Research Shows Harms of High Self-Esteem

Actual research refutes the self-esteem teachings promoted by many secular psychologists. And the Bible refutes it too! This article explains. #Bible #Selfesteem

Note: italicized blue text is used for quotes from secular studies.

Instead of promoting a healthy understanding of ourselves, self-esteem philosophy promotes unwarranted pride in self. Sadly, it is a secular teaching that has infiltrated the church.

Scripture alone provides enough evidence to reject the popular self-esteem teachings. However, the "self-esteem experiment" in America also provides secular evidence for rejecting it.

Self-esteem teachings are helping fulfill the negative prediction in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people."

1. Self-esteem philosophy hinders repentance: 

From a study conducted by Ohio State University and the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory:

"American society seems to believe that self-esteem is the cure all for every social ill, from bad grades to teen pregnancies to violence. But there has been no evidence that boosting self-esteem actually helps with these problems. We may be too focused on increasing self-esteem. . . . The problem isn’t with having high self-esteem; it’s how much people are driven to boost their self-esteem. When people highly value self-esteem, they may avoid doing things such as acknowledging a wrong they did."  ~  The Danger of Self-esteem 

We're creating a culture of proud "Pharisees" even though God wants us to be like the humble, repentant tax-collector. See Luke 18:9-14.

2. Self-esteem philosophy promotes arrogance and confusion.

Actual research refutes the self-esteem teachings promoted by many secular psychologists. And the Bible refutes it too! This article explains. #Bible #Selfesteem

All italicized quotes in this section are from: Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? from a study by Roy F. Baumeister, Florida State University; Jennifer D. Campbell, University of British Columbia; Joachim I. Krueger, Brown University; Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Utah:

"Popular wisdom in the age of self-esteem holds that loving oneself is a prerequisite for loving others. . . . Efforts to boost self-esteem in schools, homes, and elsewhere would be well justified if they resulted in significant improvements in how people got along with one another. The evidence suggests that the superior social skills and interpersonal successes of people with high self-esteem exist mainly in their own minds. People with high self-esteem claim to be more popular and socially skilled than others, but objective measures generally fail to confirm this and in some cases point in the opposite direction. . . ."

"Always praising and never criticizing may feel good to everyone concerned, but the data we have reviewed do not show that such an approach will produce desirable outcomes. . . . Using self-esteem as a reward rather than an entitlement seems most appropriate to us. To be sure, there may still be a place for unconditional positive regard, such as when a parent shows love for a child independent of achievement. But when achievement or virtue is involved, self-esteem should be conditional upon it. A favorable view of self should be promoted on the basis of performing well and behaving morally. By the same token, we think it appropriate and even essential to criticize harmful or unethical behavior and lazy or deficient performance, without worrying that someone’s self-esteem might be reduced."

Encouragement and deserved praise are part of love, but constructive criticism and strong rebukes are also a part of love. Lest we doubt that, look at the words of Jesus to Peter whom He loved (Mark 8:33). And read Christ's words about rebuking you and me (Revelation 3:19).

Note that 2 Timothy 3:1-5 quoted at the beginning of this article says that people who love themselves with be boastful, proud, and conceited.

"The praise-only regimen of the self-esteem movement is ultimately no more effective for learning than the criticism-only regimen of the previous era. . . Praising all the children just for being themselves, in contrast, simply devalues praise and confuses the young people as to what the legitimate standards are. In the long run, if such indiscriminate praise has any effect on self-esteem, it seems more likely to contribute to narcissism or other forms of inflated self-esteem than to the kind of self-esteem that will be best for the individual and for society."

Jesus said we should expect no special praise for doing what we are supposed to do (Luke 17:7-10). 

3. Healthy views of self are built on self-control, not self-esteem.

from The Trouble With Self-Esteem by Lauren Slater, NY Times: 

Actual research refutes the self-esteem teachings promoted by many secular psychologists. And the Bible refutes it too! This article explains. #Bible #Selfesteem
"Last year alone there were three withering studies of self-esteem released in the United States, all of which had the same central message: people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the cause of our country's biggest, most expensive social problems. . . . Shifting a paradigm is never easy. More than 2,000 books offering the attainment of self-esteem have been published; educational programs in schools designed to cultivate self-esteem continue to proliferate, as do rehabilitation programs. . . . Self-esteem, as a construct, as a quasi religion, is woven into a tradition that both defines and confines us as Americans. . . . Perhaps, as these researchers are saying, pride really is dangerous, and too few of us know how to be humble. . . . Psychology and psychiatry are predicated upon the notion of the self, and its enhancement is the primary purpose of treatment. . . . Maybe self-control should replace self-esteem as a primary peg to reach for."

