Self-esteem is not just important in order to become successful in the business world or to impress women. Self-esteem is one of the most important parts of living a fulfilled and happy life. If your goal is to become a person, who is happy and independent of external circumstances, self-esteem is the key. This is why many books, articles, and podcasts deal with the topic of self-esteem, and much of today’s material is based on the works of Nathaniel Branden’s “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.”
About Nathaniel Branden
Nathaniel Branden was a psychotherapist and one of the most established writers on the topic of self-esteem. As a pioneer in the field of self-esteem research, he developed his own psychological theories and forms of therapy. Besides “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”, he wrote “The Art of Living Consciously”, “The Art of Self Discovery” and “Self-Esteem at Work.” His books were translated into 18 languages and printed millions of times.
Book Summary: The Six Pillars of Self Esteem
Even though they might seem to be the same at first sight, arrogance and self-esteem are very different from one another. In fact, what you will discover is that arrogance is in fact the polar opposite of true self-esteem. Unlike arrogance, which is comparison-based and in fact a sign for rather low self-esteem, healthy self-esteem is best described as taking joy in being who you are without the need of comparing yourself to another person.
With real self-esteem, you don’t any longer try to prove yourself to others. In this book, Nathaniel Branden presents what he considers the most important aspects that will help you increase your self-esteem. He refers to them as the six pillars on which healthy self-esteem is based and while it would be possible to only focus on some of the pillars, it is highly recommended to make all of the six pillars a part of your life.
1) Live consciously
The first pillar should not come as a surprise. In order to improve ourselves in any area of life, we first have to become aware of what’s going on. There can be no change and no development without first becoming aware of our behaviors, tendencies, and usual responses to certain events. Distinguish between a fact and your emotional response.
Once we practice awareness in our daily life, we will find ourselves in a lot of situations where we allow our emotions to take over and react very poorly. This has been our “natural” response to these situations for many years and we never questioned our behaviors. As we start to become aware of our thoughts and behaviors, we can assess our actions. It is important because our natural response is not necessarily the most beneficial response.
This is often especially true for situations where we get emotionally attached. There are many examples of such situations: Meetings where you don’t dare to speak up, arguments with your partner which end up in huge fights, or conversations with friends. We should use such situations to learn more about our natural tendencies. Correct your behavior if necessary.
Awareness is always the first step, but in order to improve ourselves, we need to correct our behaviors if necessary. There will be cases where it is pretty obvious that our natural response to a situation is not the best solution, like using accusations in a fight with our partner.
But what to do in situations where we know our behavior is not beneficial, but we also don’t know how the best solution would look like? For such cases, I personally recommend the concept of “living by values”. Sean and Daniel Munro talk about it in the first part of the “Endless Confidence” program and you can listen to this particular conversation even if you are not yet a member of the Academy.
Nathaniel Branden talks about the power of self-acceptance. We experience self-esteem, but self-acceptance is something we do. It is very likely that all of us have been in situations where we felt full of self-esteem. This often happens when we are in our comfort zone or doing some activity that puts us into our element. A professional football athlete is likely to feel full of self-esteem on the field, but might not feel very confident in a sales negotiation.
The lack of experience has a lot of influence on the level of self-esteem we experience. But while we might not be able to “choose” to be self-confident in certain situations, we can always choose to accept ourselves. We can always choose to value ourselves and to treat ourselves with respect. Accept that you think what you think, that you desire what you desire, and that you are who you are.
Accepting is not judging and not liking or disliking. Accepting does not mean we are stuck in this situation. We can still develop ourselves and we are not our thoughts or emotions. Still, acceptance is important in order to create a safe space for ourselves. If we allow ourselves to really be who we are, we no longer seek the approval of other people. At this moment, it is okay to be exactly who we are.
This also includes the acceptance of our resistance to the act of accepting facts we don’t want to accept. Just remember: Everything is okay at this moment and can be changed in the future once we decided to work on it. Acceptance is the precondition of change.
If we want to gain self-esteem, we have to stop seeing ourselves as victims. Being a victim means not being in control and depending on others. If our personal fulfillment lies in the hands of other people, we don’t have a chance to gain self-esteem. Take responsibility for your life, self-fulfillment, and well-being. Taking responsibility is regaining control over our lives. Nobody else will help us with becoming self-fulfilled, and nobody else can help us.
We have to stop relying on other people and start relying on ourselves and our own power and abilities. We, and only we, are responsible for our own well-being and once we fully live by this principle, nobody else can prevent us from living a fulfilled life. Other people only have as much control over us as we give them. Concentrate on what is your circle of influence and neglect what lies outside of it.
