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Self-Esteem, Narcissism, and Root Causes


A study to be released today appears to corroborate what I have long suspected. The mandate of the self-esteem fanatics to lavish kids with praise regardless of whether they have done anything to earn it is a recipe for narcissistic personality disorder, and it has long-term damaging effects for society.

According to this story by Larry Gordon and Louis Sahagun in the LA Times, Jean Twenge of San Diego State U. is the lead author of the study titled "Egos Inflating Over Time." Scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory given to college students over 25 years show that two-thirds now score above the 1982 average.

Some of the increase in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It notes that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: "I am special, I am special. Look at me."

Many of the people who like to emphasize that we should attack the "root causes" of crime seem to also be devotees of the theory that low self-esteem is the root of most evil, including crime, and that stroking kids' egos is the cure. As the saying goes, it's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble, it's what we know for a fact that is not so.* There is considerable reason to believe that most criminals have too much self-esteem, not too little. See, e.g., Baumeister, Violent Pride, Scientific American (April 2001).

Common crimes are acts of selfishness. The criminal decides to take another's property, bodily integrity, or life to satisfy his own wants. More esteem for others, not for self, would seem to be in order.

*Variously attributed.


Self-esteem is a vacuous concept. See Roy F. Baumeister et al., Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?, 4 PSYCHOL. SCI. PUB. INT. 1 (2003).

Hey! I think they're talking about me!

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