Readers Respond to "Self-Esteem Can Be an Ego Trap"

Letters to the editor from the September/October 2013 issue of Scientific American MIND
September/October 2013 Issue Cover

Scientific American MIND

What a fantastic article by Jennifer Crocker and Jessica J. Carnevale, “Self-Esteem Can Be an Ego Trap.” I am always interested in new insights into self-esteem. As a youth worker for many years, I believe it is a major area to explore. Sometimes I work with people who do not grasp the alternatives to their mind-set. I reflect with them about what we find essential that other people survive without: closure, explanation, certainty, hope, and so on. In Third World countries, people live without any certainty of food, money, medicine or even much future. Yet they do not all commit suicide. It is Westerners, with our certainty of income, food and shelter, who have problems with low self-esteem, depression and suicide. Why? Well, there is a fascinating opportunity for research!

Richard Waddy
Usher, Australia

I appreciated your straightforward findings regarding how we learn in “Psychologists Identify the Best Ways to Study,” by John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan and Daniel T. Willingham. During my 20-year career in preparing new teachers, I have seen the reshaping of education policies to essentially reject many proved learning strategies as “old-fashioned.”

Given the more popular goal of meeting every child's unique learning style, teacher education (and therefore student learning) has been sidetracked with trendy approaches to learning, such as multiple intelligences, multicultural education, investigative learning, and so on. Although I am no champion of the onslaught of state and national testing, the benefit of rigorous standards and measurable results of learning has brought renewed interest in “doing what works.” Thank you for a nudge in the right direction.

Barbara Dautrich
American International College Springfield, Mass.

I read Eleanor Longden's article, “How to Live with Voice Hearing,” with interest. I have lived with hallucinations and delusions for 18 years—also following a trauma at a university—but followed the different path that she suggested. I never told friends or family or sought medical help. About six years after the hallucinations started, I learned through a colleague who conducted research in acceptance and commitment therapy that I may have been doing the right thing, by accident, all along. By following a mindful and accepting approach to my unusual cognitions, I have learned to live in harmony with my hallucinations and delusions. In fact, rather than labeling them as such, I prefer to think of them as “odd thoughts,” and I do not act on them. I followed a career in academic psychology and secured positions at good universities, and I have even been promoted.

You can learn to live with odd thoughts; there are alternatives to stepping onto the psychiatry “hamster wheel.

Name withheld
via e-mail

Although I am deeply impressed and moved by Longden's story and ideas, I cannot totally agree with her conclusion that “people who are diagnosed … with schizophrenia are not victims of chemical imbalance or genetic mutation.” Her observations, while supported with some research, seem largely anecdotal, and there is a range of neuroscience research that continues to find connections between the physical properties of the brain and all forms of mental illness. As someone who has unfortunately been involved with numerous close relatives (a daughter, a brother and a wife who were given this diagnosis) and having worked in state psychiatric wards and witnessed seriously ill schizophrenics firsthand, I am convinced there is organic impairment of some kind responsible for this very painful disease. My relatives' schizophrenia, like that of the Alzheimer's patients I have witnessed, progressed in stops and starts regardless of medication or therapies. Most psychiatrists and therapists are sadly ineffective. I think that whatever works for each patient, regardless of theories and points of view, is the key to success. Causes, theories and hypotheses are a necessary basis for research, but so far I have not seen any of them produce long-lasting results.

Bill Bauer
Wailea, Hawaii

This article was originally published with the title "September/October 2013."

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