Self-Esteem, Parenting, and Excuses

“Bitches need to stop blaming all your problems on us. Stop tellin’ a nigga,”You fucked up my self-esteem”. Bitch it’s called SELF-ESTEEM! It’s esteem of your mothafuckin’ self. How am I gonna fuck up how you feel about you, simple bitch?” -Katt Williams, Comedian

Okay, while I don’t necessarily embrace all of Mr. Williams’ “terminology,” the man has a point.

I hate the whole Self-Esteem movement. The idea that “everyone is special and unique” can actually be translated as “NOBODY is special or unique, and if they exhibit special or unique traits, well…we’d better stop that crap because it might make someone else feel less special!”

God forbid we hurt anyone’s precious feelings.

Let’s get something straight, people:  You are not special or unique just because you exist.  Being special or unique is about what you do and who you are while you exist.

The Self-Esteem Movement taught people that all they had to do to be special or unique was tell themselves that they were special and unique.  Nothing more.  This mindset has turned a whole generation into a bunch of wusses with no gumption or drive, but an extremely inflated ego and sense of entitlement.

Case in point:  Trophy Kids, so called because they are the children of Self-Esteem Movement parents who were raised thinking that they are entitled to whatever they want, whether they’ve actually earned it or not.  They aren’t allowed to fail.  All bad and scary things and experiences are snowplowed out of their way by overbearing parents (who judge other parents who refuse to parent in this way…but that’s another post altogether).  They are the kids who ALL got a trophy after every sports event so nobody’s precious self-esteem would be damaged.

Ooh, but undamaged self-esteems must be good, right?  The resulting high self-worth will cause them to be confident and happy, right?  Never knowing failure or the hard work needed to overcome hardship…not so bad, right?  And besides, since little Jonny or Susie is so special and unique they must deserve that trophy!

Wrong.  The thing is, it doesn’t work.  What actually happens is, that person learns to make excuses for their shortcomings (called “affirmations”) so that they can trick themselves into feeling good about failure. They never actually learn to overcome failure or hardship on their own.  They expect mommy or daddy to snowplow that hard stuff out of the way for them and thus exhibit an entitled attitude that everybody must do this for them.

Parents:  Empty praise does not give rise to authentic self confidence.  Eventually everyone figures out when they are being lied to.  Because they don’t understand the importance failure has on potential success.

Over inflated self-worth can only last so long in the real world before repeated failures catch up.  In reality, self esteem comes from failure (sometimes repeated), hard work, and resulting success.  Drive to succeed does not come from positive affirmations, it comes from fear of failure. If a person is never allowed to fail, they will lack a drive to succeed.

Imagine the emotional upset when a person goes from a childhood of being told that they are entitled to a winner’s trophy (for being a loser) just because they are unique and special; to an adulthood where employers don’t give a crap about how special mom and dad said they were (especially if their work is lacking).

Nothing can deflate an overly and artificially inflated self esteem like a dose of reality.

Which leaves us with….depressed and unhappy young adults who are never satisfied and blame everyone else for their failures (because someone so unique and special couldn’t be at fault).

It’s a vicious cycle that really ought to be stopped.

I see this all too often with young women and men who repeatedly find themselves in destructive romances, and then when they break up they blame the other partner for the failure.

Hello, people?  Who is the common denominator in all of your failures?

If you want to be happy and have a real sense of self worth, stop making excuses to cope and start learning how to overcome failure with hard work and resiliency.  Self esteem really is esteem of the self.  Nobody can just give it to you, it has to be earned.


About DrPretzel

Student of philosophy and medicine, mother of 2 Creatures of Mass Destruction (a.k.a. "boys"), Soldier, sister, daughter, friend, cat person, social inept, INTJ, blah, blah, blah...are you even reading this?
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19 Responses to Self-Esteem, Parenting, and Excuses

  1. Charisse says:

    I think it would too! 🙂

  2. drpretzel says:

    Now, I wonder… if the discomfort that THOSE people feel, isn’t the fear of failure.. but instead the itch to achieve their potential (eudaemonia!)

