Thursday, January 06, 2011

Self Esteem and Insecurity

Two ideas here that I feel might form a matrix. They might explain a lot. I’ve already mentioned that increasing self-esteem increases violence in violent people. Somewhere in the soup of reasons and justifications that leads to violence, the simple belief “I am more worthy than you” plays a part. It not only makes sense, it’s demonstrable.

In the upcoming book (available for pre-order, BTW) I talk about 'othering'. The more different you can convince yourself an enemy is, the easier it is to hurt or kill. That’s the basis of war propaganda. It is also important to note that in people raised tribally (my tribe are real people, everyone else is not) not only are the levels of violence between tribes sometimes horrific, but there seems to be no PTSD associated with such violence (See “Machete Season”).

Raise the self-esteem and you raise the perceived value and increase the perceived differences between people. Is it any wonder that it makes violent people more violent?

There is another factor, though. In Conflict Communications, one of the things that we noticed is that insecurity, especially in leaders, also correlates with violence. It’s one of those stupid monkey things: a leader is in a leadership position. When he starts losing respect or personal authority, he becomes more aggressive. Maybe he just gets louder. Maybe he beats one of his lieutenants to death at a dinner party (Al Capone, anyone?)

It is almost universal- it is almost like the monkey brain demands it- even though, from the audience point of view, it is a loser. You get a boss screaming and acting out you KNOW he is on the way down. We call this ‘losing it’ for a reason.

Despite the fact that we know acting out decreases our audience's belief in our authority, we still do it. Why? Because the emotional brain doesn’t distinguish between signs of submission. You’re doing a good job and people follow your orders and say, “Yes sir!” and salute, your monkey brain feels secure. You act like an ass and people start scurrying and not meeting your eyes and saying, “Yes sir!”… your monkey brain feels secure.

So here’s the interaction between self-esteem and insecurity if I am reading this right—and why some of the modern philosophies will backfire.

If you raise the self-esteem based on nothing, whether ‘everyone passes’ or ‘everyone’s a winner’ when you take away the possibility of failure to “program for success” you do succeed in raising self esteem. But every last person involved, knows that the self-esteem isn’t based on anything. It is inherently insecure. Insecure but high self-esteem is a recipe for violence.

The policies are well intentioned. And they are cheap. Telling kids they’re awesome is fast and costs nothing. Teaching them to become awesome takes time and effort. And there will be some failures.

Maybe it’s time for a change in language. How about self esteem based on actual accomplishment should be labeled self-respect?


Charles E. James, Isshinryu Karate of Okinawa said...

You make good points and it is thought provoking. Interesting and one view I plan of contemplating...thanks!

Rory said...

Charles, are you starting a second blog?

Kasey said...

Being awesome 101
Yes we are keeping score
Yes there can only be one winner
Yes you might lose
You might learn more from losing
Yes you will have equal opportunity
No there will not be equal outcomes
Hard work / dedication is rewarded
Mediocrity is punished
You are not entitled to anything

Josh Kruschke said...

"Self-respect" I like that as Respect is one of the four pillars of 'The Tao of Josh.' I'm going to quote my self here; as, I have plenty of self esteem that I hope I'm 'worthy' of.

"Respect starts with giving it to oneself first. How can you value others if we don’t value are selves. Also, respect is earned you can’t just demanded it from others, and some think that if you carry a gun you get respect. If you are not worthy the gun my get respect but not you."

I was fumbling around the outside and never really touched on how do we judge who to give respect to, or by what measure do we judge ourselves.

Thanks for the new piece of the puzzle.

For those interested in the original post at my blog its here:

Anonymous said...

I showed up once at a game to watch my cousin’s little kid play soccer. I asked he and his friends what the score was. They said that they don’t keep score, …but their team was winning by at least three or four “…These guys are horrible. We’re killing them”. Any grown up who believes they are teaching kids something valuable by not letting them compete is just in plain denial. It is avoidance of having to teach children how to cope and live with both success and failure. What a betrayal.

Of course, very little kids can be introduced to play without dividing into teams, but that has a completely different stated goal. That can build early confidence. Maybe the “smart” grown ups think this is what they are doing when they try to engineer competition out of sports games. What I think they are really teaching though, is that it is just fine to go ahead and feel good about yourself …even when you have no purpose.

Connections mean something to us. They just do. How we each accept or reject them helps us define ourselves. Saying to a kid “you are on a team” creates a default purpose. Then falsely eliminating the element of competition evaporates the entire concept of team. Without that concept there is no differentiation from others. No identity to a group or your own. There are no allegiances, no camaraderie, no emotional attachments …no sacrifice of self for others. The self-esteem founded in that is what children call ‘pretending’. It becomes completely self-focused, trapped in a social charade.

