“Self-esteem” is a word loaded with different implications: to some people, it calls to mind the participation-trophy-philosophy of youth soccer, where every player is an MVP, even if he scores on his own goal. To other people, “self-esteem” is a new-age YOU word demanding that YOU turn Yourself into the Best YOU Ever. No matter its interpretation, “self-esteem” is often grounded in a catchphrase devoid of much utility. Fortunately, our fifth CRP entry is on Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, a book that gives you concrete and practical ways to reflect seriously on your own self-worth.
So forget the participation trophies, and check out the following summary to find ways to build up real self-esteem…
CROWDSOURCED READING PROJECT #5
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem
SUMMARIZED BY Ericson
So why should I listen to Nathaniel Branden?
Nathaniel Branden is pretty much a “guru” on self-esteem. This guy just never quits. Like an artist to a block of marble, Branden has spent the better half of his life studying and writing book after book about Self-Esteem, each time chiseling away at all the excess to sculpt the quintessential guide to Self-Actualization. Branden even admits himself that the topic of self-esteem leaves a lot to be discovered but The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem does a great job presenting six basic practices to maintain a healthy mind and self-image.
“The turbulence of our time demands strong selves with a clear sense of identity, competence and worth,” writes Branden. Whether you are trying to attract women, accomplish your career goals, or simply walk down the street feeling more complete, practicing good self-esteem will only enrich your life for the better.
Self Esteem is Determined by You and No One Else.
Early on in The Six-Pillars, Dr. Branden makes an acute observation: To avoid being a braggart, people attempt modesty in the hopes that others will point out their accomplishments. “This attitude is typical of those who believe one’s self-esteem is primarily determined by other people”.
This is absolutely wrong. While recognition is a great reward, there is nothing wrong with being confident in one’s own right to be happy. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and wanting to share what makes you great with the rest of world. If we spend all our time trying to elicit people’s admiration and recognition, we diminish our self-worth by not believing we are worthy of it in the first place.
The difference between Self-Esteem and Arrogance.
Many people mistake high self-esteem for bragging or over-confidence but there is a distinct difference between over-compensating and being self-assured: “Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others… their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else.”
I’m not a fan of any metaphor that uses a dog’s way of looking at the world but Nathaniel Branden nails the point on the head when he describes watching his dog play in the backyard: “She was not thinking that she was more glad to be alive than the dog next door. She was simply delighted in her own existence.”
Life is not about being on top but simply enjoying the fortune of your existence. People who are looking for recognition and envy are usually quite the opposite of self-assured. Those with high self-esteem are typically just happy to revel in their fortune without measuring it against the fortune of others.
Alright Already! What is Self- Esteem?
That basic principle of self-esteem is summed up in the first chapter: “To trust one’s mind and to know one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem.”
Self-esteem is not a competition; it is not a measure of worth but more a measure of how much one values his own self.
Nathaniel Branden goes even further and breaks self-esteem down into two major components:
“To be efficacious is to be capable of producing a desired result”.
Taking on this project was a challenge for me. I have never been a quick reader and certainly have never written anything that has been published for a mass audience. So I admit the challenge was a bit overwhelming since failing would not only let myself down but the people I was writing it for. At one point I thought I was way in over my head: “What right do I have to write an article on self-esteem?”.
Telling yourself you cannot accomplish things only keeps you from progressing. To maintain self-efficacy is to believe you have the ability to overcome obstacles and accomplish your goals and doing so. “Confidence in our basic efficacy is confidence in our ability to learn what we need to learn and do what we need to do in order to achieve our goals.”
Almost everyone has, at some point, self-sabotaged themselves. Perhaps it was a promotion they were interviewing for or a relationship with someone they thought was too good for them. Whatever the stakes, whatever the losses, self-sabotage is usually followed by the same thought: “I deserve this”.
This behavior is not only self-destructive. Just as it not the responsibility of others to nurture our self-esteem, it is not their decision but our own whether we are worthy of happiness. Worthiness is the other half to having healthy self-esteem. While maintaining the self-efficacy to work towards our goals, we must also “consider ourselves worthy of the rewards of our actions”.
So What are the Six Pillars?
1) The Practice of Living Consciously
“Those who believe they have thought enough and learned enough are on a downward trajectory of increasing unconsciousness.”
It’s not an uncommon trend for us to believe we have learned all there is to know. That we are the way we are and there is no more room for growth. We reach a point in our lives where we think “this is it” and just live day in and day out pondering the past and wishing for the future.
