Our Need For Self-Esteem

The need for self-esteem is a powerful driving force for human behavior. It motivates individuals to seek recognition and respect, both from themselves and from others, leading to a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. People with healthy self-esteem are more likely to exhibit positive behaviors, take on challenges, and have a higher level of resilience in the face of setbacks.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is:
  1. Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life.
  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.

Self-efficacy - Confidence in the functioning of my mind, in my ability to think, understand, learn, choose, and make decisions; confidence in my ability to understand the facts of reality that fall within the sphere of my interests and needs; self-trust; self-reliance.

Self-respect - Assurance of my value; an affirmative attitude toward my right to live and be happy; comfort in appropriately asserting my thoughts, wants, and needs; the feeling that joy and fulfillment are my natural birthright.

The driver of poor self-esteem is fear. Fear drives us away from freedom and creativity and toward safety and security. High self-esteem is driven by love of self and love of life.

If low self-esteem dreads the unknown and unfamiliar, high self-esteem seeks new frontiers. If low self-esteem avoids challenges, high self-esteem desires and needs them.

The Six Pillars

1. Living Consciously
Living consciously entails actively seeking awareness of all factors influencing our actions, purposes, values, and goals, to the extent of our capabilities, and aligning our behavior accordingly. Fear and pain serve as signals to broaden our perspective rather than avoid it, encouraging us to pay closer attention rather than turning away.

The avoidance of consciousness is clearly evident in problems of addiction. When we become addicted to alcohol or drugs or destructive relationships, the implicit intention is invariably to ameliorate anxiety and pain - to escape awareness of one’s core feelings of powerlessness and suffering.

2. Self-Acceptance
Self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do.

To be self-accepting is to be on our own side - to be for ourselves. Self-acceptance is our willingness to experience rather than disown whatever may be the facts of our being at a particular moment - to think our thoughts, our own feelings, be present to the reality of our behavior. And It is to try and understand  why something that is wrong or inappropriate felt so desirable or appropriate or even necessary at the time.

The first steps of healing and growth are awareness and acceptance - consciousness and integration. They are the fountainhead of personal development.

Acceptance of what is, is the precondition of change. And denial of what is, leaves me stuck in it.

The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we deny or disown our shortcomings but that we deny and disown our greatness - because it frightens us.

3. Self-Responsibility
What am I willing to do to get what I want?

If we have desires, it is up to us to discover how to satisfy them. We need to take responsibility for developing and implementing an action plan.

Productiveness - Without productive goals and productive effort, we remain forever children.
Thinking For Oneself - Living actively entails independent thinking in contrast to passive conformity to the beliefs of others.
No One Is Coming - 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.

4. Self-Assertiveness
Self-assertiveness means honoring my wants, needs, and values and seeking appropriate forms of their expression in reality. To practice self-assertiveness is to live authentically, to speak and act from my innermost convictions and feelings - as a way of life, as a rule.

Self-assertiveness asks that we not only oppose what we deplore but that we live and express our values. In this respect, it is intimately tied to the issue of integrity.

Individuation may evoke feelings of isolation in those who have yet to attain it and fail to recognize that, far from opposing community, it is actually a vital prerequisite for it. A thriving society emerges from a collective of individuals who possess self-respect.

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.

5. Living Purposefully
To live purposefully is to use our powers for the attainment of goals we have selected. It is our goals that lead us forward, that call on the exercise of our faculties, that energize our existence.

Efficacy and Purpose - It is not that achievements “prove” our worth but rather that the process of achieving is the means by which we develop our effectiveness, our competence at living.

Self-Discipline - Self-discipline is the ability to organize our behavior over time in the service of specific tasks. Self-discipline requires the ability to defer immediate gratification in the service of a remote goal. This is the ability to project consequences into the future - to think, plan, and live long-range.

If we are to be in control of our own life, we need to know what we want and where we wish to go.

6. Personal Integrity
Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs - and behavior. When our behavior is congruent with our professed values, when ideals and practice match, we have integrity.

Engaging in actions that contradict our sense of appropriateness erodes our self-esteem. We gradually lose respect for ourselves when such behavior becomes a pattern, leading to a diminished or complete loss of self-trust. Hypocrisy inherently undermines itself, as it is the mind's rejection of itself.

One of the great self-deceptions is to tell oneself, “Only I will know.” The implication is that my judgement is unimportant and that only the judgement of others counts. But when it comes to matters of self-esteem, I have more to fear from my own judgement than from anyone else’s. In the inner courtroom of my mind, mine is the only judgement that counts.

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.


Laziness, often associated with the psychological forces of inertia and entropy, can be the initial obstacle to overcome in nurturing self-esteem. At times, we simply succumb to laziness, indicating a failure to confront inertia and make a conscious choice to awaken.

The other dragon we may need to slay is the impulse to avoid discomfort. Living consciously may obligate us to confront our fears; it may bring us into contact with unresolved pain. Self-acceptance may require that we make real to ourselves thoughts, feelings, or actions that disturb our equilibrium. Self-responsibility obliges us to face our ultimate aloneness; it demands that we relinquish fantasies of a rescuer. Self-assertiveness entails the courage to be authentic, with no guarantee of how others will respond; it means that we risk being ourselves. Living purposefully pulls us out of our passivity into the demanding life of high focus; it requires that we be self-generators. Living with integrity demands that we choose our values and stand by them.

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

Moving Forward

Here is the reversal of the basic pattern: First, we decide that our self-esteem and our happiness matter more than short-term discomfort or pain. We take baby steps at being more conscious, self-accepting, responsible, and so on. We notice that when we do this we like ourselves more. This inspires us to push on and attempt to go farther. We become more truthful with ourselves and others. Self-esteem rises. We take on harder assignments.

Deeper Dives:

  • The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
  • The Pursuit of Happiness by D. G. Myers
  • The Psychology of Individualism by A. S. Waterman