Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote a book about a sad and unintentionally dangerous creature sewn together from mismatched bits and pieces. She could have been describing another kind of monster created out of the scraps of late twentieth-century pop psychology—the person with high self-esteem. Self-esteem used to be the effect of success, but somehow an insuffi-cient amount of it evolved into the cause of failure. Over the past 40 years, most human problems have been ascribed to the pernicious forces of low self-esteem. Self-esteem is taught in school, and people are advised to repeat affirmations under the assumption that raw good feelings about yourself can be shaped into any sort of achievement. Self-esteem now seems to be regarded as an end unto itself, the prime mover of the human mind, like motivation in the world of business.
There is a logical flaw in this concept: anything that explains everything also explains nothing. The worst problem, however, is that many approaches to improving self-esteem are unwittingly teaching people to be more like Passive Aggressive Histrionics. The basic idea is to improve self-esteem by accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative, which is fine in theory. The only difficulty is that the negative isn’t eliminated; it’s merely plastered over with affirma-tions and often projected onto other people. It has become fashionable to see low self-esteem as the result of some form of abuse or mistreatment in
Emotional Vampires »