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The Self-Esteem of Millennials

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According to Jean M. Twenge, PhD, author of, Generation, Millennials have been described as a more self-centered, thin-skinned, and lazy generation than any before.

Twenge uses data derived from extensive research to give an overall view of Millennials and how they compare to other generations. She found that Millennials, who she defines as those born between 1982 and 1999, are more self-centered than previous generations were at the same age. They grew up during what Twenge refers to as a self-esteem movement; they were literally taught self-esteem. The elements of self-esteem that they were taught included that self-love is the greatest love of all; that they shouldn’t care what others think as long as they make themselves happy; that they are special and capable, regardless of what they do or don’t do; and that they should look out for themselves, and always put themselves first. Essentially, they were taught to be what Twenge refers to as an, “army of one”.

The self-esteem movement sounds great in theory, but it turns out that self-esteem is not the answer to being happy, successful and fulfilled. What Twenge refers to as an, “army of one,” I refer to as, “skilled at being alone.” Millennials were taught how to be alone. In teaching self-esteem, they were taught individual skills, not relational skills. There’s nothing wrong with being alone, but millennials, as humans, are relational beings. We all are. Teaching relational beings how to be alone is a recipe for depression and anxiety. And, as we now know thanks to Twenge’s extensive research, the self-esteem that Millennials were taught has led them to be anxious, stressed out, depressed, lonely, and disconnected adults.

Without relational skills, Millennials have their work cut out for them when it comes to dating and relationships. Relational skills are necessary to enjoy and thrive in relationships. Without these skills, closeness, connection, vulnerability and intimacy are difficult, rather than enjoyable.

According to Kendra Cherry, Self-esteem levels at the extreme high and low ends of the spectrum can be harmful, so ideally, it’s best to strike a balance somewhere in the middle. A realistic yet positive view of yourself is generally considered the ideal. But what exactly is self-esteem? Where does it come from and what influence does it really have on our lives?

In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself. It is often seen as a personality trait, which means that it tends to be stable and enduring. It can involve a variety of beliefs about yourself, such as the appraisal of your own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors.

Why Self-Esteem Is Important

Self-esteem can play a significant role in your motivation and success throughout your life. Low self-esteem may hold you back from succeeding at school or work because you don’t believe yourself to be capable of success.

By contrast, having a healthy self-esteem can help you achieve because you navigate life with a positive, assertive attitude and believe you can accomplish your goals.

Self-Esteem Theories

The need for self-esteem plays an important role in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which depicts self-esteem as one of the basic human motivations.

Maslow suggested that people need both esteem from other people as well as inner self-respect. Both of these needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow as a person and achieve actualization. It is important to note that self-esteem is a concept distinct from self-efficacy, which involves how well you believe you’ll handle future actions, performance, or abilities.

Factors That Can Influence Self-Esteem

As you might imagine, there are different factors that can influence self-esteem. Genetic factors that help shape overall personality can play a role, but it is often our experiences that form the basis for overall self-esteem. Those who consistently receive overly critical or negative assessments from caregivers, family members, and friends, for example, will likely experience problems with low self-esteem.

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