The best way to have self-esteem is to have it

July 4, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

Can you get self-esteem by trying to convince yourself that you have it?   Apparently not, according to a new study reported by the BBC:

Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.

They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.


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Category: Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Alison says:

    This is really no surprise. It is kind of funny that you posted this now, because it was one of those thoughts that kept popping into my head yesterday and last night.

    Why? Because I was thinking about writing a blog post about all the different people being left behind because of No Child Left Behind, and thinking of the learning hours wasted by this program reminded me of the learning hours wasted by all those self-esteem classes that used to be in vogue.

    The road to self-esteem (and success in many areas in your life) lies in the ability to excel in something, especially in something you enjoy. If you find instead, as more and more students do when their educational options are taken away by an ever-increasing class load of testable requirements, that your opportunities to fail exceed your opportunities to succeed, your self-esteem will naturally be whittled away. If it gets to a point where you feel you can do nothing right, positive self-talk becomes forced, fake, and even more depressing.

    Telling someone who feels he can do nothing right to say "I'm great, I'm lovable, I'm smart" is as effective as any other form of self-deprecation. It's not true to him, so it only rubs it in. Teaching a student about other people who have succeeded despite the odds doesn't help either – if you're repeating algebra for the third time, does it make you feel better that someone of your same race or gender or whatever overcame even more difficult obstacles and changed the world?

    If the low self-esteem has reached a critical point, such as clinical depression with or without suicidal thoughts (and here I'm speaking from personal experience) then telling this person to think about all the good things he has in life, to remember all the wonderful attributes he has, to focus on blessings, gratitude, what have you, it can push a person over the edge. It tells someone who's miserable that he is also an ingrate for taking these good things in his life for granted.

    I have nothing good to say about positive self-talk or any other one size fits all self-help. It's like curing a headache by hammering nails into your feet.

    • Erich Vieth says:


      I agree with you entirely. That's why I posted this little blurb. People ultimately know whether they are getting the job done or not. Having them pretend that all is well when it is not is insulting and humiliating in the long run.

      This is not to say that we shouldn't (with regard to children and adults) encourage hard work and success by pointing out the things that went right rather than the things that went wrong. And we should always stress that hard work enabled the successes that DID occur. But we shouldn't ever hide the truth.

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