Now. Self-esteem. The whole thing is kind of complicated. This won't be the only post I do on this topic. And before I get started, just a warning: If you look at my profile up there in the top righthand corner, it says "unapologetically empirical". That means I value good evidence over what-seems-like-it-should-be-true (most of the time, at least). Here's where I got my evidence for today's post: an article that reviews about 15,000 studies' worth of data on self-esteem.
Several decades ago, a few studies came out linking self-esteem to good outcomes for people. And some psychologists said, "America, self-esteem is where it's at."
|Is anyone else vaguely creeped out by this?|
And then researchers took a step back and ... did better research. And then a few others looked at all the studies together. Their findings?
Self-esteem is nice, but it ain't all that.
Sigh. These psychologists said, "Erm, America, we might have jumped the gun."
It turns out self-esteem is not strongly related to many outcomes. Not substance abuse. Not interpersonal success. For the things it is related to, there's no solid evidence that it CAUSES them. It's related to depression but not considered a primary cause of it. It's also related to academic success ... but a close analysis suggests that success raises self-esteem, not the other way around. Interventions meant to increase student self-esteem haven't actually resulted in kids doing better in school.
High self-esteem does have its benefits. It's related to persistence in challenging tasks as well as happiness and emotional resilience. That's good stuff, and can really come in handy when you're a writer who's trying to make it to publication. People with high self-esteem rate themselves as prettier, smarter, more likeable, and generally shinier than others. It's not necessarily true, but it can keep you going, right? High self-esteem may be the fluffy buffer that protects some people from the slings and arrows of life (research results are actually mixed on this one).
Anyway, many of you said your self-esteem fluctuates depending on what's going on in your life--and depending on what part of your life we're talking about. Some of you are feeling discouraged, and you feel bad about yourselves. Some of you are really riding the rollercoaster right now, feeling different every day. Some of you are in a good place, and you're feeling fantastic about yourselves. Some of you are treading the middle path. Many of you tied that to your evaluations of your skill or success in one area or another. All that makes really good sense. What research seems to suggest is that events in our lives really have an affect on how we feel about ourselves, as much as or more than the reverse.
Self-esteem is a perception. It's not guaranteed, objective, verifiable reality. In fact, it sometimes veers sharply away from reality. You can be really good and still feel bad about yourself. You can suck and feel good. And feeling good feels GOOD. It's great, unless it holds you back from improving, which could be a huge problem for a writer. But if it lets you face the criticism, use it, and still be all right, that's the perfect place to be.
Like I said, there will be more on self-esteem and all its glorious complications. Next week, I'll be doing a post or two on bullying, and self-esteem's going to come up again.
Most of us have been taught about the importance of self-esteem from childhood, so do these results on self-esteem surprise you?