Do you have a high self-esteem? If not, than this will be a very interesting read for you. Nathaniel Branden shares his life-long study of self-esteem, how it is built and why it is crucial for success. Now, let’s dive into it and discover the 6 critical factors that build up a strong self-esteem.
THE BASICS ABOUT SELF-ESTEEM
Self‐esteem is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirement of life. More specifically, self‐esteem is:
- Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life
- Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
To trust one’s mind and to know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self‐esteem. Moreover, there is a continuous feedback loop between our actions in the world and our self‐ esteem. The level of our self‐esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self‐esteem.
- Healthy self‐esteem correlates with rationality, realism, creativity, independence, flexibility, ability to manage change, willingness to admit mistakes, benevolence, and cooperativeness.
- Poor self‐esteem correlates with irrationality, blindness to reality, rigidity, fear of the new and unfamiliar, inappropriate conformity or rebelliousness, defensiveness, and fear of or hostility to others.
- The higher our self‐esteem, the more we seek the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals; The more ambitious we tend to be in terms of what we hope to experience out of life –emotionally, intellectually, creatively, spiritually; The stronger the drive to express ourselves, reflecting the sense of richness within; The more open, honest, and appropriate our communications are likely to be, because we believe our thoughts have value and therefore we welcome rather than fear clarity; The more disposed we are to form nourishing relationships.
- The lower our self‐esteem, the more we seek the safety of the familiar and undemanding; The less we aspire to and the less we are likely to achieve; The more urgent the need to prove ourselves – or to forget ourselves by living mechanically or unconsciously; The more muddy, evasive, and inappropriate our communications are likely to be, because of uncertainty about our own thoughts and feelings and/or anxiety about the listener’s response; The more disposed we are to form toxic relationships.
Important principle of human relationships : we tend to feel most comfortable, most ‘at ease’ with persons whose self‐esteem level resembles our own. So high self‐esteem individuals tend to be drawn to high self‐esteem individuals.
Self‐esteem consists of 2 interrelated components:
- Self‐efficacy: a sense of basic confidence in the face of life challenges. More specifically, it refers to the confidence in the functioning of my mind, in my ability to think, understand, learn, choose and make decisions.
- Self‐respect: a sense of being worthy of happiness. More specifically, it refers to the assurance of my own value, an affirmative attitude towards my right to be live and to be happy.
TO IT SUM UP in a formal definition: Self‐esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.
THE 6 PILLARS OF SELF-ESTEEM
1. THE PRACTICE OF LIVING CONSCIOUSLY
Why is this so important?
Because for all species that possess it, consciousness is the basic tool for survival. It consists of the ability to be aware of the environment around you, in some form, at some level, and to guide action accordingly. To the distinctive human form of consciousness, we give the name “mind”.
If we do NOT bring an appropriate level of consciousness to our activities, if we do NOT live mindfully, the inevitable penalty is a diminished sense of self‐esteem.
To live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that touches on our actions, purposes, values, and goals and to behave in accordance with that which we see and know.
What does living consciously REALLY mean?
Living consciously entails:
- A mind that is active rather than passive: this includes your choice to think, to seek awareness, understanding, knowledge and clarity.
- An intelligence that takes joy in its own function: Your primary orientation should be learning. It should be taking pleasure in the use of the mind.
- Being “in the moment”, without losing the wider context: living consciously also means being present to what you are doing. But be careful: it does not mean that your awareness should be reduced to immediate sensory experience, disconnected from the wider context of your knowledge. You wish to be in the moment, but not trapped in the moment.
- Reaching out toward relevant facts rather than withdrawing from them: “Relevance” is determined by your needs, wants, values, goals and actions. Being curious and seeking out new data about the things that are relevant to you, will be more helpful and empowering than being blind to them.
- Being concerned to distinguish among facts, interpretations, and emotions: Quick example: “I see you frowning; I interpret this to mean you are angry with me; I feel hurt or defensive or wronged.” In reality, I may be incorrect in my interpretation and therefore, I may be inappropriate in the feeling with which I respond. You NEED to be sensitive to these distinctions: What I perceive, what I interpret it to mean, and how I feel about it are three separate questions.
- Noticing and confronting my impulses to avoid or deny painful or threatening realities: Avoidance impulses such as fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider, not to look away but to look more attentively. As conscious human beings, we must be on guard against the sometimes seductive pull of unconsciousness. And this asks for the most ruthless honesty of which we are capable.
