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Common Beliefs on Low
Self-Esteem Are Myths


LONDON (Reuters) - Many of the most commonly held beliefs about low self-esteem are myths without reliable evidence to support them, says a study published on Wednesday.

Low self-esteem has become one of the most frequently cited explanations for social and personal problems, ranging from young people's involvement in violent crime to adult failures in business, and the US state of California has gone so far as to invest significant public funds in trying to raise the self-esteem of its citizens.

But Nicholas Emler, a social psychologist who conducted the study, said his research showed that people with a high opinion of themselves could pose a far greater threat to others than those with a low sense of self-worth.

``People with low self-esteem tend to injure themselves rather than other people. Those with high self-esteem tend to damage other people, either because they are reckless and dangerous or because they're unpleasant,'' he told Reuters.

Young people with very high self-esteem are more likely than others to hold racist attitudes, reject social pressures from adults and peers and engage in physically risky pursuits such as drinking and driving or driving too fast, the study found.

``Widespread belief in 'raising self-esteem' as an all-purpose cure for social problems has created a huge market for self-help manuals and educational programs that is threatening to become the psychotherapeutic equivalent of snake oil,'' said Emler, a professor at the London School of Economics.

Emler's study, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the UK's largest independent social research and development charity, found that relatively low self-esteem was not a risk factor for delinquency, violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, educational under-attainment or racism.

It was, however, a risk factor for attempting suicide, depression, teenage pregnancy and being victimized by bullies, he said in the study, which followed the fortunes of children and young people over time.

Relatively low childhood self-esteem also seemed to be associated with adolescent eating disorders. Among young adult males it seemed linked with low earnings and job problems.

Emler said the most important influence on young people's self-esteem was their parents, ``partly as a result of genetic inheritance and partly through the degree of love, concern, acceptance and interest that they show to their children.''

He said his study, which took a year to complete, reviewed research worldwide from the 19th century onwards, much of it from the United States.


Reference Source 89

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