    I think answering this one will clear up some confusion.

    In the same way that eudaemonia is not static, we cannot necessarily say that what drives us is 100% static. We might be able to (like in the study) say that a majority is motivated by “A” and the rest are motivated by “B” or “C.”

    Short term goals and long term goals also require different types of motivation. I think that the closer a person is (either in time or proximity) to the end result of their “work,” the more likely they are to be affected by failure. This is why some will wait until failure is basically imminent before taking action.

    As I said before, failure is not necessarily the debilitating kind. Also, I think what we consider to be failure or success is relative to our own position, goals, and experiences in life. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, if you will. Different priorities.

    This should be a CC Philosophy Club discussion. We’ll have to get Aaron to put in on the calendar. 🙂

  3. drpretzel says:

    Charisse, you’re using Ryan’s account…



  4. A Purple Thread says:

    Ack! i swear, it said MY user name while a wrote! lol I swear, from now on it will be straight. lol!


  5. Ryan Smith says:

    (Charisse here, Ryan now has own account 😉 I’ve been telling him for years he needs to blog, I think he’s finally going to start! -thanks! )

    First of all, wording of argument.
    I agree, most of all I wonder if we are thinking of being ‘successful’ the same way. I think both Ryan and i were seeing it as ‘achieving a higher than average goal’ or excellence. -One thing I’d like to see addressed at the Women’s Leadership Conference is how we define success within our lives, because it can mean so many different things depending on the context!- anyway…

    2nd: But what I see being the biggest difference in our viewpoints is what we feel truly motivates people. You say it is discomfort (and we agree there is a component of that) but what we see is that there is often two options out of discomfort. The easy way and the hard way. And usually you have to choose the ‘hard way’ to be considered successful. Choosing a hard path when it is NOT necessary is usually a sign of the most successful people. (ie the mountain climber) Now, I wonder… if the discomfort that THOSE people feel, isn’t the fear of failure.. but instead the itch to achieve their potential (eudaemonia!)
    What I see with the empty trophies is that we are allowing them to see failure -or I’d like to redefine it as not achieving their potential- as satisfactory, or deceiving them that they do not have a greater potential to pursue. They become comfortable with failure. (that’s where those justifications are brought up, and the belief that mommy and daddy are needed to help them across those bars.) They are TRAINED to ignore that itch to be something more.

    Now to the video…
    I love these videos, but I think it’s interesting that you and I seem to get totally different messages from it. For instance, the beginning when he’s talking about a reward system; it works for physical tasks. The fear of not getting your reward (failure) is what is fully motivating, the greater the failure, the more productive it is.

    Now what Ryan and I keep seeing is that we are human, and we can see beyond physical discomfort. In fact, to achieve something great, you often have to move from a comfortable and relatively successful state, into a state of great discomfort and risk of failure… This is were the fear of failure becomes a liability. to be truly Successful, you must NOT fear failure. You must know that it is likely that you WILL fail, and be willing to do it anyway, because there is JUST enough chance it will work, and it is SO worth it if it works out. -It must be key to satisfying your eudaemonia.

    And here I’d like to make an argument that (because I do not see eudaemonia as a static thing) for something to be a part of achieving your potential, you must see it as possible for you to achieve. The more you work toward your potential, the more things that become possible. (back to the levels of bars)
    Fear works at the beginning. A two year old may not understand why they cannot run into the road, but they do understand a swat on the bottom. But to achieve greater things, we need greater motivations than the fear of discomfort.

    The video moves on in the same experiment to prove my point. If it takes anything beyond what an animal can do. If it takes “even rudimentary cognitive skill” the fear of failure is EXACTLY what makes their success less likely.

    The video then moves on to say that people are most motivated when money is just right that it isnt an issue. What does this mean?
    Well, I think it’s like Marx points out, that if you are just working to survive, you are miserable. People are at their best when the products of their labor are not tied to their survival. The best labor comes from people who are not working to live. It comes from people who are living to work.