- Being concerned to know “where I am” relative to my various (personal and professional) goals and projects, and whether I am succeeding or failing: For example: If one of your aspirations is to have your own business, what are you doing about it? Are you closer to that goal than you were a month ago or a year ago? Are you on track or off? Keep consciously asking these questions over and over.
- Being concerned to know if my actions are in alignment with my purposes: Closely related to the previous one. Living consciously entails monitoring your actions in congruence with your goals. If there is a misalignment, either your actions or goals need to be rethought.
- Searching for feedback from the environment so as to adjust or correct my course when necessary: In the conduct of our life and the pursuit of our goals, we cannot safely set our course once and remain blind thereafter. New information will require an adjustment of our plans and our intentions. Living consciously means being very aware of these new inputs.
- Persevering in the attempt to understand in spite of difficulties: In the pursuit of understanding and mastery, you will encounter difficulties. When this happens, you have 2 choices: to persevere or give up. If we give up, withdraw, fall into passivity, or go through the motions of trying without meaning it, we shrink the level of our consciousness. The world belongs to those who persevere.
- Being receptive to new knowledge and willing to re‐examine old assumptions: Maintain an openness to new experiences and knowledge; new clarifications, amendments and improvements in our understanding are always possible.
- Being willing to see and correct mistakes: Living consciously implies that my first loyalty is to truth, not to making myself right. All of us are wrong some of the time, all of us make mistakes. To find it humiliating to admit an error is a sign of flawed self‐esteem.
- Seeking always to expand awareness – a commitment to learning – therefore, a commitment to growth as a way of life: We are living in a world where the total human knowledge doubles about every ten years. Only a commitment to lifelong learning can allow us to remain adaptive to our world and be fully conscious of what happens around us.
- A concern to understand the world around me: Living consciously entails a desire to understand our ‘full context’ – i.e. how the world impacts us in a physically, culturally, socially, economically and politically way.
- A concern to know not only external reality but also internal reality, the reality of my needs, feelings, aspirations, and motives, so that I am not a stranger or mystery to myself: You are NOT living consciously if your consciousness is used for everything but self‐ understanding. Asking yourself some self‐examination questions can help you to bring consciousness to your inner reality, such as: Do I know what I am feeling at any particular moment? Do I recognize the impulses from which my actions spring? Do I know what I actually want in a particular encounter with another person? Do I know what my life is about? Is the ‘program’ I am living one I accepted uncritically from others, or is it genuinely of my own choosing?
- A concern to be aware of the values that move and guide me, as well as their roots, so that I am not ruled by values I have irrationally adopted or uncritically accepted from others: All of us absorb values from the world around us – from family, peers, and culture – and these values are not necessarily rational or supportive of our true interests, in fact, they are not.
2. THE PRACTICE OF SELF‐ACCEPTANCE
Self‐acceptance is the refusal to be in adversarial relationship with myself.
The concept has 3 levels of meaning:
- In the most fundamental sense, self‐acceptance refers to an orientation of self‐value and self‐commitment that derives from the fact that I am alive and conscious.
- On a secondary level, self‐acceptance is our willingness to experience – i.e. 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 have done and are what we are. It is our willingness to experience rather than to disown whatever may be the facts of our being at a particular moment.
- On a third level, self‐acceptance entails the idea of compassion, of being a friend to myself. Accepting, compassionate interest does not encourage undesired behaviour but reduces the likelihood of it recurring.
There are 2 great exercises to train yourself into the practice of self‐acceptance:
- Stand in front of a full‐length mirror and look at your face and body. Notice your feelings as you do so. Don’t focus on your clothes or make‐up, but on YOU. Notice if this is difficult or makes you uncomfortable. Ideally, you should do this exercise naked. Even though you may not like or enjoy everything you see, if you are able to say: ‘Right now, this is me, and I don’t deny the fact. I accept if fully’. That is respect for reality. That is the essence of self‐acceptance in the first place.
- Another great exercise is learning how to accept your feelings. The act of experiencing and accepting our emotions comes down to (1) focusing on the feeling or emotion, (2) breathing gently and deeply, allowing the muscles to relax, allowing the feeling to be felt and (3) making real that this my feeling (also called ‘owning’ the feeling.) When we allow ourselves to experience our emotions and accept them, sometimes this allows us to a deeper level of awareness where important information presents itself.
