You’re Just Not as Awesome as You Think. Fostering A Healthier Take on “Self-Esteem”

It might surprise you coming from a mental health professional, but I’m not a big fan of “self-esteem.”  Not that I want anyone to feel badly about themselves.  It’s just that what most people think of as “self-esteem”  (i.e., telling a child that  he is awesome just because he managed to draw breath without tripping over his tongue) isn’t terrifically effective and doesn’t bear terrifically good fruit.

But as much as you hear about self-esteem on children’s television and daytime talk shows, psychologists prefer to talk about “self-efficacy.”  Self-efficacy is defined as the good feelings one gets from knowing that one has ability to set and meet personal, emotional, or temporal goals.   Knowing I have the power to effect change, to achieve, to identify how to move from how I do feel to how I would like to feel, is an important component of a healthier and more authentic sense of self-esteem.

It is this second type of self-esteem, rooted in self-efficacy, that Dr. Justin Coulson, discusses in this article at the Family Studies Blog (of the Institute for Family Studies).  Dr. Coulson is an Australian parenting expert and psychologist (as well as a father of six kids).  He notes that the type of self-esteem that you usually think about and that  studies usually measure is actually related to risky, violent, and aggressive behavior as well as other problems. As an alternative, Dr. Coulson suggests instilling in kids a healthier form of self-esteem built on doing good things, using their talents, and having a solid relationship with their parents.    Its some good stuff.  Check it out!

And if you’d like to learn more about raising kids to have a healthy sense of self-esteem (instead of the narcissistic, insidious kind) check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

COMING FRI:  The Tyranny of the Shoulds–The Theology of the Body reminds us that there is more to life, but that’s different from beating ourselves (and others) about not being there yet. Today on M2L, we’ll look at how to be gentle with ourselves and others as we try to live peaceably with the fact that we are all works in progress.

We’d love your feedback on the question of the day!  What imperfections in yourself or others is it hardest for you to know whether you should just accept or keep fighting against?


Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C).  Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you?  Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!