    Now, one issue I have with many people on the topic of ‘work’ is that this work may not be something you can profit from. Many great artists are not discovered until their dead. That doesn’t mean that their effort while they were alive was not valuable, does it. Being a good stay at home parent may be the best way for them to achieve their eudaemonia, and the greatest way for them to assist the eudaemonia of those in their community. Just because it doesn’t pay, just because someone else isn’t willing to trade the products of THEIR labor for it, does not mean it is not a valuable use of energy and time. (just want to make sure I’m being clear on my views here)

    The video says that what we work best for (what leads to the highest success) is autonomy, mastery, purpose. This is what leads to eudaemonia, don’t you think?
    It is a forward (or up) looking motivation. When we are busy looking down, all we can think about is falling. But when we have a firm foothold, and feel the next rung is within our reach, we climb faster and higher. Fear slows us down. We need to learn NOT to fear failure, but to learn to act prudently. To know when something is within our grasp and when it is worth it. We do our best work, we succeed the highest when we no longer fear to try. This is why, in the video they found the ‘day of fun’ was their most productive. There was no fear of failure. No risk of loosing a bonus.
    The profit vs purpose argument: Profit is risk, to not achieve it is failure. Profit is external, transitory, and extrinsically valuable. A missed opportunity -looking back. Purpose… it cannot be missed. It is intrinsic. It is something you build towards. There is no failure, only a learned way that doesn’t work… and this increases your chance of achieving your purpose -looking forward. (Edison’s light bulbs) The more we pursue purpose, the more secure we feel, the lower the risk. And the greater we achieve.

    I’m passionate about this topic, for two reasons.
    1. It is key to my philosophy, obviously. Key to my view of society and the role of humans among each other, as well as individually.

    2. Because this is something I’ve been fighting my whole life.
    It is EXACTLY the fear of failure that keeps me from being successful. It’s why I have trouble writing papers. Heck, it’s why I have trouble talking on the phone. I’m afraid I will screw up. Or I simply wont meet the expectations I’ve set on my self.

    The key to success is to know when you ARE good enough.
    When what you can do, can actually take you somewhere you want to go.
    That is what the empty trophies are taking away.

  6. drpretzel says:

    Check this out:

    This explains motivation/failure/self esteem in an interesting way. And it’s entertaining!

  7. drpretzel says:

    LOL…I’m being double-teamed here! You tell your man to get his own name so I can differentiate!!!

  8. A Purple Thread says:

    -Charisse this time:

    I think the key thing to the trophy kids, is that they KNOW that the trophy is empty. (at least any fairly intelligent kid.) These parents or whatever, may think that the kid has self-esteem from the ‘everyone is a winner’ prize, be we all know it cannot compare to the self-esteem of being handed a First Place trophy. And many those kids WANT that first place trophy, and the ones who can earn it (or a second or third) are totally getting screwed over.
    So when these kids go to achieve something in a real life scenario, many of these kids really don’t feel like they have the ability or tools to succeed. Even if they do! Because they’ve never actually had to employ them to succeed.
    I see a huge problem of this, not in parenting as much as education. A general lowering of the bar. The kids who are most valuable to a public school are the ones they can drag across the bar. The school is judged upon the IMPROVEMENT they make much more than the level of success the kids can achieve. This is why the gifted kids get screwed. The bar that is set before them is not a challenge. That A, while it may not be available to everyone like the empty trophies is in effect the same thing for them. It is not a REAL sign of achievement because there was no challenge, no effort needed to get it.
    What is key is appropriate, and gradually increasing challenges. Bars you can step across are useless, but so is a bar you have no hope of reaching. because only given a choice between the two, means you will never build to your true potential. (woo hoo! Getting to my virtue theory here! lol) What is most important, are all the bars in between, the first levels of increment build confidence, then the ones above that build your strengths, then the next levels challenge your true ability and challenge you desire to reach them. Eventually you are given a choice between settling into a comfort zone or a zone that works well for you and keeps you productive- maybe to choose to pursue bars in other areas- and a second choice that is a real leap. A real test where the fall might be significant. The level of this bar is different for different people and in different areas of life and skill. (the real question is why do people take on THIS bar? Because this bar is outside general success, this is the bar that takes you from a normal status -say paper pusher- to something more -ie, CEO)

