The Case Against Self-Esteem

The Case Against Self-Esteem

Self-esteem may not be the answer

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 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. Either they ain’t doing it right or it don’t work (IMO)! 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.

A Survey

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?

Keith

About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. I saw a documentary a while back on gangs and they pointed out that gang leaders generally have very high self esteem. Mafia leaders did for sure.

    Are these people confusing self esteem with confidence in doing a job. Confidence comes from experience, from learning your subject, from practice of doing it, it is called work…..there seems to be misguided thinking which goes soemthing like if I just tell my kids every time they do anything, any degree of any behavior “good job” they will have great self esteem and by some magic they will be succesful in life with out the hard work involved in learning a behavior/skill. Life has agony of defeat, life has sacrafice for the good of the all, life says, sometimes, suck it up as in War, natural disaster, jobs you don’t like but need the income, illness..

    I see to many parents who seem to misunderstand what their primary obligation to their offspring is…..survival….that is what parents are suppose to teach their children, how to survive in the world they live in……protect them from wild animals and danger sure, but that is survival skill, their primary job is NOT having my children love me…be their best friend. ( of course this is wonderful but it is icing)….so what you end up with is unqualified young adults….who have no skills, who are overwhelmed by life they were never prepared for and lots of clients with low self esteem because they cna not function. It can really be roughout there with no skills.

  2. From Wikipedia : “Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame”

    I have found that both low and high states of esteem are rather arbitrary and subjective, and each can be useful depending on the goal.

    “Making negativity wrong” can be a trap – So called negative states or emotions can function as a sort of dashboard trouble light, and so indicate there is something wrong with my subjective “map” of reality, and so I wonder if it’s useful to cut the wires on the trouble light , or pull over and fix the problem?

    Whenever I feel (am in) an intense feeling of negative OR positive esteem, I tend to chunk up to a state of non concern, an ambivalence towards either, so just get on with whatever is to be done, that flow state if you will.

    Low or high., so what!
    whats next ?

  3. Maybe it is self-esteem in retrospect: when you think back to a time when you felt a sense of mastery and did well, you probably will remember that with a feeling of selfesteem, the confidence of knowing you did a job well… At the time itself, you were probably mostly just busy doing your thing, as Keith says 🙂
    Current research suggests it is better if parents praise the job their children did well, not the kids themselves…. Children who were praised for having done the job well, stayed motivated to do better and begin with difficult tasks that might lead to failure, while children that were praised as being good themselves, were more anxious and tried to avoid failure: if you failed, you failed then as a whole person, which cannot be a healty attitude!

    1. Marianne,
      I’ve also seen studies that indicate that kids do better if you praise their effort as opposed to their intelligence. The theory is, if you say they’re smart, all they can do is prove you wrong by missing answers on test etc. If you praise their effort, they can do well no matter what score they get–as long as they put in the work.
      K

  4. I agree with a lot of the contents of this particular posting. In my experience, it’s been been helpful to do a story board when working with the client, and trying to figure out what they see as the wanted outcome. During hypnosis, I try to use some sort of positive re enforcement to bring about the desired state of higher self esteem. It can be tricky, and take some time. After a few sessions, it does seem to work.

  5. I often anchor past feelings of accomplishment, empowerment, and/or self-esteem but I rarely give them these names. I usually look for times when the person was feeling the opposite of the feeling they are having a problem with, I follow my heart in these matters and many times stack anchors for different memories together, enriching the feeling with cross sensory experience and have them intensify the feelings by “turning up” the motion, sound, color. So I have to say most of the time I’m not sure what the resource feeling really is. I just know that it usually works pretty well when I collapse the original problem state and insert these unnamed resource states. What ever they are.

    My feelings of self esteem may have a different name than those of another person, especially at the subconscious level.

  6. When thinking of the case against encouraging self esteem during hypnosis I remember a guy who self reported needing to quit smoking because he was going to lose his leg if he was unable to stop. He was feeling panic because he had tried everything.
    In conversation I mentioned the connection between being bullied on the play ground and how the urge to smoke was like giving in to a bully. He was being dominated by a threat that really had no power. After all, if a person does not smoke the worst that can happen is a few moments of slight discomfort. Don’t be a punk!
    As my message settled in he became irritable and went off to smoke by himself.
    His girlfriend said he quit on his own a few days after our conversation. Almost a year later and we are still not friends. I hope I helped him.
    I think a negative emotion gambit is very influential because strong emotions have the most energy.

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