The Self Esteem Movement’s Failure

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The self-esteem movement has done an entire generation a deep disservice.In Nathaniel Brandon’s 1969 paper “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” he suggested that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life”. Hearing this, many people started to find ways to confer confidence upon our children. This resulted in competitions where everyone gets a trophy and no one actually wins. “New games” attempted to engage children without any winners or losers.These efforts simply do not work. Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes form competence – we do not bestow it as a gift. 

Relatedly, we also spend too much time protecting our children from any pain or adversity. We hate to see them struggle and we suffer when they suffer. But the same loving envelope that protects them from pain also protects them from growth.

Some Thoughts

It’s my belief that when you shield kids too much they don’t develop the toughness you need to succeed in life. Human beings are mean to each other.They always have been and always will be. I really think people need to live as victims of oppression for a year of two. Having had a gun/knife in your face makes you approach life differently. When someone calls you fat, it doesn’t seem to affect you that much.

In my day, if someone called you fat you didn’t cry about it, or pen a 1000 word article on Salon or Jezebel about your how you are proud to be fat. Either you said something back to put them in their place, or you got a gym membership. There was no wallowing in self-pity or bullshit articles. You can’t be a push over. If it’s not your classmates today, it’s your spouse, it’s your boss. This is very different than promoting violence. This is learning self-respect. To want to defend yourself means that to some extent you recognized your inherent values, and that you are worth protecting.


We need to stop thinking humans beings are something they are not. We abuse those who we consider weak among us. We laugh when people fall down exterminate people as if they were insects. That’s the reality. Humanity is comprised of many sheep and few shepherds. Each one of us is unique, yes but not special.

Let me give you an example. If I had a son or daughter I would tell them that: “I love them and that they are special to me and the people who love them in their lives. You’re special to your family and friends. But the world doesn’t give a fuck about you. A significant part of the population would rather see you dead or in prison, but they wont have the decency to verbalize that. No one else thinks your special, and if they do they have an ulterior motive or plan for you.

If Americans thought Native Americans were special would they discount their existence and let them die a slow death on the reservations? What is the value of poor family living in rural Appalachia? What the value of a 32 year old negro in America? People only think you are special when you make them money or entertain them and even then you have to do it in a way that suits their own prejudices and idiosyncrasies. Work hard to honor the gift of life, work hard to distinguish yourself and infuse what you do with value. That’s it.”


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