One of Dr. Cranky’s favorite things to do, once he has successfully chewed through his restraints and escaped his captors, is to go to book stores. There is one establishment in particular where your favorite author likes nothing more than to sink into a comfy chair, surrounded himself with reading material of various genres, lose track of time and read until he promptly falls asleep. Such was his intent a couple of days ago when he noticed an interesting cover on a magazine. To the right of center was the picture of a trophy. On top of the golden loving cup was perched a soccer player in a most awkward pose, having obviously just missed the ball beneath his feet. This demented award bore the inscription “Good Try,” and emblazoned across the front of the periodical were the words “How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining our Kids.” Dr. Cranky doesn’t usually read The Atlantic, but given this intriguing lure he couldn’t resist and took the bait.
The actual title of the article was “How to Land your Kid in Therapy” and was written by a woman by the name of Lori Gottlieb. Your irascible scribe had heard of this author before. Some months ago, while trolling about the internet, he had come across various commentaries regarding a book she had written entitled “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” Needless to say, based on this stunning achievement it didn’t seem like Ms. Gottlieb needed to worry about where on her mantle she would put her imminent Nobel prize for literature. Dr. Cranky doesn’t like to waste his few remaining functional neurons on puerile trash and the voices in his head tried to intervene. They advised him to put the magazine away immediately, lest he run the risk of another round of electroshock therapy to rid his tortured psyche of the inane pablum he was about to expose himself to.
Unfortunately, your intrepid author has a penchant for self-abuse so he read the article anyway. The gist of Ms. Gottlieb’s screed was that today’s young adults are beset by a horrible malady, inflicted upon them by their baby-boomer parents. It is an infirmity so foul, so cruel, that it must have seeped up from the very bowels of Hades itself. And what was this dreadful horror? What despicable torture had been inflicted upon these doe-eyed innocents? Quite simply, the mothers and fathers of today’s little darlings have abused their precious snowflakes by encouraging them too much and never letting them experience disappointment! The effect has been devastating!!! To quote:
“But soon I met a patient I’ll call Lizzie. Imagine a bright, attractive 20-something woman with strong friendships, a close family, and a deep sense of emptiness. She had come in, she told me, because she was “just not happy.” And what was so upsetting, she continued, was that she felt she had nothing to be unhappy about. She reported that she had “awesome” parents, two fabulous siblings, supportive friends, an excellent education, a cool job, good health, and a nice apartment. She had no family history of depression or anxiety. So why did she have trouble sleeping at night? Why was she so indecisive, afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust her instincts and stick to her choices? Why did she feel “less amazing” than her parents had always told her she was? Why did she feel “like there’s this hole inside” her? Why did she describe herself as feeling “adrift”?”
“Goodness,” Dr. Cranky thought to himself as he read this, “such a poor dear. Such a poor, entitled dear. Such a poor, entitled, self-absorbed, dear. Such a poor, entitled, self-absorbed, narcissistic dear.” Your humble servant thinks he knows what “Lizzie” needs. He has just the prescription. Let the good Dr. Cranky provide something that is good for what ails her, and it will cost far less than whatever it is she is paying her therapist.
If given the opportunity to confront this young lass, your incredulous yeoman would ask the following: “You mean to honestly say you’re upset because you feel “less amazing” than your parents said you were? Despite all your encouragement, advantages and support you are full of emptiness? Are you really such a weapons-grade self-centered little twit? Did it ever cross your poor, deprived, but privileged mind that perhaps you could put some of those “amazing” skills of yours to use and contribute toward the greater good? Is this how far we’ve come as a culture? Is Dr. Cranky supposed to feel sympathy for you, tragic young fawn that you are, because you have been given too much and all you can think to do is complain? Is everything really all about you?“
To be painfully honest, your dutiful scrivener does agree with many of the points Ms. Gottlieb makes about the fashionable theories of modern child-rearing. He remembers, back in the early 1990’s, when social scientists and educators alike thought the most important thing a child could be “given” was self-esteem. It was all the rage. To hear their informed opinion, failure was anathema. To allow it would be to inscribe upon a young child’s tabula rasa the seeds of disappointment, dissolution and despair. And so, it was decided that no child should be allowed to fail or feel bad about themselves. These cultural Einsteins knew what they were talking about, of course. They were scientists! They had tenure at prestigious universities!! They thought about things really hard!!! Why, they even had all sorts of behavioral science theories to support this Larry Light-bulb idea!!!!
There was just one problem; self esteem is not something which is given to someone. It isn’t a trophy awarded for just showing up, nor is it assured by prohibiting the endowment of accolades on those who truly excel. Rather, it is something which must be earned. A person attains self esteem by accepting challenges, overcoming obstacles and succeeding despite the possibility of real and disappointing failure. Did we really need to raise an entire generation of “amazing” young men and women suffering from narcissistic personality disorder for the intelligentsia to understand what common sense had told us for millennia?
Dr. Cranky suspects that somewhere in this country there is a social scientist about to submit a grant application to the NIH which addresses this very question. Nice work, if you can find it.