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Can self-esteem distort our personal development?

Posted Aug 01 2013 8:36pm

Our self-concept, positive self-regard and simply confidence, are key influences on how fully we realize our talents. We do need to feel good about who we are to passionately pursue – or even have – worthwhile ambitions for our lives.

But a new study led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge [titled "Egos Inflating Over Time"] warns that years of school self-esteem programs and media that “promotes the self relentlessly” could cause significant personal and social problems for people reaching adulthood.

A Los Angeles Times article about the study [ Gen Y's ego trip takes a nasty turn ] reports that psychological surveys “found that almost two-thirds of recent college students had narcissism scores that were above the average 1982 score. Thirty percent more college students showed elevated narcissism in 2006 than in 1982.

The article adds, “Twenge said she and her coauthors are not suggesting that more students today have a pathological narcissistic personality disorder that needs psychiatric treatment. Still, traits of narcissism have increased by moderate but significant amounts, said Twenge.”

The image is from her book “ Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before ” – in which she notes:

“Young people have learned these self-lessons very well. In a letter to her fans in 2004, Britney Spears, 23, listed her priorities as ‘Myself, my husband, Kevin, and starting a family.’

“We take it for granted that we should put ourselves first on our list of priorities – it would be blasphemy if you didn’t (unless, of course, you have low self-esteem).

“Twenty-year-old Maria says her mother often reminds her to consider what other people will think. ‘It doesn’t matter what other people think,’ Maria insists. ‘What really matters is how I perceive myself. The real person I need to please is myself.’”

Another article about this research [ It's All About Me: Generation Me is the most self-absorbed ever , Chicago Sun-Times, Apr 23, 2006] notes some more of the potential problems.

One of the findings was that “High schoolers predict they will have prestigious careers. Seventy percent of late-1990s high school students expected to work in professional jobs, compared to 42 percent in the 1960s. Unfortunately, these aspirations far outstrip the need for professionals in the future.”

The article adds that in the book The Ambitious Generation , “sociologists Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson label these ‘misaligned ambitions.’

“In other words, the kids have learned the lesson ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ a little too well, as there probably won’t be enough desirable jobs for everyone to be whatever he wants to be. Ambitions grow stronger once young people enter college.”

But an opposing viewpoint is expressed in their op-ed article Will the real Gen Y please stand up , by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss who write,

“Twenge and others are wildly mistaken about the Millennial generation… No matter what teens say on surveys, there is scant evidence that they act more selfishly.

“In fact, the trends in youth behavior support the opposite conclusion — namely, that Millennials have much greater regard for each other, their parents and the community than Gen X’ers or baby boomers had at the same phase of life.”

They go on to list a number of indications refuting youth self-absorption, such as “the rate at which people under age 25 commit serious violent crimes has fallen by more than 60%… pregnancy and abortion for girls under age 18 are down by roughly one-third since the mid-’90s… surveys indicate that today’s teenagers are very close to their moms and dads… there is a boom in youth volunteering.”

But we can and do learn distorting attitudes and ideas related to self-esteem and self concept – ideas that keep affecting us as adults.

As one example, Sheryl Crow admitted in a magazine interview [Lifetime, Nov 2003] that she found it really hard to slow down, “Because part of my self-worth has always been tied into my productiveness.

“You get so caught up by that, that sometimes your life… well, it ends up in the dumper. My relationships have suffered, but I think I’ve led the life I’m supposed to be leading.”

Related articles: Self concept / self esteem .

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Originally posted 2007-03-01 22:13:00.

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