Thursday, April 1, 2010

Theodore Darylmple on Self Esteem

In a helpful article on "Self-Esteem versus Self-Respect," psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple clears away the psychobabble:
"With the coyness of someone revealing a bizarre sexual taste, my patients would often say to me, "Doctor, I think I'm suffering from low self-esteem." This, they believed, was at the root of their problem, whatever it was, for there is hardly any undesirable behavior or experience that has not been attributed, in the press and on the air, in books and in private conversations, to low self-esteem, from eating too much to mass murder.

Self-esteem is, of course, a term in the modern lexicon of psychobabble, and psychobabble is itself the verbal expression of self-absorption without self-examination. The former is a pleasurable vice, the latter a painful discipline. An accomplished psychobabbler can talk for hours about himself without revealing anything."

He shows the insincerity and shallowness of this self-assessment when he says:

"That self-esteemists mostly know that they are about as sincere as Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess is illustrated by the following: When patients pretended to confide in me that they were suffering from low self-esteem, I used to reply that at least, then, they had got one thing right: they had valued themselves at their true worth. (Of course, I used care when addressing the patients: those with higher education were less able to bear the exposure of their deception by means of irony, because their education had equipped them with stronger and more sophisticated powers of rationalization.)

Far from becoming angry, most patients - previously wretched - would begin to laugh, like those caught out in an obvious but relatively innocent attempt at a practical joke. Indeed, they were relieved: they no longer had to pretend anything, either to themselves or to others. We could then talk about the manifest deficiencies of their lives without resort to a vocabulary that acted as a smoke screen.

The problem with low self-esteem is not self-dislike, as is often claimed, but self-absorption."

Indeed. Lord, give me self-respect but preserve me from self-esteem.

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