The 6 pillars of self-esteem is a concept championed by Dr Nathaniel Branden, a psychotherapist and writer coveted for his work on the psychology of self-esteem.
Branden interpreted self-esteem as a human psychological need that tends to lead to challenging mental and emotional states (anxiety, stress, depression etc.) until it is met or fulfilled. He believed that 6 practices were essential for the nurturing and sustaining of healthy self-esteem. In this post we use Brandon’s theory as a foundation for exploring what the practices are, how they relate to us and how we can use our understanding of them to thrive in the modern world.
1. The practice of living consciously
This concept refers to the practice of being present to what we are doing while we are doing it. It’s about an appreciation for what is happening in our world and the willingness to learn, understand and grow within it.
Do you find yourself seeking more knowledge about things that will help you accomplish your goals and aspirations, or is this not something you consider? Are you constantly seeking feedback or are you closed to it through fear of rejection or lack of motivation?
Living consciously means that we need to respect reality and facts. There is nothing wrong with being a dreamer, but without supplementing it with reality we significantly diminish our chances of realizing those dreams. This doesn’t mean that your dreams can’t be ambitious or abstract, it would be a far inferior world without people who dare to dream beyond what is considered normal. It’s about sense checking your thoughts, actions and aspirations against the realms of possibility and reality; using facts as evidence and not ignoring their existence.
The practice of living consciously also concerns more than just the external world. It’s equally about understanding yourself and respecting the importance of self-awareness. Try to truly understand your strengths, weaknesses and limitations, then adapt your approach to succeed as best you can in a way that compliments your abilities and preferences. You can also adapt your approach with others (depending on how you perceive their preferences), in order to get better results and rapport.
If you have an interest in growing your self-awareness, make sure that you constantly ask for feedback. Do it in both your personal and professional life and be open to the responses that you receive. Some feedback will be more credible than others, but over time you will learn to filter the genuine and helpful from the fake and disingenuous. Just make sure that you don’t dig your head in the sand when you don’t hear what you expect.
Also take time for self-reflection regularly and critique yourself. What went well this week? What could you have done better? What situations could you have gained more benefit from?
Supplement the internal and external feedback with personality profiling and increased personal development or communication theory. There are many interesting tools and sources to choose from to assist you, but some of the most popular tend to be:
- MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)
- Predictive Index
- Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
- DISC assessment
2. The practice of self-acceptance
Are you able to take responsibility and accountability for your thoughts, feelings and actions? Are you able to do so without avoidance, deflection or denial? What about accepting pleasure and recognition – do you ever deny yourself it out of guilt or feeling unworthy?
This second pillar highlights the importance of mastering self-acceptance in the pursuit and maintenance of healthy self-esteem. You must learn to own your thoughts, feelings and emotions and see them through with the best corresponding action under the circumstances.
It’s ok to make mistakes, upset or disappoint people if you can make them based on a reasoned reality of how you were feeling or thinking at the time. A good example is when a person falls out of love; how often in this situation have you noticed that they don’t want to tell their other half due to guilt and a fear of the repercussions. They may decide to live in denial or stay in the relationship despite how they are feeling in order to protect the other person or avoid the emotional conflict. What do you think this does to their self-esteem? How often will this situation end well?
It’s not always easy to own or accept how we feel or what we think, but we need to remember that we feel or think this way for a reason and the majority of the time it’s ok. So long as we can filter out thoughts and actions that are unnecessarily destructive to ourselves and others, then it frees us up to be ourselves without guilt, shame or any other restriction.
3. The practice of self-responsibility
You are the author of your own choices and actions and the attainment of your goals and aspirations is ultimately up to you and only you.
Throughout our lives we will notice countless times how people can defer responsibility and blame on to others. This often just results in negative and wasted energy.
How many times have you blamed your partner, parents, children or colleague for something that was your own responsibility? What about your career – do you find yourself blaming your current employer for holding back your growth? There may sometimes be some justification to feeling aggrieved or frustrated by the actions of others, but remember that only you are truly responsible for your own life.
