About a year and a half ago, I wrote this article about common misconceptions of low self-esteem, specifically that many people think low self-esteem can be overcome merely by achieving things and reminding yourself of what you have achieved. This is part of it, but it is not enough. This is mostly because a person with low self-esteem is utterly convinced that they are not good enough. No matter what you achieve, no matter how hard you work you are always going to feel inadequate. You will also persistently discount those little successes
You got 80% on that test? Great, but you know if you’d tried harder you’d have got 85% You got a first class degree… hah! so did a lot of other people, you should have won one of the special Department’s or Dean’s awards for academic excellence.
And it goes on like that pushing yourself beyond physical and mental limits to just get that little bit better every time yet never quite being able to live up to those standards that you set for yourself. You put your self worth in what you achieve yet what you achieve, no matter how amazing, is never going to be good enough.
Low Self-Esteem is a Mental Illness
Yet so many people still fail to comprehend what it means. I have heard it put very succinctly as “being your own bully” and have yet to come across a better description than that. The last couple of years when I was working on Melanie Fennell’s book, one of the earliest tasks was to step outside of oneself and imagine yourself being as cruel to a friend as you were being to yourself. Would you tell a friend that their academic achievements weren’t good enough? Would you tell a friend who had the flu to get up off their arse and go to work? No.. so you shouldn’t do it to yourself.
“People think I am confident because I can address a room full of people. The reality is that I spend most of my time thinking that I’m not good enough. If I… give a speech, I spend the next few days thinking about all the mistakes I made.” Source: Mind
This is what low self-esteem is.
Yet it seems that some in society both here in North America think the problem is so prevalent that self-esteem training is included as part of social education in schools. As somebody who has had a lifelong problem with low self-esteem and has come out the other side (but by no means convinced that it is confined to the realms of history) it concerns me that it could be sending the wrong message to children going through a normal part of growing up.
We all at times have problems with body perception or our own worth – especially as teenagers – but post people grow out of it or learn to control it. Though I think that programmes like the Dove Self-Esteem Project are generally a good thing, they are not being marketed in the right way or at the right people in the right context. Besides, Dove sells soap – they are not a mental health service and do not employ psychologists or psychotherapists.
I feel that we should learn to identify children who are already showing signs of self-esteem problems, not blanket encouraging all children to think more highly of themselves when they don’t actually have a negative self-perception. Self-esteem training/treatment will probably not work on those who do not have low self-esteem because they cannot identify with the problems being presented.
High self esteem can be a problem so I am concerned that these courses and treatments are going to have the opposite effect of what they intend.