Is Self-esteem a Bad Thing?

Reading an article about self-esteem, I got the impression that adults are focused on building up children’s self-esteem and this is a bad thing. It suggested that this practice is doing the opposite of raising a ‘good’ person.  With examples of criminals having higher self-esteem than non-criminals, he author adds that the ‘best’ person he knows had pretty awful parents. He wasn’t saying that we should totally ignore how our children feel about themselves but he did think what we are doing isn’t having the intended outcome.

I found myself offended and confused by the article. First, I tried to understand.

I don’t know what the author’s definition is of self-esteem.  Maybe it was hinging on people growing up with a feeling of superiority or power over others – maybe an over-inflated ego. I would agree that this is not the goal. The evidence of how adults feed this seemed to be around superficial or untrue praise as well as wanting to protect our children’s feelings.

Then I moved on to why I was offended in the first place.

At a high level, self-esteem usually refers to how a person feels about themselves. So, anyone who stands up and says we shouldn’t help our children feel good about themselves is off base. Also for me, I see that our intentions to do this can backfire if we are focused on cursory outcomes. We may be limiting ourselves feeling that self-esteem is the ultimate goal.

I am not a fan of fake or unfounded ‘cheer leading’ – I put this into the category of praise.  It does not feel authentic to give nor for most people to receive. Usually it is not

  • heard because it is so common place
  • understood because it is unclear what it relates to
  • believed because it is different than how the person sees themselves
  • retained because it is like junk food given in response to hunger

I think it comes from a place of wanting to help someone feel acknowledged and good about themselves which is great – but does it do what it is intended to do?

This brought me to a new level of appreciation for the term Inner Wealth®.  In the Nurtured Heart Approach®, the goal is to build just that.

Inner Wealth is ‘a term we use to describe the child’s inner knowledge of and acceptance of his or her own greatness’.

I think this differs from self-esteem. defines self-esteem as “a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.” or “an inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself”.  Self-esteem feels like a broad feeling about ourselves. Inner Wealth® is a very specific and deep belief in our unique capabilities. This may help our overall self-esteem, but more directly, it assures us that we know we have something of value within us to offer the world.

We are capable just as we are.

As parents, we are impacted by our children’s experiences and how they react to them.  We feel their

  • hurt when a friend rejects them
  • upset when they fall short of a goa
  • anger when they see their experience as unfair
  • fear when they step into the unknown
  • frustration, devastation (maybe even embarrassment) when they are the object of criticism, blame or shame etc.

We want to protect them from the feelings in life that we deem to be ‘bad’ and we do this from a genuine place.

Being part of the human experience, we need to help our children learn to feel what they feel AND be able to deal with it in a productive way.  This is a critical skill for being an emotionally healthy adult. The more we try to protect them from these feelings of life, the more we miss the opportunity to teach them the capacity they have to handle life’s ups and downs. We miss the opportunity to have them build the confidence to be themselves.

Imagine the shift if we did the following. Stand beside your child ‘every step of the way’ giving them deep clarity of where they go off track. Even better if we can do so with compassion, illuminating their own steps to get back on track with grace. Then reinforce what qualities they have with authentic connection. No junk food – just emotional nutrition.

“What makes your kids great is not what you GIVE TO them but what you PUT IN them.”

NHA gives us the knowledge and tools to

  • leave the generalities and accolades for accomplishment behind and instead focus on the true recognition of experiences and qualities
  • move past the hoopla toward heart connected, authentic communication in a way that ensures the child knows and accepts their unique abilities
  • be empowered to have a positive effect on the inner beliefs that our children have of themselves at any age, stage or ability
  • see ‘failures’ as opportunities to grow important skills rather than situations to blame, shame, protect or punish

Whatever word or term is used matters less than what we are actually trying to do for our children – raise them to have what they need to succeed in their life.

Start to focus more on the intention and the goal in mind. With tools to impact our children’s Inner Wealth®, we can provide profound and truly nourishing recognition. We can raise children who are strong and resilient in the face of all they will encounter in life.  

Marny Elliott is a Nurtured Heart Approach® (NHA) Trainer, Coach and Emotional Health Therapist. She empowers parents, educators etc. to use this effective, heart centered approach to transform behaviour, build relationships and grow the Inner Wealth® of children. In addition, she provides holistic counselling to adults seeking to address defeating patterns and improve their emotional health. Please visit, email or call 250.218.8702.



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