Walt Disney was once fired for lacking imagination – look what happened to him when he took responsibility of the situation. J.K Rowling was on welfare before she wrote Harry Potter and Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and told he wasn’t any good. These may be examples of persistence and resilience, but they also show what can be achieved when you take ownership of your own life and regain your status as the master of your own fate.
We will inevitably also need the cooperation of others throughout our life to give it meaning and support our journey, but we should note that in seeking this cooperation we must offer value in exchange. You are rarely born entitled to success or the help and respect of others, you need to earn it and keep focused on what needs to be done rather than who or what is to blame.
4. The practice of self-assertiveness
This pillar concerns the ability to be authentic; to stand up for yourself, your ideas and values in an appropriate manner depending on the situation. It’s about being genuine in your interactions with others but also internally. Have you ever lied, faked, exaggerated or betrayed who you are in social situations? You would certainly not be alone, but can you remember how it felt? Even if it led to short-term pleasure or gain, how did it really make you feel about yourself deep down?
It’s hard to deny that satisfaction is more profound when we achieve it as our genuine selves. It is only by being true to who you are that you can get a step closer to real fulfillment. If that means short-term or temporary disappointment or rejection, then so be it. Better things will find you when the time is right, so long as you don’t give up. Unfortunately, the realities and challenges of life tempt and pressure us to detour from our values on occasion. It takes a very healthy level of self-esteem to make it through successfully without submitting to what feels like the easier option at the time, even when we know it is not right for us.
Being self-assertive doesn't meant that we shouldn’t change or evolve throughout our life. Don't ever tell yourself that you won't change a negative trait because it's 'the real you'. Blaming betrayal of your ‘authentic self’ for missed opportunities to improve or grow is counter-productive and shows a misunderstanding of the concept of being yourself. Your aspirations for ‘the real you’ should surely be being the best version of you, not you in a negative state of any kind.
5. The practice of living purposefully
People are their most productive and motivated in a work environment when their short-term objectives are aligned to their long-term goals and aspirations. It makes sense doesn’t it? Surely we are more open to working hard and passionately if what we are doing is part of our overall plan; if it aligns with our vision of why we exist.
Unfortunately this seems to be a rare situation; a recent Forbes magazine article claims that more than half of US workers are unhappy in their jobs. And this was when the economy was thriving.
So are you aware of your short and long-term goals? Do you feel that you have a purpose? Do you ever consciously sense check your progress or action plan towards their attainment? If not then you may be unknowingly denying yourself a sense of contentment.
Start ensuring that you know what you want, that you understand what will make you feel whole, and then pay conscious attention to whether you are on track. It is not fatal to go back to the drawing board if you need to - it would be far worse to wait until its too late to make the necessary adjustments.
One of the biggest regrets on a deathbed is not having lived a life true to yourself. Don’t let yourself have this regret. Understand your aspirations and stay aligned to them.
6. The practice of personal integrity
This pillar concerns the idea of whether we take and live our own advice - living to our own values with a sense of personal integrity. Living with integrity in a world that can be competitive and unforgiving is hard, but rarely do good things come to us easily.
Living without integrity will also eat away at you so you may as well do everything that you can to stay on course. Have you ever felt tormented by a lie that you told and unable to feel yourself again until it was rectified? What about feeling like an impostor when you don’t practice what you preach or don’t believe in it? Well these are examples of you conflicting internally with your own views of integrity.
Stay conscious of your deviations, try to honor your commitments and values, but forgive yourself quickly and never give up.
So there you have it, the 6 pillars of self-esteem. If you are looking for further reading on the types of self-esteem then there are some good self-esteem books available but we would have to recommend Nathaniel Branden as the leading author in this field. Check out the six pillars of self-esteem and the psychology of self-esteem as a good place to start.
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