Bring Back Low Self-Esteem

From what I hear, I was raised all wrong. OK, I can agree with some of that. My mother did not know the words, “Good job.” I hear them all the time now. Today alone, I heard a father using the words when his son pushed the elevator button for three floors, and again when he pushed the alarm button. I didn’t hear what else was said, my ears are still ringing from that alarm.

I heard a mother use it when her daughter pulled open a candy bar and ate it in the grocery store. Really? Ripping open a candy bar is worth a “Good Job!”

My mother was not a big believer in lavish praise. We did what we were told. If we didn’t, there was punishment. My parents seldom spanked us, but they had endless inventive punishments for which, were they used today, would assure that we  would grow up in foster homes.

I’m not encouraging spanking or cruel behavior toward children. But I am against senseless praise. If every action is rewarded, if every notion is praised, the child is going to have a harder time when others aren’t as appreciative. And most of life is not about being appreciated.

True, we were people pleasers. But adults also were pleased at the right things. There were spelling bees in which only the top three participants won a prize. The rest of us were not winners, we had tried our best, but not won.

Most kids started with low self-esteem and worked hard to build it up with good grades, homework they did themselves, and written work they researched and wrote without parental editing.  No parent I knew went to school to tell the teacher they were wrong or get a punishment changed. If we got punished at school, we got punished again at home.

Yes, we had low self-esteem. And we didn’t think we were entitled to allowances, good jobs, or new clothes every season. We had to earn treats, and it often took a long time to earn a small treat. Delayed satisfaction was a way of life.

I call my low self-esteem “creative insecurity.” It makes me try more solutions and experiment with my work until I’m proud of it. And when I’m proud of it, I still don’t think it’s the the best in the world, just my personal best, which will do  until I can create something better. I honestly think if I had been told “Good Job!” often as a child, I’d have no desire to try so hard. I’d think I’d already done that good job.

My seventh grade teacher wrote this in my autograph album (we didn’t have annuals): “Good, better, best, never let it rest, till the good is better, and the better, best.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches others to write.

10 thoughts on “Bring Back Low Self-Esteem

  1. Pingback: Why I DO Follow You on Twitter « QuinnCreative

  2. I hesitate to say this, Q. But I mean it sincerely:
    Good job!

    I guess we live in an era of praise inflation, which actually devalues the words and their meaning.

  3. In my opinion too much praise is also a form of overprotection, and this too could lead to both failure and as a result of that the overfamiliar fear of failure. Oh well, maybe not. It’s still early in the morning here.

    • I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you are right. Over protection from what real life will be like. And then anger at “management” because they haven’t been taught to have a real worth ethic.

  4. Yes, unfortunately a generation of slackers is being raised. These days you get a trophy just for participating on the team. It doesn’t teach kids that you have to work to be really good at something to get the accolades.

    • I wish I could find something positive and wonderful to say. I feel like a geezer, but I also worry about the generation that never grew up with criticism and think “feedback” is the same as “praise.”

  5. I sure agree with you on this, Quinn! And a couple of years ago, when my one grandson was 2 and getting really obstreperous, I decided to give him a “timeout” – they say a minute for each year of age? So I sternly picked him up and placed him in the nearest chair – an old cushioned rocker. He looked so chagrined, till he discovered he could rock it. Suddenly his face lit up, it dawned on him that this was a great treat – and there went the lesson down the drain. I was rolling!

    • That was really funny! I used to think that sending my son to his room wasn’t really punishment. I often thought, “I should go to his room and play on the computer and read books, and leave him down here with the dishes.”

  6. Dear Quinn,

    Your parents and mine must have similar roots! I too really had to do my very best in life before I received any compliment from them! To do well at school and to try hard to behave according to their standards, was just something I was supposed to do and never “a good job”.
    I was never praised a lot… but they did love me, and that was one very important certainty in my life.

    Low self-esteem just meant that we still had to learn a whole lot.

    Good critical post Quinn!


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