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Self-help Only Works For Those With High Self-Esteem

July 5, 2009

A recent study shows that self-help mantras only boost the spirit of those with high self-esteem.

Canadian researchers, whose study appears in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with low self-esteem felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.

Phrases such as “I am a lovable person,” only helped people who had a high self-esteem.

According to a UK psychologist, people base their feelings on real evidence from their lives.

The self-help industry got its start 150 years ago when Victorian Samuel Smiles wrote his book “Self Help,” which featured guidance such as: “Heaven helps those who help themselves.”

Self-help is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

In the study, researchers asked people to say “I am a lovable person,” then measured the person’s feelings about themselves.

The low self-esteem group felt worse after repeating the mantra, while those with high self-esteem felt slightly better after repeating the positive statement.

The researchers then asked the participants to list positive and negative thoughts about themselves.

The study found that those with self-esteem felt better when they were allowed to have negative thoughts.

According to the researchers, overly positive praise can provoke contradictory thoughts in those with low self-esteem.

These negative thoughts can often overwhelm the positive thoughts.

According to psychologist Joanne Wood, who led the study, “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

Positive thinking can help when its part of a broader therapy program, she added.

Simon Delsthorpe, spokesman for the British Psychological Society, says self-esteem is based on a range of real life factors, and that counseling to build confidence is the real solution.

“These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance. If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem,” Delsthorpe told BBC News.

“But if your experience is the reverse of that it would be much easier to say ‘I’m OK’ and believe that.”

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On The Net:

Psychological Science

British Psychological Society




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