The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

By Nathaniel Branden

1. Self-Esteem: The Immune System of Consciousness
Self-esteem is:
1. Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life; and
2. 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.

2. The Meaning of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.

We depend for our survival and well-being on the guidance of our distinctive form of consciousness, the form uniquely human, our conceptual faculty - the faculty of abstraction, generalization, and integration: our mind.

3. The Face of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem expresses itself in a face, manner, and way of talking and moving that projects the pleasure one takes in being alive.

Being able to relax signifies a level of inner peace.
  • Being rational -  the generation of principles from concrete facts (induction) and the application of principles to concrete facts (deduction).
  • Realism - being able to assess our abilities realistically.
  • Being intuitive - the rapid integrations can occur beneath conscious awareness.
  • Being creative - the creative mind is less subservient to the belief systems of others.
  • Independence - being in the practice of thinking for oneself.
  • Being flexible - the ability to respond to change without inappropriate attachments to the past. Rigidity is often the response of a mind that does not trust itself to cope with the new or master the unfamiliar.

4. The Illusion of Self-Esteem
When self-esteem is low, we are often manipulated by fear. We live more to avoid pain than experience joy.

A mind does not struggle for that which it regards as impossible or undesirable.

5. The Focus on Action
Every value pertaining to life requires action to be achieved, sustained, or enjoyed.

The practices indispensable to the health of the mind and the effective functioning of the person - are all operations of consciousness. All involve choices. They are choices that confront us every hour of our existence.

6. The Practice of Living Consciously (The First Pillar)
To live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that bears on our actions, purposes, values, and goals - to the best of our ability, whatever that ability may be - and to behave in accordance with that which we see and know.

Part of living consciously is being on guard against the sometimes seductive pull of unconsciousness; this asks for the most ruthless honesty of which we are capable. 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.

Is the life I am living genuinely of my own choosing?

7. The Practice of Self-Acceptance (The Second Pillar)
Self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do, it is the refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.
  • We choose to value ourselves, treat ourselves with respect, and stand up for our right to exist. 
  • We accept rather than disown whatever is going on in our lives at a particular moment. How we may be acting at any moment is an expression of who we are, even if it is an expression we may not like or admire.
  • To want to know why something wrong or inappropriate felt so right at the time.

8. The Practice of Self-Responsibility (The Third Pillar)
It is up to us to satisfy our needs and desires in life. We must be responsible for developing the necessary plan.

We are not morally entitled to treat other human beings as means to our ends, just as we are not a means to theirs.

No one is coming to save me; no one is coming to make life right for me; no one is coming to solve my problems. If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.

9. The Practice of Self-Assertiveness (The Fourth Pillar)
Self-assertiveness means honoring our wants, needs, and values and being willing to express them appropriately. Being willing to stand up for ourselves, to be ourselves, and to respect ourselves. To live authentically as a way of life and as a rule.

Self-assertion entails the willingness to confront rather than evade the challenges of life and to strive for mastery. We thrust ourselves further into the universe. We assert our existence.

10. The Practice of Living Purposefully (The Fifth Pillar)
To live purposefully is to set goals for ourselves and attain those goals to the best of our ability.

  • We must respect the present and the future equally.
  • If we are to be in control of our own life, we need to know what we want and where we wish to go.

11. The Practice of Personal Integrity (the sixth pillar)
Integrity is when our behavior is congruent with our professed values, convictions, standards, and beliefs.

Integrity does not guarantee that we will make the best choice; it only asks that our effort to make the best choice be authentic.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy and dishonesty.

Five steps are needed to restore one’s sense of integrity with regard to a particular breach:
1. We must own the fact that we have taken a particular action.
2. We seek to understand why we did what we did.
3. If others are involved, as they often are, we acknowledge explicitly to the relevant person or persons the harm we have done.
4. We take any and all actions available that might make amends for or minimize the harm we have done.
5. We firmly commit ourselves to behaving differently in the future.

Conclusion: The Seventh Pillar of Self-Esteem

The need for self-esteem is a summons to the hero within us. It means a willingness - and a will - to live the six practices when to do so may not be easy. We may need to overcome inertia, face down fears, confront pain, or stand alone in loyalty to our own judgement, even against those we love.

Self-esteem is the best predictor of happiness that we have.

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