Some of the worst crimes we can make against ourselves is the disowning of our own positives.
What do I mean by that?
Besides accepting our short‐comings, self‐acceptance also means accepting our assets, our precious gifts, our genius, our ambition and excitement, our talent, etc. The GREATEST crime we commit to ourselves is not that we may deny and disown our shortcomings but that we deny and disown our greatness – because it frightens us. A fully realized self‐ acceptance is aware of these kind of success‐barriers and allows the best to come out of himself.
3. THE PRACTICE OF SELF‐RESPONSIBILITY
Practicing self‐responsibility means taking responsibility for my actions and the attainment of my goals.
More specifically, the practice of self‐responsibility entails the following realizations:
- I am responsible for the achievement of my desires. No one owes me the fulfilmentof my wishes.
- I am responsible for my choices and actions.
- I am responsible for the level of consciousness I bring to my work.
- I am responsible for the level of consciousness I bring to my relationships.
- I am responsible for my behaviour with other people –co‐workers, associates,customers, friends, children, spouse.
- I am responsible for how I prioritize my time.
- I am responsible for the quality of my communications.
- I am responsible for my personal happiness. One of the greatest mistakes I can make is assuming that it is someone else’s job to make me happy. Taking responsibility for my happiness is empowering. It places my life back in my own hands.
- I am responsible for accepting or choosing the values by which I live.
- I am responsible for raising my self‐esteem.
Self‐responsibility shows up as an active orientation to work and life rather than a passive one. If there is a problem, people with a high sense of self‐responsibility ask: “How can I fix this?; what avenues of action are possible to me?”. They don’t complain, protest or start blaming others. They are typically solution‐oriented.
Living actively entails independent thinking in contrast to passive conformity to the beliefs of others. Independent thinking is a mix of both living consciously and self‐responsibility. To live consciously is to live by the exercise of one’s own mind. To practice self‐responsibility is to think for oneself.
4. THE PRACTICE OF SELF‐ASSERTIVENESS
Self‐assertiveness means honouring my wants, needs, and values and seek appropriate forms of their expression in reality.
To practice self‐assertiveness is to live authentically, to be who I am openly and to speak and act from my innermost convictions and feelings.
Here are the basic ideas of self‐assertiveness:
The first and basic act of self‐assertion is the assertion of consciousness. This entails the choice to see, to think, to be aware, to send the light of consciousness outward toward the world and inward toward our own being. To think for oneself is the root of self‐assertion.
To practice self‐assertiveness logically and consistently is to be committed to my right to exist, which proceeds from the knowledge that my life does not belong to others and that I am not here on earth to live up to someone else’s expectations.
Self‐assertiveness is required not only to have a good idea, but to develop it, fight for it, work to win supporters for it and do everything to make sure it gets translated into reality.
Self‐assertiveness entails the willingness to confront rather than evade the challenges of life and to strive for mastery. When we expand the boundaries of our ability to cope, we expand self‐efficacy and self‐respect. When we commit ourselves to new areas of learning, when we take on tasks that stretch us, we raise personal power. We thrust ourselves further into the universe. We assert our existence.
Some people actually fear the practice of self‐assertiveness.
Because they want to avoid confrontation with people who have different value‐systems. They don’t want to get criticized for their ideas. They think that if they express themselves, they may evoke disapproval. Therefore, they just want to “belong”. They conform to the herd.
However, if one believes that it is more desirable to ‘fit in’ rather than to stand out, one will NOT embrace the virtue of self‐assertiveness. Even stronger, a diminished self‐esteem will be the result: when we do not express ourselves, do not assert out being, do not stand up for our values in contexts where it is appropriate to do so, we inflict wounds on our sense of self.
5. THE PRACTICE OF LIVING PURPOSEFULLY
To live purposefully is to live productively, which is a necessity of making ourselves competent to life.
Productivity is the act of supporting our existence by translating our thoughts into reality, of setting our goals and working for their achievement, of bringing knowledge, goods, or services into existence. To live purposefully is to use our powers for the attainment of the goals we have selected.
Important is that you have to possess A PLAN. Purposes or goals without a plan of action do NOT get realized. They remain daydreams, hopes or wishes.