Nathaniel Branden argues (and I agree) that this is counterproductive. In order to maintain healthy self-esteem you must focus on the one thing you can control: the here and now. This means being conscious of what is happening in the moment, being conscious of the direction you are heading and making the necessary adjustments to make sure it’s the direction you want to be going.
2) The Practice of Self-Acceptance.
“To be self-accepting is to be on my own side.”
This may be amongst the hardest of all the pillars. We all have aspects of us that we wish we could change. They may be aspects of our character, past mistakes, but more often than not they are physical in their manifestation. But regardless of what we might not like about ourselves, we must learn to accept them. This isn’t finding enjoyment in our deficiencies. Instead, we acknowledge them and move past them so that they do not own us.
“Self-acceptance entails our willingness to experience-that is, to make real to ourselves, without denial or evasion- that we think what we think, feel what we feel, desire what we desire, have done what we done, and are what we are.”
3) The Practice of Self-Responsibility
I think it is safe to assume at one time we have all blamed someone or something for a certain predicament. Usually it is our parents; they didn’t love us enough, support us in our dreams, or treat us like adults. Maybe it’s a boss who won’t give us a promotion or a teacher who is not allowing us to pass a class. In the end it’s all the same thing: we are finding security in playing out the victim in our own stories.
Throughout the The Six Pillars, Dr. Branden makes a point to remind us that “no one is coming to save us.” We can play the victim all we want but in the end our own actions are the only thing under our control and blaming others for our problems while waiting for another to save us will lead to nothing but disappointment.
“If there is a problem, men and women who are self-responsible ask, ‘what can I do about it? What avenues of action are possible to me?’ … they do not protest ‘but it’s not my job!’… they are typically solutions oriented.”
4) The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
“To practice self-assertiveness is to live authentically, to speak and act from my innermost convictions and feelings.”
Despite disagreement, people tend to respond more to those that are confident about their opinions and beliefs. By standing by our words and actions we display a person who is self-assured and confident in who they are, something a lot of people secretly yearn for.
It’s natural for us to try to modify our behavior in a way that makes us more appealing to those around us, but it must not come at the cost of being true to our selves.
5) The Practice of Living Purposefully
“To live purposefully is, among other things, to live productively, which is a necessity of making ourselves competent in life.”
Personally, if there was one pillar that someone could adopt to be more self-assured it would be this one. The majority of the world is filled of people just trying to get by in life; working nine to five jobs and maybe another part time gig on the side just to make ends meet. Their leisure time is spent playing video games, watching movies or passing time drinking with friends. And all of them have a dream in life of what they’d rather be doing but the opportunity to do so never seems to present itself.
“Living Purposefully” means not only having goals in life but living in a manner that drives you towards completing them. This can be incredibly scary for some but that only underlines its importance. If we are too afraid of failure we are lacking both self-efficacy and self-respect by not allowing ourselves to attempt to reach our full potential.
It’s always important to remember “if I don’t do something, nothing is going to change.”
6) The Practice of Personal Integrity
“Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs- and behavior. When our behavior is congruent and practices match, we have integrity.”
I’m sure we all have moments in our life where we could have labeled ourselves as hypocritical. We may not acknowledge these hypocrisies but we will always notice them as we commit them. Regardless if people know we are acting incongruent to our beliefs, there’s that sinking feeling in our stomach that we are not the person we want to be. “The essence of guilt, whether major or minor, is self reproach.”
By living consciously we must also be conscious of our standards and live up to them. While it may be hard to hold integrity in an world where the amoral continually succeed (corporate deals, shady politics, etc.) it is important for the sake of self identity to be as true to your values as possible.
Just as we must be self-assertive and vocal about who we are and our beliefs, we must also work diligently to remain congruent with who we want to be.
The Seventh Pillar
Essentially Nathaniel Branden’s point is that self-etseem is more like a muscle than a blessing. Instead of being something bestowed on us, we must work towards maintaining our self-esteem.
We cannot be lazy in regards to our body as well as our emotional development. Like working out to maintain physical shape; there is no ceiling, you are always maintaining yourself. And just like working out, this may require us to endure discomfort from time to time. But as the saying goes, “the things worth doing in life are hard”.
“Self-esteem requires a willingness to endure discomfort when that is what one’s spiritual growth entails.”
The first step in building self-esteem is having the willingness to embrace change; to challenge oneself to grow beyond his current comforts, to believe “I am lovable and capable.” It is a choice, first and foremost, to practice the six-pillars of self-esteem, and no one can make that choice except you.