There's a widely held belief that all bullies are insecure cowards who use aggression to cover their anemic self-image. Recently, psychologists have questioned their assumptions about self-esteem and reviewed decades of studies. Their findings? Feeling great about yourself isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Baumeister, R. , Smart, L. , & Boden, J. (1996). Relations of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103, 5-33.
For ages, pop psychologists have promoted the idea that developing your child's self-esteem was a magic bullet that ensured mental health and future success. And to be sure, it does have its up-side. Kids with healthy self-esteem are more resistant to peer pressure, recover from failure and trauma faster, and are generally happier. Note: the operative word was healthy" - not high".
Kids with healthy self-esteem are:
* Proud of their accomplishments
* Open to challenges
* Helpful to others
* More capable of managing their emotions
Beware the far end of that spectrum, though. Loading a child up with undeserved praise, withholding appropriate criticism, and avoiding difficult tasks that carry the possibility of failure in order to make a kid feel good are counter-productive strategies. Feeding kids a diet of validation actually decreases their drive to work harder and improve themselves!
An inflated self-esteem is a key component of narcissism and egotism. Those traits are decidedly unhealthy- for the person who exhibits them and for the people around them. While these kids think they're smarter, better looking, more competent and more popular than their peers, they often alienate others with their their superior attitude. True confidence is achieved by demonstrating hard earned aptitude. It is the effect, not the cause. (High self-esteem does not enhance performance).
High self-esteem is not an antidote to making destructive choices, either. Kids who believe they can do no wrong are actually more likely to steal, cheat and experiment with drugs than their counterparts.
Criminals are frequently brimming with self-esteem. Their amplified sense of importance lets them feel justified in ripping-off or hurting other people. And to get violent if they don't get the respect they feel they deserve.
Not surprisingly, children who've been targeted for social cruelty do not feel very good about themselves, and the longer they endure abuse, the worse they feel. As a group, the kids who do the bullying feel just fine about themselves.