Resilient Identities: Self-Relationships and the Construction of Social Reality

Resilient Identities: Self-Relationships and the Construction of Social Reality

Resilient Identities: Self-Relationships and the Construction of Social Reality

Resilient Identities: Self-Relationships and the Construction of Social Reality


Once considered the province of "New Age" groups, the self-esteem movement has been catapulted into the American mainstream, with a California task force and other groups now claiming that raising self-esteem is the panacea for social ills from alcoholism to poor grades and poverty. In this wide-ranging and strikingly original book, William Swann not only dissects the mistaken assumptions that underlie current self-esteem programs, but also incisively analyzes the nature of self-worth and the "self-traps" that make achieving and sustaining a sense of self-esteem so difficult. Drawing on more than a decade of research, much of it his own, Swann reveals the surprising regularity with which people suffering from low self-esteem gravitate to relationships in which they are denigrated or abused. Swann shows how such people are caught in a crossfire of conflicting desires for praise and for confirmation of their negative self-views. He persuasively argues that our feelings of self-worth can only be understood as part of a larger, intricate dynamic involving society as well as the self. Not a self-help book, Resilient Identities offers a fascinating, controversial exploration of how self-esteem conflicts develop and are played out in all of our relationships. And it discusses what we can do to encourage and sustain feelings of self-worth in our society.


Proper self-esteem [is] a state of mind that ought to be. Those, moreover, who estimate their own worth correctly, do so on the basis of their past deeds, and so, what they have done, they dare to try again. Those who estimate their worth too highly, or who pretend to be what they are not, or who believe flatterers, become disheartened when dangers actually confront them.

--Thomas Hobbes, De Homine

Although he wrote in 1658, Hobbes's reflections on self-esteem have a surprisingly modern feel. We still believe, for example, that self-esteem is a "state of mind that ought to be," and that, in principle, it faithfully summarizes our past accomplishments. And we still believe that in matters of self-esteem, too much is as problematic as too little.

Yet our contemporary understanding of self-esteem contrasts sharply with that of Hobbes in at least one respect. Whereas he conceptualized self-esteem as something that was regulated by the internal workings of "animal spirits," contemporary thinkers emphasize the manner in which self-esteem is regulated by, and helps to regulate, events in the external world. In fact, the primary reason that self-esteem has assumed such a prominent role in recent discussions of psychological health, educational practices, and public policy is that it is widely believed that self- esteem is the root cause underlying our personal and social problems. This conviction has not only sparked the emergence of a multimillion dollar self-help industry devoted to raising self-esteem but has also given rise to a self-esteem movement . . .

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