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A Brief History of Self-Esteem  

The focus we see now on self-esteem started when a number of psychologists in the 1980s became concerned about a lack of self-esteem in people in general. They thought self-esteem was very important and put forth the idea that we should take specific steps to develop it in children  This grew until building self-esteem became a central focus in education and parenting.  It turns out they probably shouldn’t have been so concerned and may have created more problems than they solved.

First of all, there wasn’t really a paucity of self-esteem in the first place.  Overall, most people, and most children, have pretty high opinions of themselves.  Self-esteem is defined as the amount of value people put on themselves and most people think of themselves as above average.  Interestingly enough, the efforts to increase self-esteem seem to have worked.  The value people place on themselves is higher now than it was in the 1970’s, even though the way people rate their intelligence, skills, abilities, or looks haven’t increased in the same way.  The question really is whether that increase has had any benefit to society at large and to the individuals who now feel better about themselves. 

There do seem to be some benefits of high self-esteem, but there are also some pretty negative effects. In particular, self-esteem doesn’t seem to have much relationship to achievement or to happiness, both things it was believed to contribute to.  We are going to examine this over the next few months starting next month with a look at some of the benefits of self-esteem.

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