Bursting the Self-Esteem Bubble

A controversial report suggests that high self-esteem can be dangerous.

By David Dent, published March 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Emler reviewed seminal research on self-esteem as well as hundreds of study abstracts before concluding that genes are more important than parenting or environment and low self-esteem is not a risk factor for poor academic performance. Black teenagers voiced higher self-esteem than whites, a difference Emler attributes in part to presentation.

"Black teens are willing to say things about themselves that others may not feel comfortable saying," maintains Emler, who also found that people with high self-esteem may have an unrealistic sense of themselves. "They expect to do well at things, discount failure and feel beyond reproach."

High self-esteem seems most dangerous when it colors racial and ethnic tolerance. "People with incredibly positive views of themselves feel anybody who differs from them is an insult," explains Emler. "They just don't like people who are different."

These pitfalls have yet to curb the booming self-help industry. More than 3,000 book titles on the Barnes & Noble Web site contain the term "self-esteem."