The larger point is that, with the gods of empowerment cheering in the background, society has embraced concepts like confidence and self-esteem despite scant evidence that they're reliably correlated with positive outcomes. The work of legitimate psychology notables Roy Baumeister and Martin Seligman indicates that often, high self-worth is a marker for negative behavior, as diagnosed in sociopaths and drug kingpins. Furthermore, self-esteem may be expressed in the kind of braggadocio -"I'm fine just the way I am, thank you" - that actually inhibits personal growth.Read the rest of "Overdosing on Oprah" here.
I'm reading a related book in snippets - One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance. Its authors, Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, M.D., reject what they call the doctrine of "therapism" which:
....valorizes openness, emotional self-absorption and the sharing of feelings. It encompasses several additional assumptions: that vulnerability, rather than strength, characterizes the American psyche; and that a diffident, anguished, and emotionally apprehensive public requires a vast array of therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, workshoppers, healers, and traumatologists to lead it through the trials of everyday life. Children, more than any group, are targeted for therapeutic improvement (p. 5).I'm still in the first chapter ("The Myth of the Fragile Child") in which the authors also cite the research conducted by Roy Baumeister et al. The study found no significant connection between feelings of high self-worth and academic achievement, interpersonal relationship, or healthy lifestyles. Sommers and Satel write:
On the contrary, high self-regard is very often found in people who are narcissistic and have an inflated sense of popularity and likeability. Such self-aggrandizing beliefs, said the authors, exist "mainly in their own minds." Furthermore, those with exaggerated estimates of self-worth often become hostile when others criticize or reject them. "People who have elevated or inflated views of themselves tend to alienate others," the authors concluded (pp. 31-32).I think a persuasive case can be made that therapism has invaded the church and, in many cases, has become the hermeneutic lens through which we understand the gospel. It is therapism that leads some to insist that implicit in Christ's commands to love God with our whole selves and our neighbor as ourselves is the mandate to love ourselves. Therapism leads us to believe that unmet needs rather than craving hearts are the cause of our sins. Therapism advocates forgiving primarily because of its therapeutic benefits contrary to the Bible's emphasis on our extending forgiveness because we have been mercifully forgiven by a thrice-holy God through the blood of His Son's cross.
Therapism is a powerful expression of the spirit of our age which we must understand if we are to heed the call not to be conformed to it. The following quote from Wendy Kaminer's I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions evidences that the world is watching:
Although many, if not most, religious books are published by religious presses and speak to subcultures of believers, especially conservative Christians, they partake in prevailing mainstream notions about goodness, health, selfhood, and social relations (p. 123).