Self-esteem is probably the greatest emotional disturbance known to the human race, if we understand self-esteem in the way in which it is usually defined. Albert Ellis: founder of Rational Emotive behavior therapy and one of the most influential people in Psychology in the 20th century according to American Psychology Association, discusses the concept of self esteem and has a rather radical view on what the commonly held belief and perception of Self Esteem is. In his book the Myth of Self Esteem he discuss the philosophy and view of self worth and self esteem by various renowned religious teachers, philosophers, and psychologists, including Lao Tsu, Jesus, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Buber, Heidegger, Sartre, Tillich, DT Suzuki, the Dalai Lama, Carl Rogers, and Nathaniel Branden, among others.
What exactly is self-esteem? Most people, as well as many psychologists and educators, believe we need it, that it’s good for our emotional well-being, and that it makes us more successful. There are tons of self help books and inspirational speakers that give solutions to low self esteem, increasing self esteem etc. but really is estimating self logically accurate?. I would disagree.
World-renowned psychologist Albert Ellis says,” It’s all a myth”. Human beings cannot legitimately be given a single global rating.
When human beings say that I have high self esteem or low self esteem it usually involves the person giving himself or herself a single global rating. Indeed, the concept of self-esteem frequently advocated by the majority of counselors and psychotherapists is based on this same principle. Low self-esteem involves the assignment of a single negative global rating to a person, and high self-esteem involves the assignment of a single positive global rating to the person.
Albert Ellis after researching and contemplating on views of various philosophers and great thinkers argues that it is not possible to give a person a single global rating whether negative or positive. This is best shown if we define clearly the terms self and esteem.
First, let’s take the term self. Paul Hauck (1991) has provided a very simple but profound definition of the self. He says that the self is “every conceivable thing about you that can be rated” .This means that all your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, belief systems, achievements and bodily parts are part of your self,. Everything that belongs to you from the beginning of your life to the moment just before your death has to be included in your self.
Now let’s consider the term esteem. This term is derived from the verb to estimate, which means to give something a rating, value or estimation. The question then arises: Can we give the self a single legitimate rating, estimation, or value that completely accounts for its complexity? The answer is clearly no. As Hauck notes, it is possible to rate different aspects of one’s self, but a person is far too complex to warrant a single legitimate global rating.
To give a person a single global rating-one would need to create a tool so powerful that it could analyze the millions upon millions of data produced by that person. and logically it would become immediately redundant since we are constantly changing and produce new data . Therefore as mentioned in his book Practisce of Rational Emotive Behavior Theraphy ,Ellis quotes ” A person is an ongoing, ever-changing process and thus defies the ascription of a single static global judgment” (Ellis & Harper, 1994c, 1996a; Ellis & Harper, 1961a, 1997).
In addition to give a universal single rating one would have to average out the rating of various aspects of self, which would be equivalent to averaging out 2 bananas 14 apples and 3 Mercedes Benz Cars. To summarize, it is not possible, in any legitimate sense, to give one’s self a single global rating because (a) you are too complex to merit such an evaluation and (b) you are an ongoing ever-changing process that defies being statically rated.
Self-esteem results in each of us praising ourselves when what we do is approved by others however, we also damn ourselves when we don’t do well enough and others disapprove of us. What we need more than self-esteem, Ellis maintains, is self-acceptance!
It is justified to rate ourselves on certain aspects or have a comparative view of aspects of self to that of others. This would be essential for growth and development of skills and potential. However one must refrain from universally downing or praising self on the basis of performance or achievements in individual areas. It is important to understand that my performance is not me. It is an aspect of me and if I sing poorly or am a bad public speaker for e.g. it would only mean that I sing poorly or speak poorly and would have nothing to do with self esteem or self worth.
Ellis, Albert (2005). The Myth of Self-Esteem. New York: Prometheus books.
Ellis, A., & Dryden, W. (2007). The practice of rational emotive behavior therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.