Randy May Family in Hillsboro Oregon

July 21, 2018

The Self-Esteem Trap

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmay4 @ 6:50 am

I saw this article and wanted to share it. I knew from life that much of what we consider correct is not. I did not know that others saw it as well.

Sean Illing

Why were you the right person to write this book? And why now?

Will Storr

The personal answer is that I’m 43, and so I was raised right in the heart of the self-esteem culture. I had a troubled childhood, I acted out at school, I didn’t go to university because I failed all my exams, I was drinking, taking drugs, all of that usual stuff, and I was in therapy from quite an early age. What everybody kept telling me over and over again was that my problem was low self-esteem, and so all I had to do was learn to love myself and everything would be better. And this is what I continued to believe until very recently.

Sean Illing

What changed?

Will Storr

I was working on a profile of this psychologist named Roy Baumeister, who sort of blew apart a lot of our myths around self-esteem. It wasn’t until I discovered his work that I realized everything I had been told was bullshit. I had been sold a lie, like millions of other people. I learned about this weird story involving a self-esteem task force in California in the 1980s that was largely responsible for what became the self-esteem industry.

Sean Illing

Tell me about this task force, because it’s really a key plot point in this story.

Will Storr

There was this California politician named John Vasconcellos, who in 1987 launched what was known as the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. He came of age during the 1960s and believed that if we could raise people’s self-esteem, they would be more competitive members of the economy and they would solve all these problems and it would be like a “social vaccine.”

When he launched it, it was widely mocked as a joke. People like Johnny Carson were making fun of it on late-night TV. So Vasconcellos recruited several California academics and commissioned a study to prove his ideas about self-esteem. Three years later, he announces that the data was in and he was right. Because it had the veneer of scholarship, it became a huge national story, and suddenly he was a major international star.

But it turns out the study had all kinds of problems and was full of errors. I even spoke to one of the researchers who participated in the study, and he told me that Vasconcellos knew the study was bullshit but he also knew the funding would get pulled if that got out, so he swept everything under the table and spent $50,000 on a massive PR campaign, and it worked.

Long story short, the impact of this was huge. It spawned a whole self-esteem movement that was based on fraudulent research but nevertheless had a significant impact on how we raise our children and think about self-esteem.

Here is the link to the full article.


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