Note that 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (quoted at the beginning of this article) says those who love themselves will be without self-control, abusive, treacherous, and rash.

There are many secular authorities singing the praises of high self-esteem despite this evidence. They may even claim to have "evidence" to back up their claims, but they've likely conducted their research with preconceived results and biased research methods.

So which should we believe—what Scripture teaches or what secular psychology promotes? 

Praising people for everything and for nothing makes them arrogant and addicted to the praise of men.

Let's treat each other as the Bible commands, neither expecting too much of others nor too little. We should love our children enough to punish them when they're bad and praise when they've done something worthy of praise.


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More articles: Dangers of Self Esteem, Can Too Much Self-Esteem be Bad for your Child? 

Bible Love Notes


  1. This is the first of the series I've read (been away on vacation)- You are 100% right on- thank you for sharing the data that supports the Bible. The self esteem movement, IMHO, is the cause of more damage to our society then even these studies show. Pride goes before the fall . . . we're a nation of self pride and self love and we're headed for a fall into a deep ditch.

  2. Great thoughts!! I agree with all you have said,thank you for sharing. Visiting from Time-Warp Wife.

  3. This is a fantastic post and series. I've discussed this at length with my husband, and we are definitely on the same page. It's great to see both biblical and academic support for the dangers of the self-esteem movement.

  4. I really appreciated this post and I look forward to going back and reading the others. Thank you for sharing this important truth. It is hard wading through all the experts and studies etc, so love that you always bring is back to the Truth of the word. Have a blessed weekend. Tara.

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. After spending a lot of years with a self-esteem bent in my philosophy, it was refreshing for me when I realized what God said and got back to the solid truths of Scripture.

  5. I think you have great points, but what is missing is the major difference in the love of one's self through the ego/flesh and the vital need of love of one's self through God. There are so many people who are in need of God's grace, to know they are loved and are forgiven of their sins and to know they serve a Divine purpose in this world - one God has created specifically for them. If you feel not worthy of God's love, you will never feel worthy of love for yourself, which leads to people not pursuing their purpose, and every other issue they have in their lives that doesn't enable them to live the life of peace, love, joy and abundance that God has for them. Loving yourself, and the only way to do so is to see & feel how God loves you, is essential in today's society. What is the core of the issues for suicide, obesity, people not pursuing their purpose and ending up in broken relationships, etc? My opinion - Lack of Love from Him. Love transforms because God fills you with Love so you are able to see the truth - truth to allow you to see when you have sinned and are given power of the Spirit to overcome it, truth to know you are worthy of the life God has for you, truth to know when you are not being treated right in relationships and truth to know you should treat, love and care for your body as God sees it - a temple. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" is stated in the Bible as well, but this also, is the love for yourself that only God can provide you. This is true love. Self-esteem is different from Self-love, though, but it saddens me when I see so many Sisters in Christ who lack love for themselves and who have so much brokenness because they have failed to love themselves the way God does. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this. This message is one God has given me as my purpose to spread, one that I've come to see the truth in personally through much pain. There is a need for True self-love, but where that love comes from and the self-awareness and self-discipline that comes along with it is something that definitely needs to be cleared up - that's where I agree with your message! I think I've rambled long it obvious this is something I'm passionate about?! Haha! Blessings! Carolina,

    1. Hi Carolina,
      I agree that finding our purpose and meaning through God is our highest need. But I don't agree that our highest need is to know God's love so we can love ourselves. I am not aware of a single Scripture that comes from that perspective.

      The whole message of Scripture is that we have loved ourselves more than God, disobeyed His loving commands, violated His repeated offers of help. God's love is unmerited and undeserved. That's why it is called grace. We should seek to love God first and foremost and not focus on ourselves.

      If we love God, we will deal with our sin nature. And, as we deal with our sin nature, we will have an accurate view of ourselves (Romans 12:3).