    This is something the parenting class I took was built upon. The importance of failures at an early age. Not the FEAR of failure, but the skills to deal with it when it happens. They encouraged you to let your child fail. That it is when that child is SAVED that the most damage happens. (again those damned empty trophies). What is Key. What many adults have trouble seeing, is that those failures are not going to ruin their child’s life. In fact, they are necessary. And the great thing about little kids is that their failures are not going to result in life altering events (pregnancy, loss of job, home or jail). If Tommy doesn’t win the game, there is a choice in his thought patterns (and this is where early guidance in HOW to think is important -in PHILOSOPHY!) the choice is to think… well, it’s not worth it, it’s not me, or I cannot do this. vs. I did my best and next time I will be better -I learned how NOT to swing the bat, or throw the ball. (Thomas Edison pointed out not that he FAILED a 1000 times, he succeeded in learning how NOT to make a light bulb a 1000 times!) It is HOW we process failure that determines if we are successful or not. and the key here is the Locus of Control. Is it MY fault? If it is in my control, then I can choose whether I can succeed or fail in the future, and judge whether or not I’m willing to take that risk in that area or in another instead.
    And this is where we go from a normal person to a SUCCESSFUL person. I choose to take on that BIG bar, because I have the confidence from the lower bars. I do it because there is something about getting that final bar that makes the risk of the fall worth it. The only people who jump that bar out of fear of falling, are those who are given no other choice, but leap or fall. Successful people are the ones who look UP, not DOWN.

    • drpretzel says:

      Agreed, agreed, agreed.

      When I say “fear” I don’t say it in the “oh my gods, fear is an unreasonably debilitating phobia” sense. I say it more in the sense of “I am afraid of failing because of the consequential feelings and disappointments that come with it, so I will avoid it as much as I possibly can (because those feelings suck).”

      I fully agree that everyone should be aware of the POSSIBILITY of failure, and be prepared to deal with it in a proactive way.

  9. A Purple Thread says:

    Expectation of success, true confidence, is what creates the drive to succeed. Fear of failure causes paralysis in the face of difficulty. It is precisely what causes test anxiety and missed game-winning free throws. That fear can cut both ways. It can cause some to be driven to succeed, as it apparently does for you. But that fear which causes the slight adrenaline rush that you channel into the fight response (due to training and encouragement, not just exposure) others who have not had success channel into the flight response and run from the difficulty. It is not until that individual has been encouraged properly, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, that he or she will have the confidence to attack a difficulty with the expectation of success and learn to channel the adrenaline of the situation that they become successful. I can think of several athletes for whom the thought of failure never enters their mind. I was that way academically. It wasn’t fear of failure that drove me, but upon the expectation that I would conquer whatever arose, even proverbially with one hand tied behind my back, that I rode. Difficulty created doubt in my abilities, but the previous success I had, and the encouragement of those around me, drove me to continue to succeed.

    A second example; if only driven by fear of failure, why do people attempt to do what no one has ever done before. Sir Edmund Hilary would not have risked his life to climb Everest without the confidence that he could conquer what others deemed impossible. Failure meant a probable death, so why attempt something of that magnitude when your only motivation is fear of failure?

    Fear of failure will keep you off the bottom, but it takes confidence and some encouragement to expand boundaries and achieve greatness.

    • drpretzel says:

      I think we’re in agreement here, just wording it differently.

      Encouragement doesn’t always have to come from outside. Sometimes encouragement comes from the aforementioned self-mastery. Once someone feels that, they don’t want to fail anymore.