Self-focused activity can be good if you are seeking something in yourself, but that has to be defined for what it is in your mind. Meeting a challenge without purpose, or with the wrong purpose usually equates to a spirit of failures. And the lessons of failure when experienced like that are never learned because any hope of success is engineered right out of the very challenge.

Kids are not dumb. Actually they have more nimble brains than some us grown ups. They just aren’t highly educated and lack a lot of experience. So, the questioning kids ignore or maybe even disrespect the grown ups that ask them to pretend they can win without a purpose in what they are doing. The ones who follow along thinking everybody is special get betrayed over and over again. Hell …I may not be right about all of this, but to me it seems kind of foolish ...maybe arrogant to believe its helpful. At least when we lie to kids about Santa Clause they get presents ...and we do eventually let them in on the joke.

-Billy G.

Josh Kruschke said...

How do we teach our children to be able to deal with the disappointment of losing and the euphoria of winning if they have never lost anything or won anything? Then we wonder as a society why our young adults lose it in college the first time they are on their own. How do we expect them to deal with the emotions of life if we've never let them feel them for fear they would be harmed by brain hurts.

Josh Kruschke said...

I went through you list and was sad, because every time I read one of you points I thought of an instance where our schools negate that life lesson.

Josh Kruschke said...

Are selves.... Sigh.

Some day I'll notice this before I post it I'm the middle of some brilliant comment. Our .... Are.... Sigh.

Sorry, I seem to be hogging the comment space.

Simon said...

Hi Rory,
In the philosophical literature there is a distinction that seems to correspond to the one you are making (the original source is Stephen Darwall, 'Two Kinds of Respect' in Ethics vol. 88, 1977). 'Self-esteem' is distinguished from self-respect and is taken to refer to linking oneself, and just as one can like a TV show or another person for all sorts of idiosyncratic reasons, so too can one like oneself for the same kinds of reasons. Self respect is broken up into (at least two) types. The first is 'appraisal self-respect,' where has respect for oneself on the basis of some achievement. This seems to capture the idea you have here. The second type of self-respect is recognition self-respect, which refers to the respect one has for one's intrinsic moral value.
Hope this helps,

Paul K. said...

Rory, you wrote: "In Conflict Communications, one of the things that we noticed is that insecurity, especially in leaders, also correlates with violence."

This reminds me of a quote from the Italian political thinker Vilfredo Pareto, contrasting the strength of Emperor Trajan with the violence of Emperor Caligula:

"Violence, we should note, is not to be confused with force. Often enough one observes cases in which individuals and classes which have lost the force to maintain themselves in power make themselves more and more hated because of their outbursts of random violence. The strong man strikes only when it is absolutely necessary, and then nothing stops him. Trajan was strong, not violent: Caligula was violent, not strong."

Tiff said...

Doodled a correlating matrix (I used "confidence' as a contrast to "insecurity"). In text form, this is what I came up with (note the archetypes):

COWARD -- One with low self-esteem and insecurity

TYRANT -- One with high self-esteem and insecurity

NARCISSIST -- One with confidence and low self-esteem (had trouble naming this one; I'm sure someone has a more fitting archetype)

HERO -- One with confidence and high self-esteem

What'cha think?

Hecate said...

We saw this in action last week at Millard South High School.

Rory said...

Yes. Caligula and Trajan. Perfect.

Bill also touched on something. team is important. If you put me on a team and the team might lose and everyone feel bad a child (or an adult or me) will go to the extremes to prevent failure. Look at self-sacrifice in war. But when you don't keep score, no one wins and no one loses. So there is no incentive to sacrifice for others. The most important person on the field
Something designed to combat the 'selfishness' of having winners and losers creates a self-righteous and self-centered selfishness.

Tiff, it's a good word picture.

Unknown said...

Self-awareness and Self-Efficacy

Maybe "awareness" can replace "image, identify, etc and in answer to your wish--------there is an established construct based on "self-esteem through accomplishment called "self-efficacy".

"Othering" in extreme form expresses the way it is for the mark: "you are nothing-even below nothing"---there is more difference between our "worlds" than between Disneyland and Gitmo (early days anyway).

Othering manifests in the ordinary interpersonal field via various self statements intended to remind us that we "out-transcend" those around use. Nice when that need starts dropping away

Why ask why ? The answer ever remains blandly: "Because I can".

Anyway, just wanted to bring glad tidings that self-efficacy is your term and it's been around 2 decades or more. Bringing you warm and comforting thoughts from Mutual of Omaha's Wild World of Psychology

Anonymous said...

How insightful! A very well written and witty article!