The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Psychologist Jordan Peterson Doesn't Believe Self-Esteem Exists

The psychologist Jordan Peterson doesn’t believe self-esteem exists. Those that try to build high self esteem are narcissistic and bullies.

Much depends on how you “define” it. And how you “measure” it. Usually, these things fall into the disciplines - of things like psychology and sociology.


I disagree with Peterson. I think we should esteem the true self, child within, Christ within. It’s the ego that should be sacrificed not stroked. We worship Christ within. The body is the temple. What I mean by worship is what we put first in our lives. Therefore we love and take care of ourselves first. This is worshipping God with our bodies. Self-esteem doesn’t stroke the ego but loves and takes care of the true self.

Very good. I’m not sure about Peterson’s religious - or lack or religious - beliefs. But it makes a big difference, in how one looks at - and perceives - self esteem.

I do believe that self-esteem exists, but I agree with Peterson’s second sentence.

When I was a teacher, the current theme of educators was the importance of building the pupils’ self-esteem. I noticed that the pupils whose self-esteem was raised to a new high (when teachers put this into practice) became a bunch of arrogant little rats!

I kind of like some of JP’s posts.

My experience is that underneath arrogant bullies there is often a boy that is actually insecure about his own worth.

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From the psychiatrist David D. Burns, M.D. He’s a clinical psychiatrist sold over a million copies of books and has lectured for general audiences and mental health professionals throughout the country as well as a frequent guest on national radio and television programs. He’s received numerous awards including Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Through the Media Award from the Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology. A magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst college, Dr. Burns received his medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine.

A person can have too much self-esteem! A person with healthy self-esteem also respects and likes others. In contrast, a person with excessive self-esteem is arrogant and self-centered and disrespectful of others. In it’s most extreme form, excessive self-esteem is known as narcissistic personality disorder. People with this disorder have fantasies of grandeur and an inflated sense of self esteem. They are insensitive to the needs and feelings of others and exploit other people for their own purposes. When they are criticized or confronted, they react with rage or with feelings of shame. They have difficulties forming close, trusting, equal relationships with others. ~~ 10 Days To Self-esteem page 189

From the same book by the psychiatrist Davis Burns M.D. “Ten Days To Self Esteem”, page188

Unconditional self esteem is given freely. It is much like hugging a child who is upset and needs comforting. The child doesn’t need to earn your love. In step 10, you will see that the concept of unconditional self-esteem is quite consistent with both Jewish and Christian religions.

After you achieve unconditional self-esteem, you can climb another step up the ladder if you want. On the next step, you can adopt the even more radical position that there is no such thing as self-esteem just as there is no such thing as a worthwhile person or a worthless person. On this level, you can discard the notion of self-esteem entirely and refuse to deal with it. This solution to the problem of is in the Buddhist tradition because self-esteem is rejected as a useless illusion. Giving up your self-esteem once you have discovered it may sound like a negative notion. It may feel like a loss and seem like something inside you dies. All of us naturally want to feel special and worthwhile. However, there is a rebirth, because the death of your pride and ego can lead to new life and to a more profound vision. When you discover that you are nothing, you have nothing to lose, and you inherit the world. This last formulation might sound abstract, mystical, or confusing, but it is immensely practical. Instead of worrying about whether you are worthwhile each day you can have goals that involve learning, personal growth, helping others, being productive, having fun, spending time with people you care about, improving the quality of your relationships and so on. You will discover unexpected opportunities for intimacy, for productivity, and for joy in daily living.


I think you may be right though. This is from Wikipedia “Self Esteem”:

As narcissism[edit]

Life satisfaction, happiness, healthy behavioral practices, perceived efficacy, and academic success and adjustment have been associated with having high levels of self-esteem (Harter, 1987; Huebner, 1991; Lipschitz-Elhawi & Itzhaky, 2005; Rumberger 1995; Swenson & Prelow, 2005; Yarcheski & Mahon, 1989).[94]:270 However, a common mistake is to think that loving oneself is necessarily equivalent to narcissism, as opposed for example to what Erik Erikson speaks of as “a post-narcissistic love of the ego”.[95] A person with a healthy self-esteem accepts and loves himself/herself unconditionally, acknowledging both virtues and faults in the self, and yet, in spite of everything, is able to continue to love her/himself.

