American Culture

America’s low self-esteem problem


The coming generations have a lot of reasons to hate Baby Boomers. The spiraling national debt. Climate change. Looting Social Security. Having to listen to sixties music all the time. But perhaps most egregious of all, we were the ones who took pop psychology.

Psychology Today debuted in 1967, soon after Morris Rosenberg introduced the concept of self-esteem into the national consciousness. Self-esteem is the Swiss Army Knife of personality theories. It can explain just about anything. A quiet weakling who gets pushed around? Low self-esteem. A loud bully who pushes people around? Compensating for low self-esteem. No career because of a lack of self-confidence? Low self-esteem. Great career because of overwork? Compensating for low self-esteem.

A few years ago in Time, Jeffrey Kluger set off a firestorm when he suggested that President Trump’s narcissism is a cover-up for his low self-esteem – what Kluger called the “mask model.” It occurs to me that the real problem is a bit different. Maybe our country has low self-esteem. Perhaps our national problem is America needs to feel better about itself. In the true spirit of internet research, I went to a blog written by someone I’d never heard of and selectively pulled pieces to prove my point. The website is and the article’s by Dr. Berni Sewell, who’s got a PhD (not sure in what) and is also an energy healer and lives in Wales. Here, according to Dr. Sewell, are ten signs of low self-esteem. I’ve substituted the words “country” and “countries” where appropriate.

  • You struggle financially because, deep down, you feel you don’t deserve an abundant, worry-free life.
  • You buy things you don’t need and your country is filled with clutter.
  • You disrespect other countries because you have no respect for yourself.
  • You can be aggressive or abusive towards other countries because you believe your own life to be worthless and assume everybody else’s is, too.
  • You fear change.
  • You don’t ask for help if you are overwhelmed because you worry others will think less of you if you can’t achieve everything on your own.
  • You have problems admitting when you are wrong or made a mistake.
  • When pushed into a corner, criticised or rejected you tend to get angry, react aggressively or bully other countries.
  • You always try to impress other countries.
  • You like to point out other countries’ mistakes, shortcomings and flaws.

Hmmmm. We clearly spend beyond our means (national debt) and have some issues with other countries. We are a little nervous about change, at least if it involves same sex marriage, gun control, or people who don’t speak English. And the tariffs could be construed as an attempt to bully China into doing what we want. So I could see where someone (perhaps a European) might accuse us of having low self-esteem, but to hell with those people, you know? I AM NOT being defensive.

Although, we are a nation of immigrants. As the old saying goes, “Dukes don’t emigrate.” Those who were successful in their countries of origin didn’t need to come here. The ones who came were those who were less-than-successful. As Emma Lazarus put it, “the tired, the poor, those yearning to breathe free – the wretched refuse of those teeming shores.” When even your national poem calls you “wretched refuse,” is it surprising we can be a little sensitive?

Especially troubling is something I found on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Suzanne Lachmann, whose motto is “Me before We.” She said that people who have low self-worth often choose inappropriate partners because they don’t believe they deserve happiness. They settle. To quote Dr. Lachmann, “You become much less discriminating about who you choose. You may even be willing to put up with behavior that doesn’t satisfy you because you feel lucky to have anyone at all, even though you are aware you are not happy.”

If that doesn’t explain Congress, I’m not sure what does.