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In Japan, one form of psychotherapy, Morita, holds a belief that “neurotic suffering comes, quite literally, from extreme self-awareness.” David Reynolds wrote to Slater that “the most miserable people I know have been self-focused…cure is…by taking constructive action in one’s life which helps one to live a full and meaningful existence and not be ruled by one’s emotional state.” Morita therapy has its pros and limitations, but it prioritizes action over reflection, and therapy sessions often involve gardening, planting, and waiting for flowers to bloom.I have a natural distaste and aversion for this type of belief system and therapy as if I can just go on a run or watch TV as my own form of therapy instead of paying copious amounts of money to take action.
Isn’t it appealing to feel more confident and good about yourself? For psychologists like Slater, “because we want to protect our patients and our pocketbooks, we don’t always say this.
The drug companies that underwrite us never say this.”And not all the blame is on the business, but on our culture and society as well.
Slater calls the self-esteem movement a “quasi-religion,” and I can’t help but agree that it is what we abide by. Slater puts it best when she says “it is probably something in between, a synergistic loop-the-loop.” Slater then cites an example of a patient who was a murderer, who believed the world revolved around him and had a high opinion of himself.
If we were to question the self-esteem movement, we would be “questioning who we are, nationally and individually.” It would break down the framework of our deepest core of beliefs. “We have developed a discourse of affirmation, and to deviate from that would be to enter another arena, linguistically and grammatically, so that what came out of our mouths would be impolite at best, unintelligible at worst.”Our culture has inevitably come to embrace the self-esteem movement as the standard. According to the self-esteem movement, his behavior would be a result of hidden low self-esteem.
We have a narrative that low self-esteem is correlated with high levels of crime, substance abuse, prostitution, rape, murder, and even terrorism.
David Long found in “The Anatomy of Terrorism” that suicide bombers suffer from feelings of worthlessness and “their violent, fluorescent acts are desperate attempts to bring some inner flair to a flat mindscape.”It has become commonplace and unquestionable to hold the beliefs that “the less confidence you have, the worse you do; the more confidence you have, the better you do.” But in 1986, Assemblyman John Vasconcellos of California did an experiment called the “California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility” as an attempt to divert drug abuse and other social problems. Two researchers, Nicholas Emler of the London School of Economics and Roy Baumeister of the Case Western Reserve University, in the early 2000s, explored the unexpected idea that self-esteem isn’t overrated and may actually be the culprit, not the cure for society’s ills.“People with low self-esteem seem to do just as well in life as people with high self-esteem.If you have low self-esteem, you’re more likely to be a deviant or an unsuccessful member of society.It is a perception I find to ubiquitous in society. Sure, it’s entered into our culture to have high self-confidence, and that holding a positive opinion of your capabilities is essential to our well-being.And this certainly falls in line with Christian teachings on love and joy, that the mark of how strong our faith is is how much we love God and love our neighbor, that we love God the more we love our neighbor and vice versa.It is a line of teaching that completely rejects the notion that we can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves first, but rather that loving ourselves isn’t all that important in the first place, and that we should love others because we have had love poured into us.And Morita therapy comes not without its risks: “to detach from feelings carries with it the risk of detaching from their significant signals, which carry important information about how to act: reach out, recoil.” Although we shouldn’t be governed by our emotions, we certainly should listen to what they’re telling us.Think about the word “shrink” that we use to describe our psychotherapists and mental health professionals, and Slater extrapolates the term further as a signal that we “perhaps unconsciously we know we sometimes need to be taken down a peg.”Instead of self-esteem, maybe we should reach for self-control.The real question is, according to Slater, “how would we get our clients to pay to be, if not insulted, at least uncomfortably challenged?” As a practice, that should be the goal of psychotherapy, but too often the business model of psychotherapy follows a false and inflated notion that markets self-esteem.Rehabilitation programs that focus on self-esteem, and statements like “today I will accept myself for who I am” are commonplace.That we should strive to remind ourselves that high self-esteem is an important part of who we are.