In narcissists, by contrast, an " uncertainty about their own worth gives rise to…a self-protective, but often totally spurious, aura of grandiosity"[96] – producing the class “of narcissists, or people with very high, but insecure, self-esteem… fluctuating with each new episode of social praise or rejection.”[2]:479 Narcissism can thus be seen as a symptom of fundamentally low self-esteem, that is, lack of love towards oneself, but often accompanied by “an immense increase in self-esteem” based on “the defense mechanism of denial by overcompensation.”[97] “idealized love of self…rejected the part of him” that he denigrates – “this destructive little child”[98] within. Instead, the narcissist emphasizes his virtues in the presence of others, just to try to convince himself that he is a valuable person and to try to stop feeling ashamed for his faults;[13] unfortunately such “people with unrealistically inflated self-views, which may be especially unstable and highly vulnerable to negative information,…tend to have poor social skills.”[2]:126

On the other hand Wikipedia also lists the criticizms of self-esteem by the founder of rational emotive therapy (psychologist Albert Ellis):

Criticism and controversy[edit]

The American psychologist Albert Ellis criticized on numerous occasions the concept of self-esteem as essentially self-defeating and ultimately destructive.[89] Although acknowledging the human propensity and tendency to ego rating as innate, he has critiqued the philosophy of self-esteem as unrealistic, illogical and self- and socially destructive – often doing more harm than good. Questioning the foundations and usefulness of generalized ego strength, he has claimed that self-esteem is based on arbitrary definitional premises, and over-generalized, perfectionistic and grandiose thinking.[89] Acknowledging that rating and valuing behaviours and characteristics is functional and even necessary, he sees rating and valuing human beings’ totality and total selves as irrational and unethical. The healthier alternative to self-esteem according to him is unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional other-acceptance.[90] Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is a psychotherapy based on this approach.[91]

“There seem to be only two clearly demonstrated benefits of high self-esteem…First, it increases initiative, probably because it lends confidence. People with high self-esteem are more willing to act on their beliefs, to stand up for what they believe in, to approach others, to risk new undertakings. (This unfortunately includes being extra willing to do stupid or destructive things, even when everyone else advises against them.)…It can also lead people to ignore sensible advice as they stubbornly keep wasting time and money on hopeless causes”[92]

There’s also the criticisms of the psychologists who founded Acceptance Commitment Therapy. The psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi from “The Wisdom To Know the Difference” under the section called “The Self-Esteem Myth”

The myth says that low self-esteem lies at the core of many individual and societal problems…During the last ten years, there has been a major effort by scientists to examine whether this story about the role of self-esteem is true. As it turns out, the answer is no. High self-esteem is related to aggressiveness, bullying, narcissism, egotism, prejudice, and high risk behaviors.

The book was published in 2012

One more quote from the Acceptance Commitment Therapy book “The Wisdom to Know the Difference”

Based on the evidence, we do not advise you to chase self-esteem. Some people might suppose that there is a “just right” amount of self-esteem and then go about chasing the “just right” amount. We counsel against this for two reasons. First, no one has even demonstrated that there is a magical level of self-esteem.

Here’s the Calvinist view of self-worth by John Piper:

What does the term “self worth” mean to you?

It means first a humanistic effort to solve man’s problems by helping him make peace with himself so that he ceases to be displeased with anything that is truly him. Since this is the overwhelming meaning of the term in our society, I find it unprofitable to use and I oppose it with a radically God-centered anthropology which aims to preserve a proper and profound appreciation for the mercy of God.

But if I am forced on certain texts like Matthew 6:26 (Luke 12:24) “You are of more value than the birds.” I will use the word worth or value and define it like this: man is valuable because he is created in the image of God and is therefore an expression of God’s glory. Humans have value in that they unlike all the animals have the unique potential to consciously honor God by thanking him and relying on his mercy alone.

