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The Myth of Independence

Independence just means that your dependence on others is kept hidden. Read More

My thoughts on your inspiring article

The primary constituent of self-esteem is self-delusion, as excellently described by David McRaney, Bruce Hood, and a few others who know more than a thing or two about real cognitive neuroscience (as opposed to pop-neuroscience).

Self-esteem and self-efficacy are very different things (although they strongly interact). When one has measurably confirmable proficiency in a skill one has therefore acquired a demonstrable level of efficacy in that skill, but this rarely leads to the person gaining an accurate self assessment of their efficacy, especially their overall self-efficacy.

E.g. a child who's continually awarded gold stars for being top of their class in many subjects may, understandably, gain a high level of self-esteem and/or self-efficacy. The parents may strongly encourage that child to pursue a career in engineering, science, or medicine. Yes, but the best bridge and aircraft designers, scientists, and medics are those who are full of self-doubt -- ever questioning their efficacy!

Being creative or innovative are both initially solitary tasks. To bring one's works into fruition is a wholly dependent task, unless one is completely self-centred, which might be defined as having 100% self-esteem aka completely self-deluded.

Thanks very much for your article, Michael, it has certainly inspired me to write my thought. By all means pull them to pieces -- I learn far more by being wrong than from being more-or-less right :-)


Thanks for your interesting comment. I think there are two selves (response repertoires) involved in self-assessment, the one doing the assessing and the one being assessed. If the assessment is adoring, it tells you something about the assessor (captivated) but little about the self being assessed. Most likely, though, the self being assessed needs the adoration because it feels deficient. Conversely, when the assessment is doubtful, perhaps it implies that the self being assessed isn't as desperate for praise. Do family members go on and on about the cooking of a truly remarkable chef? Or do they chow down, expectations met, with a compliment followed by interesting conversation? To call self-praise self-esteem seems a stretch to me.

I could not agree with you more that the best professionals are trying to get a little better rather than basking in praise or accomplishment.

Many thanks for your reply

The problem I've always had with the "one self" concept of self-assessment is that, while it can answer "what" questions, it does not lend itself to answering "why" and "how" questions.

I find your concept of two selves (response repertoires) intriguing because it does indeed lend itself to answering "why" and "how" questions therefore it makes the task of changing one's behaviour much easier. E.g. I frequently criticize myself using the same harsh phrases I received throughout my childhood. Why do I do this? Because my "assessing self" learnt to parrot my incompetent carers. How do I change? My "assessed self" must learn to stop feeding this damned parrot :-)

Over the decades I've been told many times, and have often read, that I should learn to praise myself (rather than depending on others for feedback) in order to build my self-esteem. Well, this hasn't worked at all. The only thing learning self-praise has achieved is changing my originally consistent critical parrot into an inconsistent two-faced back-stabbing liar! This is why your article resonated with me and why I totally agree with it (and with your reply to my comment).

Thank you very much for your article and for your reply. Wishing you and the readers a very Happy New Year.

Stop feeding the parrot

This will be a new mantra for me!

You think aggression is a likable human trait?

Agression's best examples are leashed dogs who can growl and snarl all they want, but are unable to actually sink their teeth into anything. I've never met an agressive person anyone wished to willingly spend time with. It is the person who uses their insight, creativity, and humor (and in the right circumstances—sexuality) to express what might have been agression in a more constructive and mature way.
But then, if you enjoy alienation with some physical pain, by all means bite your neighbors & scream at random passerby. It's your life.


I'll post more about aggression in the weeks to come, but for now, consider one of Webster's alternatives: "healthy self-assertiveness or a drive to accomplishment or mastery, esp. of skills." So we seem to be differing in our definitions. What you call "a more constructive and mature way," I call aggression. My problem with linking the word to biting one's neighbors is that gives aggression a bad name and promotes passivity and passive-aggression rather than humor, insight, and creativity (which in my view are all forms of aggression). People who hate aggression produce boring (or enraged) children, not funny children.

I'm actually using the primary definition

1. The first attack, or act of hostility; the first act of injury, or first act leading to a war or a controversy; unprovoked attack; assault; as, a war of aggression.
From Webster's 1913 definition.
How about you stop being trippy?
Agression and assertiveness are not the same.

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Michael Karson, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Denver.


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