I'm not holding back on this one. The evidence is too strong and the damage too great.
It's not that self-esteem is a bad thing. It's certainly nice to have, but the Western obsession with self-esteem has a serious down-side.
Think of the ways we build our self-esteem. We compare ourselves with others, maybe people who have a better car, bigger house and more influence at work.
Now let's imagine we are the ones with the flash car and house and the promotion comes through. Any chance that the boost to our self-esteem might wear off? How likely is it that we would soon want a bigger, flasher car and an even more modern house?
Let's face it: Fashion isn't just about dressing well. It's about keeping up. Chasing self-esteem is a treadmill.
When success involves status, we are seeking approval. Essentially we are handing our lives over to other people, allowing them to judge us using their conventional (mostly materialistic) measures of our success. Are we objects to be constantly evaluated by others?
Self-esteem and performance
Imagine you are about to step on stage to talk to an audience of 500 people. Nervous? How much of that nervousness is worrying about what they will think of you? What if you were to forget about trying to raise your self-esteem by impressing them and instead focus on sharing some useful ideas and enjoying their company?
Researchers have shown that university students who tie their self-esteem to passing their exams don't perform any better - and they are anxious so they have more conflict with their lecturers. They're no happier or confident when they pass either. There's no upside.
What about self-esteem and raising children?
Let's get the focus off self-esteem with the younger ones too.
There's compelling evidence that praising kids for just being who they are is harming them. Being constantly reminded that they are Daddy's little princess and intelligent and talented makes them more self-focused, less resilient and less motivated to take on challenges. High self-esteem does not improve their relationships with others, stop them bullying or indulging in risky behaviour such as experimenting with drugs or early sex.
Narcissism: it's an epidemic
Self-focused may be understating it. It is in America. Scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory are growing faster than obesity. The researchers' latest report suggests three times as fast. That's an epidemic of narcissism.
Let your kids know you love them, but praise effort, not things they can't change, like talent, intelligence, or being born wonderful.
It's the same at work. Recognise what your colleagues do, not their intelligence or talent.
For us: Let's tie our self-esteem to living by our values and stop worrying about what others may think of us.