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Is our obsession with self-esteem causing damage?

I get the privilege to speak with a LOT of Teachers and School Leaders.  One topic that has come up consistently of late is that of Self-EsteemTo be honest, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of it.

Self-Esteem, and specifically our obsession with the avoidance of low Self-Esteem, is now starting to cause us problems.  The root cause of these problems is simply that we’re always striving for the highest levels of Self-Esteem without wondering if we can perhaps get too much of this good thing.

I prefer to imagine Self-Esteem on a bell curve.  Sure, on one side of the hump Low Self-Esteem contributes to negative self-talk and a lack of willingness to try new things and initiate tasks.  That’s no good at school.

In the middle, or on the hump, I view as being Healthy Self-Esteem, where we have young people developing an appropriate level of pride and determination in multiple life contexts.  Sounds good for school … right?

But on the other side of the hump we have High Self-Esteem. This is an arrogance and boastfulness that is completely disconnected from achievement.  We can actually take pride in ridiculous and destructive behaviours at this point (like our clever lad pictured and his ill-conceived tattoo!) because … well … I’m freakin’ awesome no matter what I do or don’t do.  Sound familiar?  Sound equally concerning?

Healthy Self-Esteem is not built on false praise or underpinned by an inflated view of the self.  It’s built through one thing only – achievement.  Even better – differentiated achievement.  This just made our ability to work in the narrow academic, social and emotional window between “too hard” and “too easy” core business.  It’s achievement in this space that brings a pride that no put-down of others or boastful tattoo ever can.

Let’s aim for Healthy Self-Esteem built upon a solid foundation of success … rather than High Self-Esteem built upon the unstable and false “cult of me”.