Parenting literature: The Self-Esteem Trap

I’ve been a bit wary of parenting literature. Firstly, there’s too much of it available. Secondly too much of it is based on a weirdly mechanistic view of the world in which children are seen as little machines that should purr along at a convenient, manageable pitch if we simply follow the correct operating instructions.

The simple over-supply of advice, opinion and putative “parenting knowledge” contributes to a prevailing hysteria that parenting is an arcane practice that demands a lot of acquired information. Information can be useful, but it can also muddy up that also-useful fount of know-how: simple intuition and common sense. Not to mention humanity.

And yet I’ve accumulated a surprisingly large collection of so-called parenting books. In amongst the mainstream dross are a few gems. Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting is the most significant one I’ve come across (I’ve probably mentioned it here several times.) Another one that a friend passed along recently is called The Self Esteem Trap, by Polly Young-Eisendrath. (Great book, terrible surname.) Like the best books, I found these filled with insights that are applicable not only to the realm of parenting, but also to the broader domain of human psychology.

It’s a very fine book. Because it’s late at night and because I can’t be bothered to (or just can’t) re-invent a very well-invented wheel, I’ve quoted a fat chunk from the front page of the authors’s website.

Polly Young-Eisendrath writes:

I wrote this book because I was at the end of my rope. I had sat hour upon hour in my psychotherapy practice listening to stories about how every child, teen and adult should be special, a winner, with the potential to be great. Although this expectation causes great suffering in individuals and families, it has been almost impossible to challenge.

The expectation is founded on the illusion that everyone has an extraordinary potential for creativity or genius or achievement that needs only to be unlocked in order for greatness to happen. When you assume that everyone has something extraordinary to contribute to life, then being ordinary is an embarrassment. This way of thinking has produced a generation of parents, children, teens, and young adults who are caught in…

The Self-Esteem Trap:

  • Obsessive self-focus.
  • Restless dissatisfaction.
  • Pressures to be exceptional.
  • Unrealistic fantasies of wealth, power, celebrity or achievement.
  • Unreadiness to take on adult responsibilities in an imperfect world.
  • Feelings of superiority and/or inferiority.
  • Excessive fears of being humiliated.

The Self-Esteem Trap has made powerful demands on our child-rearing and spawned relentless desires to be or have the best. Although many experts have studied and critiqued the problems that come from pressures to be special or extraordinary, we have not been able to free ourselves from this trap. Stepping out of it is too painful if we blame ourselves personally for being stuck here in the first place or if we see no other alternative for happiness and self-confidence.


Book Synopsis

This groundbreaking new book clarifies the misplaced but well-meaning intentions that have produced a generation of young adults…

  • who are unable or unwilling to imagine a life that’s anything but extraordinary.
  • who are stymied by the ordinary challenges of adulthood.
  • who are restless and unhappy with their desirable circumstances.
  • who suffer prematurely from angst and disillusionment with the world as it is.
  • who have no patience for developing talents over time.
  • who are reticent to share or collaborate.
  • who feel pressure to be and have the very best.
  • who fear humiliation above all else.
  • cannot escape the negative self-preoccupations of the self-esteem trap.

Psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath – drawing on her years of experience as a Jungian analyst, psychologist and practitioner of Buddhism – offers an incisive analysis of the cultural, psychological and moral components of the self-esteem trap for kids, parents, teachers, counselors, and mental health professionals in their relationships with each other. After identifying the problem, analyzing its roots in the Baby Boom generation of parents, and clarifying its components, she lays a clear path for parents, and for teens and young adults themselves, toward a new kind of confidence and resilience that is founded on interdependence, autonomy, compassion and sharing. She advocates an ecological and environmentally-friendly parenting and personality make-over! It’s time that we all stopped overdosing on an illusion of the individual Self and wake up to the fact that everything we do is webbed in a network of relationships.


About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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