Dr. Helen

Self-esteem, friendship and politics

I am reading an interesting book by therapist Jeanne Safer entitled The Golden Condom: And Other Essays on Love Lost and Found. From the back cover:

Dr. Jeanne Safer has dedicated much of her decades’ long career in psychotherapy to exploring taboo subjects that we all think about in private but seldom discuss in public. From conflicted sibling relationships to the choice not to have children, Safer’s work has always been unflinching in its aim to dive deep into topics that make most of us blush, but which are present in all of our lives. In The Golden Condom, Safer turns her sharp and fearless eye to a subject perhaps more universal than any other-love in all its permutations.

In The Golden Condom Safer interweaves her own experiences with those of a variety of memorable people, including her patients, telling a series of tales that investigate relationships–both healthy and toxic–that most of us don’t escape life without experiencing at least once, including traumatic friendships, love after loss, unrequited or obsessional love and more. Never prescriptive and always entertaining, these stories will demolish any suspicion you might have that you’re alone in navigating a turbulent romantic life, and will inspire you with the range of possibilities that exist to find love, however unconventional, and at any age.

I found the book interesting, though a bit troubling at times. There is a chapter on friendships and how upset people get when they end. The anecdotes she gives are mostly about women who have lost a friendship and who are never the same. Apparently, many of these women seem to get crushes on friends at a young age and are devastated after the friendship ends suffering a “narcissistic injury” where they feel damaged and worthless afterwards.

This explains a lot about some women (and men as well). Their self-esteem can be quite fragile and when rejected by others, they feel terrible about themselves and sometimes the world. I wonder how much this plays into politics? Do people with more fragile self-esteem tend to become liberal and view their politics as central to their sense of self? Do they lash out at others who disagree with them because of their fear of narcissistic injury? There have been some studies that do show that conservatives have a more positive outlook and have higher self-esteem such as this one:

Political conservatives are happier than liberals. We proposed that this happiness gap is accounted for by specific attitude and personality differences associated with positive adjustment and mental health. In contrast, a predominant social psychological explanation of the gap is that conservatives, who are described as fearful, defensive, and low in self-esteem, will rationalize away social inequalities in order to justify the status quo (system justification). In four studies, conservatives expressed greater personal agency (e.g., personal control, responsibility), more positive outlook (e.g., optimism, self-worth), more transcendent moral beliefs (e.g., greater religiosity, greater moral clarity, less tolerance of transgressions),and a generalized belief in fairness, and these differences accounted for the happiness gap. These patterns are consistent with the positive adjustment explanation.

Do you notice a difference when you talk politics with liberal vs. conservative friends? Which do you find more accepting of differences of political views?