A Different Kind of Blog

news and things sacred and irreverent put together by opinionated people.

TOO HIGH SELF ESTEEM?

Posted by tothewire on December 8, 2008

success1IS there such a thing as having too much self-esteem? A new analysis of data collected over the past three dec ades shows that today’s high school seniors are more likely than ever to think that they’ll be terrific mates, parents and employees. Their self-esteem is skyrocketing.

OK, so what’s the problem? Like the Internet bubble and the housing bubble, we’re on the verge of a self-esteem bubble that could burst, causing a surge in depression and anxiety when Gen Y-ers confront the reality that self-confidence alone won’t allow them to build genuine relationships, strong families or successful careers. 

Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia examined three decades of surveys given to 12th-graders. Half to two-thirds of teenagers in 2006 gave themselves the highest ratings in self-satisfaction and likely success in life, up dramatically from 1975.

I’ve seen these teenagers in my psychiatry practice. Some shrug off poor academic performance or conflict with peers or trouble with parents. They say none of that matters because they’re “OK with themselves.” Some slip free of their real circumstances by comparing themselves to characters on TV dramas or reality shows. “I’m kinda like that guy working in the restaurant on that show,” one young man told me. “He’s cool with himself, even though no one else is.”

“You’re not on TV,” I reminded him. “Someone created that character and scripted everything he says and does. He doesn’t really have to suffer when things go wrong.”

“Neither do I,” my patient said.

There are millions of Jay Gatsbys being created in America, all springing from their synthetic conceptions of themselves.

A powerful combination of fictions has coaxed young people to expect no pain and to embellish their own circumstances and possibilities. The Internet allows them to “connect” with people all over the country, without really knowing anything about them. Social networks provide them with platforms to create “profiles” that can be contrived or real, as they wish. We, as parents, give every child involved in community sports a trophy, as though every one is a champion.

Some mental health professionals think the surge in Gen Y self-esteem will allow them to boldly create a more perfect future; I disagree.

I believe the surge will propel them into painful soul-searching when they realize they aren’t getting everything they think they deserve. And when that prompts a surge in cases of major depression, panic disorder, alcoholism and illicit drug use, I fear that new medications (which are tremendously powerful when coupled with psychotherapy) will be used as a “cure-all” to help them temporarily keep their truths buried – until their symptoms get even worse.

By DR. KEITH ABLOW

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