      Focusing on loving ourselves will actually lead us away from understanding God's love.

      I have written a post on the misuse of the Scripture "Love your neighbor as yourself" in Part 4 (see link at the bottom of the post above). And I encourage you to read the other posts I've written too. One reason that I wrote so many parts in this series is because our Christian culture has taken so many verses and twisted them to create a philosophy that is not found in Scripture all.

      The teaching of the Bible gives us the right view of ourselves so that we can be stable, loving, valuable members of society. Self-esteem philosophy does not do any of these things despite its claims to do so.

      Again, I encourage you to read the rest of the series because it helps develop the Bible teaching better than I can do here.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment,

  6. I too have concerns about the message of these posts. After years of gradually recovering from depression, I became a Christian and read devotionals and advice warning against self-esteem. I increased my self-criticism, continually reminding myself of my general unworthiness. Gradually I began losing respect for my husband (who would choose to be with a person like me?) and others around me. Since I didn't consider myself worthy of salvation, I gradually stopped pursuing it. (Besides, what kind of God would create and love such a disgusting person?) My epiphany came when, after a few years of paralytic shame leading to the burying of my talents, the toxic feelings I had toward myself and those around me began to infect my image of God. I saw at this point that what I was doing was wrong.

    I think we can agree that there are many obviously Godly people who do not hide themselves in shame, rather, they confess their sins and move on. All of the disciples had sins and weaknesses, yet they were able to show their faces in public and speak confidently to evangelize. The one who did fail was Judas, who succumbed to overwhelming despair after betraying Christ. I also suspect low self-esteem doesn't figure prominently as a problem in the Bible because a) people with such problems most likely would have been seen as possessed by demons (which is probably in fact true!) and in Middle Eastern culture guilt and shame are more of a community experience even to this day. Finally, since most of them struggled to feed, clothe and shelter themselves they didn't spend much time on such matters as long-term career planning and measuring up to academic expectations. Christ introduced a new emphasis on the ability to observe oneself and we have found ways to self-observe sinfully.

    I see a few things being routinely conflated in these discussions, whether secular or spiritual:

    1) First is self-esteem versus pride or narcissism. True self-esteem is simply recognition that God wouldn't make anything absolutely worthless and that He loves us. It has nothing to do with our achievements, our looks or with praising ourselves. Rather, narcissism, which is often rooted in *low* self-esteem, is characterized by a life centered around building oneself up, usually at the expense of others. A person who is secure has no reason to harbor illusions about his good qualities. Personally, I've found that since I let up on the global self-criticism and accepted that the ultimate arbiter of worth *loves* me, I again consider my salvation and life a project worth pursuing. I am able to see my own flaws in a way that allows *repentance,* not despair.

    2) Somehow the disease and the cure are being regularly mixed up. Just because a particular antibiotic makes a person sicker, it doesn't mean the infection doesn't exist. The program of promiscuous praise that seems to have taken hold among parents and school systems is misguided as per the scientific references you cited. That approach does seem to form narcissists, and it's no wonder when you consider the message all that praise sends: that a person's worth is based on his qualities and that therefore the way to feeling secure is to believe one is smarter, more attractive etc. than others. I would propose that rather than returning to the old program of tearing down a child's self-esteem, we encourage the child to focus on God, His love and His law.

    Sorry for the length, but I don't wish to see others repeat my mistakes. My relationship with God has recovered, but I hurt Him and my career is probably permanently damaged. I sinned grievously, and the kicker is: guess who I was focused on in all that self-hatred? Not God, for sure. I have a very hard time believing that God wants us to direct abuse and hatred on ourselves- the ones He made, loves and died on the Cross for.

    This has been offered in love. Anything positive or helpful here is from the Holy Spirit; anything that is in error or causes injury is from me. Pray for me, chief of sinners...

  7. Hi Lydia,
    I appreciate hearing your insights, and while I don't think we completely agree, I know we agree on some important things.

    For example, I never suggested " returning to the old program of tearing down a child's self-esteem" so we agree completely on that point. I wrote: "Let's treat children as the Bible commands, neither expecting too much of them nor too little. We should love them always, punishing them when they're bad and praising them when they do something exceptional."

    I'm glad that you have found principles that have led to your recovery, and I pray that God will continue to bless your life.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.