Indeed R.C. Sproul says in "The Hunger for Significance’, page 110:

Dignity and Sin

There is a road to redemption where every human being has dignity. Many reject this road because they think Christianity destroys self-esteem, disparaging human value with woeful denunciations of the evil of man. Preachers rail against corruption, calling man a wretched sinner

God Takes Sin Seriously Because Mankind Has Value

These grim statements make it seem that Christianity has a low view of human dignity. But the point often overlooked is that the character of sinfulness in no way diminishes the worth of persons. It is because humanity is so valuable that God takes sin seriously.

Indeed, Sproul says this in an online article:

The image of God in the narrow sense concerns mankind’s ethical capacity and behavior. In creation, man was given the ability and the responsibility to mirror and reflect the holy character of God. Since the fall, the mirror has been splotched by the grime of sin. We have lost our capacity for moral perfection, but we have not lost our humanity with this ethical loss. Man may no longer be pure, but he is still human. Insofar as we are still human, we retain the image of God in the wider sense. We are still valuable creatures. We may no longer be worthy, but we still have worth. This is the resounding biblical message of redemption. The creatures God created are the same creatures He is moved to redeem. ~~ R.C. Sproul

True, but when we can teach our young folks to be wise as serpents and humble/harmless as doves.

The metaphor is quite necessary… though I wonder how many youngsters really learn the idea at the young age they are in. Seems to me that life experience plays a big role.

You Gotta Be

2-Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky
Lovers, they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears

Stand up and be counted
Don’t be ashamed to cry

You gotta be
1-You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold
You gotta be wiser, you gotta be hard
You gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger

You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm
You gotta stay together
All I know, all I know, love will save the day

Herald what your mother said
Readin’ the books your father read
Try to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time

Some may have more cash than you
Others take a different view
my oh my heh, hey…(repeat l)

Don’t ask no questions, it goes on without you
Leaving you behind if you can’t stand the pace
The world keeps on spinning
You can’t stop it, if you try to
This time it’s danger staring you in the face
oh oh oh

Remember (rpt 2)
My oh my heh, hey, hey(rpt 1, 1…ad lib to fade)

Even John Piper believes in a healthy self-esteem. This comes from his site Desiring God:

The self-esteem movement as we know it really began when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in Eden.

Before that, self-esteem wasn’t an issue. Adam and Eve were not lost, and so had no need to “find themselves.” They had healthy self-esteem because they knew God and esteemed him above all things, certainly above themselves. This made them healthy selves, secure in their identity as children of God and complementary members of each other. Their self-esteem was rooted in a glorious humility, and defined and experienced in a God-designed community where they both knew and were known by God.

But that changed when they (and all of us since) detached themselves from God in their effort to be “like God” (Genesis 3:5). Self-esteem became rooted in pride, and seeking it became infected with selfish ambition. It mutated from a God-glorifying, complementary pursuit into a self-glorifying, competitive pursuit.

Looking in the Wrong Places

Around the turn of the twentieth century, theories of “self-esteem” emerged in the realms of psychology, and by the 1960s self-esteem was accepted by Western popular culture as one of the primary roots of mental health.

But because it didn’t address the fundamental problem — detachment from God — after more than fifty years of trying to apply self-esteem as a remedy for our identity-ailments, we find ourselves only more isolated as individuals and our relationships, communities, and societies only more fractured. And that’s because we’re looking for our self-worth in the wrong places, and for the wrong reasons.

We tend to think self-esteem comes from each of us being a star shining forth our own unique glory. The way we measure our glory is in how it is reflected back to us in the approval and admiration of others. We figure the more approval and admiration, the brighter our glory, and the greater our self-esteem. But anyone who’s really experienced those things knows this is not true.

Healthy self-esteem doesn’t come from prominence; it comes from being who we are designed to be. And we’re not designed to be stars; we’re designed to be parts of an organism. We see this in Romans 12:3–6:

By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.

