The Case Against Self-Esteem
Sometimes, we hypnotists do something called ego strengthening. In ego strengthening, we may have a client re-experience past accomplishments and feel good about them. Then, we can tie those good feelings to the client’s current life either in a general way:
“…and the sounds of the day remind you of these accomplishments,”
or to a specific context:
“When you see your boss, you automatically have memories of past accomplishments and the good feelings that go with them.”
The idea is that people respond to their environment based on their feelings. In general, feeling better helps you be more resourceful. So we use good feelings from the past and attach them where they’ll be most useful. I think that’s good.
So, there are two basic goals–to help clients (or ourselves) feel better and to help them/us perform better.
Self-Esteem And Efficacy
I’m all for feeling good. All-in-all, even if performance is the same in a given context no matter how I feel, I’d rather feel good than bad.
And feeling good is a valid therapeutic outcome.
But what if you want to accomplish more? Is raising self-esteem in general a good approach? Maybe not.
“We have not found evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic interventions or school programs) causes benefits. Our findings do not support continued widespread efforts to boost self-esteem in the hope that it will by itself foster improved outcomes.”
Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs (2003)
You can do your own research if you like. Mine indicates that the vast resources dedicated to raising self-esteem in our school system are largely wasted in terms of boosting any kind of performance.
In my opinion, either they ain’t doing it right or it don’t work (take that, grammar!). And the information on schools could apply to other contexts.
A Better Approach?
Reading some of these studies gave me some thoughts. I began to step in to times when I felt I was in a high-performance state; times when I felt a sense of mastery. For me, in those times, I didn’t seem to be referencing any sense of self esteem. In fact, thoughts about myself at all were few and far between. When I was thinking about myself, it was mostly related to evaluating my performance–but not in an emotionally judgmental way. It was more that I was taking measurements of where I was and making adjustments to do better.
In my experience, when I’m in a ‘flow,’ peak performance state, the ego disappears. Self-esteem is not a consideration.
Recently, I asked a group of 25 or so people to mentally re-live times when they felt a sense of mastery. About half reported something similar to what I experienced; they had relatively little reference to their sense of worth in performing the task. About half did reference their self-esteem related to the task. Interesting.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that some of us were not aware of how the task attached to our self-esteem. Also, a feeling of self-esteem might also have been important in some other part of the process; before we started the task, for instance. Or, perhaps there are many contexts where a sense of mastery is not called for where self-esteem could play a bigger role.
What do you think?