In short, living purposefully entails:
1. Taking responsibility for formulating one’s goals and purposes consciously.
- What do I want for myself in five, ten, twenty years?
- What do I want my life to add up to?
- What do I want to accomplish professionally?
- What do I want in the area of personal relationships?
2. Being concerned to identify the actions necessary to achieve one’s goals.
Once our goals are defined, we need to ask ourselves: How do I get there from here? What actions are necessary? What ‘sub‐purposes’ need to be accomplished on the way to my ultimate purpose?
3. Monitoring behaviour to check that it is in alignment with one’s goals.
Although we have clearly defined our goals and a reasonable action plan, we can still drift off course by distractions, the pull of other values, an unconscious reordering of priorities, lack of mental focus, etc. Consciously monitoring our actions relative to our stated purposes has to be our response.
4. Paying attention to the outcomes of one’s actions, to know whether they are leading where one wants to go.
We need to keep asking:
“Are my strategies working? Am I getting where I want to go? Are my actions producing the results I anticipated?
- NOT our external achievements, but the internally generated practices that make it possible for us to achieve are the root of our self‐esteem. The internally generated practices are referred to as the 6 pillars of self‐esteem.
- “Goal fulfilment” is not confined to ‘worldly’ goals. A life of study or meditation has its own kind of purposefulness – or it can have. But a life without purpose at all can hardly be human, since goal fulfilment is in our human nature.
- Living purposefully ideally is about BALANCING projecting goals into the future with appreciating and living in the present. To the extent that our goal is to ‘prove’ ourselves or to ward off the fear of failure, this balance is difficult to achieve. We are too driven. NOT joy but anxiety is our motor. But if our aim is self‐expression rather than self‐justification, the balance tends to come more naturally.
6. THE PRACTICE OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY
Integrity is the integration of our ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs – and our behaviour. When our behaviour is congruent with our professed values, when ideals and practice match, we have integrity.
In short: integrity means congruence. Your words, beliefs and behaviour match.
At the simplest level, personal integrity entails such questions as:
“Am I honest, reliable, and trustworthy”?
“Do I keep my promises?”
“Do I do the things I say I admire and do avoid the things I say I deplore?”
“Am I fair and just in my dealings with others?”
When I act against what I myself regard as right, if my actions clash with my expressed values, then I act against my judgment, I betray my own mind. In other words: I lost my personal integrity. It is hypocrisy, the mind rejecting itself. People in general greatly underestimate the self‐esteem costs and consequences of hypocrisy and dishonesty.
A consequence people often encounter ‐as a breach of our integrity‐ is GUILT.
How can you resolve guilt in situations where you are personally responsible?
In general, there are 5 steps:
- Own the fact that is you who has taken the particular action: you must face the full reality of what you have done, without disowning or avoidance. Accept responsibility.
- You seek to understand why you did what you did.
- If others are involved, as they often are, you acknowledge explicitly to the other personor persons the harm you have done. You convey your understanding of theconsequences of your behaviour. You convey your understanding of their feelings.
- You take any and all actions available that minimize the harm you have done
- You firmly commit yourself to behaving differently in the future.
You may ask yourself: What if these values and standards (by which we behave congruently and therefore act with personal integrity) are irrational or mistaken?
Once we see that living up to our standards appears to be leading us towards self‐ destruction, the time has come to question our standards.
The practice of personal integrity is linked with living consciously: the HIGHER the level of consciousness at which we operate, the MORE we live by explicit choice and the more naturally does integrity follow as a consequence.
SOME LAST NOTES ON THE SIX PILLARS OF SELF‐ESTEEM:
- The principle of reciprocal causation: The 6 practices of self‐esteem living consciously, self‐ acceptance, self‐responsibility, self‐assertiveness, living purposefully and personal integrity GENERATE good self‐esteem and are also EXPRESSIONS OF good self‐esteem. They therefore feed of each other. This is called the principle of reciprocal causation.
- The practice of these virtues over time tends to generate a felt NEED for them. For example: If I habitually operate at a high level of consciousness, un‐clarity and fog in my awareness will make me uncomfortable. If I have made self‐responsibility second nature, I will avoid passivity and dependency.
So… WE have the power to choose these practices and OWN them:
make it happen.