Where We Find Ourselves

A body is Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church because it so beautifully illustrates who we are in relation to God and one another. Jesus is our head (Ephesians 5:23), and we are all members or parts of his body.

It all begins with grace: “by the grace given to us” (Romans 12:3, 6). None of us deserves our “membership” in the body. It comes to us from God as an incredible gift of his grace through faith in Christ.

Neither do we choose what parts of Christ’s body we’ll be. God assigns us our roles (Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 12:18). He places us just where he wants us for the purposes he has planned. Therefore each of us is needed where God has placed us.

And “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4–5). Just like a human body, no particular part of Christ’s body is more or less important based on how visibly prominent its role (1 Corinthians 12:22–24). None of us can do without the other (1 Corinthians 12:15–16). We are each very limited in what we can do and therefore beautifully interdependent upon each other.

That’s why, when trying to discern God’s will for our lives, we get confused if we look at ourselves in isolation. Just like a body part separated from the body looks strange, so do we out of the context of the church. It takes the body of Christ to understand the function of a part, and it takes all the parts working together to make the body function.

Sober About Ourselves

Understanding and believing that our unique place in the body of Christ is a gracious, sovereign gift to us from God, that it’s function is crucial for the good of others, and that their function is crucial for our good is what “sober judgment” looks like (Romans 12:3).

Pride is the knife that dissects the body of Christ into isolated parts to determine the value of each. The pride of conceit makes us consider our role or function more important than others. The pride of envy makes us covet the function of a part we consider better than our own (1 Corinthians 12:23–24).

But humility helps us see our function in relation to God and others. It unites the body because we don’t “think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3). In fact, because we more clearly see how others benefit the body than we see how we benefit the body, humility causes us to think of others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

And yet, our humbled and sobered mind still sees our identity and function in Christ’s body as a divine calling with more significance and nobility than any achievement or promotion in this world.

Healthy Self-Esteem

Only God could create such a glorious design, where each of us, no matter what our function in the body, can experience the beautiful depths of humility in receiving our calling as undeserved grace, while at the same time having it be more exalted and infused with meaning and dignity than we yet have capacity to comprehend.

Humility and exaltation: it is God’s way (1 Peter 5:6); it is Christ’s way (Philippians 2:5–11). In Christ, God once again calls us to find security in our identity as his children — esteeming him supremely — and as complementary members of one another— esteeming others more than ourselves.

This is where we find the restoration of healthy self-esteem: in a glorious humility and defined and experienced in a God-designed organic community — a community in which we know God and know each other: the body of Christ.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Dr. Burns was right on target! I wish more people understood the dangers of excessive self-esteem.

From the psychologist Albert Ellis. He developed what is known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

More elegantly, you can accept this proposition: "I do not have intrinsic worth or worthlessness, but merely aliveness. I’d better rate my traits and acts but not my totality or “self”. I fully accept myself, in the sense that I know I have aliveness, and I choose to survive and live happily as possible, with minimum needless pain. I only require this knowledge and this choice - and no other kind of self-rating.

My view:

Self-Esteem in Christ

I am nobody special in the worldly sense of the term. But in dying to self and coming to faith in Christ I have eternal significance. I am special to God. His love is a holy love. Holy means to be set apart (special). I don’t earn my worth but it is a gift of God received by faith. My sense of belonging and sense that I count comes from being a child of God. The ego is nothing. The paradox is that we are set apart and special because we are united to all. We are light in a dark world. What the world considers special God doesn’t. What God considers special the world doesn’t. When I’m nobody I’m somebody. When I’m somebody I’m nobody. We become nobody so that Christ will be glorified in us - our true self. In and of myself I’m nothing so that Christ can reign in my heart. I’m covered and infused in God’s righteousness. Therefore, I have intrinsic worth because I’m in Christ. Everything I have; family, friends, possessions, health, all comes from my heavenly Father (Job 1:21). Knowing this, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). I am “fearfully and wonderfully” made (Psalm 139:14). In Christ, I have my true identity, apart from Him, I am nothing (John 15:5).