they have made a mistake or that they are to blame for things that have gone wrong. The first experience of being dependent on a boss is often very hard for them, but it is also very sobering. It allows them to discover that in the past they were infused with self-esteem through deception.

The current sociological programs of study are proving that the clash of false self-esteem with harsh reality often produces what it was intended to avoid: self-esteem crisis. Experience tells us that self-esteem does not develop through continuous praise or almost total tolerance. Parents who seek to strengthen their children's "ego" in this way only succeed in weakening and isolating it.

True self-esteem is nourished by the satisfaction that comes from achieving new goals for oneself. It is common that when a child or adolescent obtains, based on effort staff, the result he/she was looking for, he/she exclaims with healthy pride: "I have achieved it!". On the other hand, overprotected children will never be able to have such a gratifying and formative experience; every time their parents avoid them or solve a difficulty they feel a little more insecure and helpless.

 Self-esteem, like joy or happiness, cannot be sought directly. And even less so by way of deception. Self-esteem is a consequence. A consequence of what? Of putting illusion in what one does and in doing it better every day; of carrying out one's duties with love; of being helpful to others; of being a good companion, a good brother and a good friend; of fighting daily against one's own defects. Note that all this means learning to forget oneself.

The greatest and best self-esteem is the deserved self-esteem, the one based on real achievements, the one that each one earns with his own effort. If parents teach their children, from an early age, to strive to be a little better every day (development of virtues) and to achieve excellence in everything (in programs of study, in family life, in friendship, etc.), self-esteem will come by itself.