Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Ego Trip Harrison

Purchase: Amazon

This book is an excellent evaluation of today’s social understanding of ego and self-esteem.  It is a popular assumption in our society that the root of many problems is the lack of confidence people have.  According to this line of thinking what people need to solve their problems then is a boost of their self-esteem; thus, to increase and maintain people’s self-esteem have become the social gospel of the hour, or as the author put it, it is the  “social vaccine” with many promises (76).  But how does this square with reality?  This book argues that although it seems counter-intuitive the effect of the self-esteem movement has been more hurtful rather than helpful.

In the beginning the book gives a good survey of the historical origin and development of the self-esteem movement.  The author traces much of the incipient form of this self-esteem boosterism back to Freud although the first to coin the term “self-esteem” was the American philosopher William James.  The book also discussed how the gospel of self-esteem became popular during the “Cambrian era of self-esteem” of the 1960s (44).  The book also have a chapter describing the self-esteem movement’s agenda of passing their ideology to children when they are young and another chapter on how these ideas have even entered into the church and how detrimental it is spiritually.

After surveying the origin of the movement the book then cover the issue of whether or not “boosterism” works in chapter five.  I love the many statistics and studies that the author presents in proving his point that boosterism hasn’t delivered as promised.  The author argues that there are no hard evidences that boosting people’s self-esteem solves the major social and psychological problems that it was suppose to solve; but the author goes further to marshal data showing how the promotion of self-esteem has caused more harm than good.  Phony boost will lead to more disappointment and more problems.  I would say the author working through the data and various studies in research journals is worth buying the book.

Some of the survey of the relevant studies reveal the following:

  • There is not strong positive correlation between one’s self-esteem and educational attainment and that those with low and high self-esteem try just as hard in education (98).
  • According to another study risky teenage sexual behavior had very weak link with self-esteem per se; instead the link appears to be connected with factors such as background of a broken home or a lower IQ (74).
  • In one study, there are two groups of students, one who were praised for their effort and the other praised for being intrinsically gifted; and the group that was praised for effort when required to anonymously report their final scored were more prone to lie (101).
  • One example of how that is no correlation with one’s view of oneself and actual performance is a study that demonstrate how the lowest scoring group of people completing a task had the highest “better than average” biased rating of their performance compared to others (127).

The second half of the book was more theological in its content.  I admit that I was surprised at how biblical the second half of the book was.  Here the author offered a biblical antidote to the contemporary self-esteem movement.  The author also tells us a story in which he counseled someone where he noted the irony that he was more concerned about repentance and confession than the counselee’s pastor who was more concern with psychobabble.  I was also glad to find the author’s familiarity of good biblical resources as evident from the footnote.   I definitely recommend this book.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Zondervan Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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On February 27th, 2007 Los Angeles Times’s California section front page had a story about self-esteem. Titled, “Gen Y’s ego trip takes a nasty turn,” the article’s first paragraph notes, “All the effort to boost children’s self-esteem may have backfired and produced a generation of college students who are more narcissistic than their Gen X predecessors, according to a new study led by a San Diego State University psychologist.” (Generation Y is any person born after 1977 and before 1994 whereas Generation X is any person born between 1965 and 1975)

Though most likely the study conclusions are debatable to the non-Christian (requiring further study, or restudied due to flawed methodology), to the Christian the LA Times article only confirms the foolishness of human wisdom when attempting to understand the world and man outside of Christ. Any insights into the mind or behavior will always be flawed without first using the bible as the source of all knowledge and truth. For the word says:

“For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

1 Cor 3:19-20

Thus, any attempt to use psychology in combating depression, anorexia, or screening out astronauts “conducive” to murderous rage from jealously will always be flawed at the outset. The Christian must never succumb to the demands of neutrality, because doing so causes the Christian to lose true insight to the mind and behavior of man.

True knowledge will always begin with faith in Christ (Col 2:3, Prov 2:6), because God is the only being in heaven or on earth that would have such insight into His creation’s mind.

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The CNN article, NASA wants to know if there are ‘lessons to be learned’ notes:

“The space agency will determine if there are “lessons to be learned” from the incident involving Nowak and determine if modifications need to be made, according to NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale.”

Whereas the Letterman Show and Jay Leno Show both  makes jokes, and the host of CNN Primetime acts completely shocked, NASA seeks answers in psychology. A Popular Mechanics article writes about possible future screening methods such as hormone monitoring, genetic screening, function magnetic resonance imaging, and even monitoring facial expressions with a computer. At the end of the article, the writer observes:

“In the end, predicting someone’s behavior several years in advance will always remain a question of probabilities. As a result, effective monitoring and intervention during a mission is likely to be as important as the initial screening process.

Coming from a Christian perspective, I understand the value in predicting reactions to stress, but in predicting sin?

1 Corinthians 1:19 notes that God will, “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Here is an instance in psychology, in which man’s unbelief prevents true knowledge. Proverbs 6 has this to say:

“He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. Wounds and dishonor will he get, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts.”

Thus it should be no surprise to anyone that a seemingly “good person” decides to murder somebody, because “jealously makes a man furious.” May we all take heed though, because the Christian worldview always points out that “no temptation has overtaken that is not common to man.” May God give Lisa Nowak true knowledge and wisdom that is from Christ.

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