Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2014
Self-interest, in moderation, is necessary for healthy functioning. From an evolutionary perspective, the desire to thrive and succeed has survival value, and is likely to be genetically selected (Stone, 1998). Indeed, it is widely held (most notably in modern western cultures) that self-esteem is a desirable trait, and that the pursuit of “the good life” is a worthy path in order to make the most out of one's time on earth. There is some evidence that those who like and respect themselves are less vulnerable to the kinds of life stressors that might otherwise cause others to lapse into despair (Seligman, 1991; Ryff and Singer, 1996, 1998). In addition, it has been proposed that a prerequisite to giving true love to another is the ability to give acceptance and compassion to oneself (Erikson, 1964). From this standpoint, it would seem that clinicians do their clients – and society at large – a service by helping clients develop higher regard for themselves, along with improved moods and motivations.
However, like almost everything else in our delicately balanced existence, the overabundance of a seemingly good thing can become a problem. For example, too much individual freedom without regulations and laws can threaten to become destructive anarchy. Likewise, a medication that can alleviate an illness, when taken to excess can lead to premature death.