      I don’t think that Sir Hilary is a very good example…since failure meant probable death, perhaps he had a very strong desire to LIVE, which pushed him. That is a fear of failure.

      There are an amazing amount of situations out there where people are considered heroes for simply avoiding the deaths or failures of themselves or their loved ones. Consider a Soldier under fire. He does not pull his battle buddy to safety because of encouragement, he does it because he is afraid.

      Encouragement plays its role, but I think that it is a role which can only exist once a person has recognized and conquered a fear to push themselves up off that bottom. They see that little difference…how much better it feels to push further and further away from failure…and that is encouragement in itself to keep pushing.

      They aren’t all that different, really.

  10. Well argued – and I love that last cartoon!

  11. A Purple Thread says:

    As a coach, I find that all my players begin playing the sport afraid they will fail. It is not until they have confidence that they are actually in control of whether or not they succeed that they are able to in fact succeed. If they lack confidence, they will allow the fear they already feel to control them and quit when things get difficult. I think your point of inflated self-esteem is a good one; to become successful it takes an honest and conscious assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and the development of a plan to use them. So in short, I agree with the problem, but disagree on the origin of the drive to succeed.

    • drpretzel says:

      So where does the drive to succeed come from, if not from fear of failure, hard work and the resulting success of hard work? When you work hard at something, are successful, and master it, confidence is side effect of that mastery. It ought not be artificially created lest the ego be artificially inflated.

      e.g., Tying your shoes. When a child first begins, it’s extremely difficult. They work very hard at it, but often become frustrated, but since they know that it is something they should be able to do (fear of failure), and mommy looks a little disappointed when an attempt is failed, they keep pushing on until they can do it. Any parent knows that all it takes is just one time to do it (semi-correctly) and they gain confidence. With each subsequent time they might still have difficulty, but they are still gaining confidence with each try. This all leads to mastery of a skill, which occurs on a constant basis for a child. Self-mastery is what leads to confidence.

      But that fear of failure is still there, pushing.

      Now, take that same child and never allow them to do anything for themselves. Mommy ties their shoes, never lets them learn to make their own PB&J, rushes to them when they take a tumble, insists that the child can do nothing on their own, and makes sure his feelings are not hurt when he plays by insisting that everything be fair. Since the child has no way to fear or even understand failure, no reason to self-master any skills, and no reason to be concerned with his weaknesses….he’ll have no drive to succeed. He’ll be timid and fearful and eventually not even try to master new things because he does not even know how to engage in the process. He’ll have an entitled mentality that others are supposed to give him what he wants.

      All IMHO, of course.

  12. Riley Carson says:

    I absolutely LOVE this.

  13. Majeh85 says:

    Very well put. The only disagreements I have are negligible, like your phrasing seems to come off saying you think parents shouldn’t try and comfort their kids after a failure. Your choice of phrasing seems to say that parents should act along the lines of ,”You failed, oh well,” and leave it at that, which I don’t agree with just leaving it at that, and I hope you don’t mean it that way either. And when I say comfort I don’t mean, making excuses for their kids failure, such as a parent talking along the lines of “They must have cheated” or “They had better stuff” because saying things like that would lead to resentment, but more of telling their kids to try hard and do better next time. But as I said, very well put.

    • drpretzel says:

      I don’t mean that parents should not comfort their kids. Absolutely they should when it is merited.

      There is a lot to be said for a little tough love. There is a difference between “Oh, honey…you’re still a winner” (when they lost) and “Oh, honey, I know it doesn’t feel good to lose, but if you and your team work and practice hard, when you do win it will feel great!”

      There is a place in life for healthy (not padded or fake) competition.

      Parenting is about knowing the difference between providing guidance and just coddling to avoid hurt feelings. Children SHOULD feel the pain of failure and loss…that’s what makes them strive for success and winning.

      • Majeh85 says:

        Agreed. And I did say your choice of phrasing is what made it seem that way, I know outside of this blog so I would like to think I know you better than to assume something like that.

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