We are only responsible for the things we can control. And we should also only focus on those aspects. Otherwise, we risk wasting time and energy on things we couldn’t control in the first place. Things inside of your circle of influence include your response to situations, the way we take care of ourselves, the way we try to improve our lives. This includes exercises, education, meditation, self-love, and much more.
And for all the people who believe they need a partner before they can really be happy and live a fulfilled life: No one is coming to change your life. It is up to us. So instead of waiting for rescue, we should start taking responsibility for our own lives.
Assertiveness is a term often associated with negotiations and gaining something. It can be described as getting what we want. Self-assertiveness is a little bit different. It is more about owning who we are. Honor your needs and wants. Live and express your values.
First, we became aware of our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, then we learned to accept who we are and started to take responsibility for living a fulfilled life. Now it is about honoring our needs and expressing our values. Nowadays people often call this “being authentic”. It is not only about being honest to ourselves about what we want and need, it is also about communicating it when interacting with other people. This includes the ideas and values that might not be so popular with other people. It might also mean to face aversion.
Don’t live to fulfill the expectations of other people. This is easier said than done. In fact, for most people, self-sacrifice, and self-surrender is easier than self-assertiveness and standing up for one’s needs.
5) Living purposefully
The importance to have a goal in life cannot be stressed enough. Having a goal will give our life a direction. We won’t waste our time being unproductive but rather become high-achiever. This in itself will lead to an increase in self-esteem. The goal we choose should be important to ourselves and independent of other people’s opinions or societal standards. Furthermore, it is important to choose a specific goal and not just “I will do my best”.
Give it numbers and a finishing date. It is important to be able to measure progress. Only by making the progress measurable will make it possible for us to tracks results and adjust our actions. Self-discipline is very important. We have to constantly monitor our behaviors and see if those are in line with our goals. Having a goal and working towards it is a great way to prove to ourselves how we can rely on ourselves.
This is why it is important to really stick to our goal once we decided on it and came up with an action plan. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody else, we only have to prove something to ourselves.
6) Personal Integrity
Having a goal and sticking to it will ensure that we can rely on ourselves. And in fact, we should make this our daily practice. Always make sure that your behaviors are congruent with your values. When our behavior is constantly in line with our values, we gain more self-esteem as we can rely on ourselves to take care of our needs and wants.
Again, this might lead to situations where we will have to face the aversion of other people and we might not “fit in”. But these are also situations of potential growth. Be honest, as everything else is disrespectful to yourself. Lying in order to gain somebody’s approval might feel good at the moment, as we feel accepted by somebody else, but it also includes rejecting ourselves. Every time we lie, we tell ourselves “We are not good enough”. Being honest is huge.
We have to do it, even when it feels uncomfortable. In fact, we should especially do it when it feels uncomfortable. Remember, only our own judgment counts!
Ask yourself: What stands in your way of living a life of integrity? We have to identify the major obstacles and keep on working on them until we live a fully integrated life.
Nathaniel Branden explains how there are two parts to self-esteem. First, we have self-efficacy, which describes the basic confidence when facing a challenge. It is knowing that we can handle certain situations. The second part of self-esteem is self-respect. This is a sense of being worthy of happiness and joy. Generally, we shouldn’t be confident in our knowledge, but rather in our skill to learn and to handle situations. High self-esteem has nothing to do with being perfect. It is more about accepting who we are in any given situation.
In the end, Nathaniel Branden gives us one last tip: In order to grow, we have to seek discomfort. It’s not enough to face discomfort once we find ourselves in such a situation, it is about actively seeking it. The reward will be self-esteem.
Personal thoughts and putting knowledge into practice
There are many books and programs on self-esteem. Unfortunately, many focus on external behaviors. You learn how to pretend to be self-confident and other people will perceive you as self-confident, but you never focus on the internal aspects.
To me, Nathaniel Branden’s approach of solely focusing on internal aspects that all lie in our circle of influence was very beneficial. Using Nathaniel Branden’s model gave my approach of increasing my self-esteem a clear structure. To me, the six pillars truly are the foundation of self-esteem.
Self-acceptance and being honest even when it feels uncomfortable were game-changers for me. Now I will do my very best to seek discomfort even more than I already do because stepping out of our comfort zone equals growth.
I believe, if you never read another book on self-esteem and truly stick to Nathaniel Branden’s model, you can reach a very high level of self-esteem. As usual, it won’t be easy, but totally worth it.