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What Builds Self-Esteem?

That is an interesting question with a relatively easy answer. Success. In an age where every child gets a trophy, gradeflation is epidemic, and there are fewer opportunities for competition, egos are protected against failure. Not really. The false god of empty praise yields no protection against the storms of reality. Indeed like a flimsy facade it makes matters worse.

To be successful, we need to be able to fail. How else do we differentiate good performance and poor performance? It is much easier to fool others than to fool ourselves. Even when we successfully hide our shortcomings from others, we can’t hide them from ourselves. Positive self-esteem is built upon the reality of success. This requires both effort and practice.

As parents, it is ok to emphasize or compliment our children’s strengths. It is not ok to disregard, or even worse, distort their weaknesses. As a young psychology student I remember a clinical note recorded in a parent’s file by my professor stating “Mr. X has low self esteem based upon reality”. This statement is somewhat harsh. However, my familiarity with the patient made me realize it was also an accurate assessment. When I do psychotherapy for self-esteem issues, I begin at the clients performance level and try to build on it. Starting at the patient’s performance level rather than above it increases the probability of successful treatment.

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