The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

by Nathaniel Branden

Hailed as a classic, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem is the definitive guide to understanding the importance of self-esteem. The book deeply dives into human behavior and explores why self-esteem is key to happiness, achievement, mental health, and successful relationships. It introduces six core practices that you can perform daily to strengthen the foundation of your self-esteem.

Summary Notes

Live Consciously

“Consciousness that is not translated into appropriate action is a betrayal of consciousness; it is the mind invalidating itself.”

Consciousness refers to being aware of your environment and acting according to that reality. Though every human has the capacity for consciousness, you can choose to live consciously or not. You can choose to seek the truth and live mindfully, or you can ignore reality and make excuses for yourself. Unfortunately, refusing to live consciously has negative consequences.

Failing to bring an adequate level of consciousness to your daily life is like walking around in a mental fog. You know that you need to face the reality around you, yet you refuse to take the appropriate action. You may even spiritualize or intellectualize your inappropriate behavior. As a result, you lose competency and efficacy in your daily life, diminishing your self-respect and self-worth.

By choosing to live consciously, you face reality for what it is rather than burying your head in the sand. Most people struggle with living consciously because they refuse to question their internal and external realities. However, if you prioritize consistent self-examination, you can gain a deeper sense of self-awareness and self-understanding.

Actions to take

Practice Self-Acceptance

“The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we may deny and disown our shortcomings but that we deny and disown our greatness—because it frightens us.”

It is impossible to have self-esteem without self-acceptance. When you are self-accepting, you value all aspects of yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly. You treat yourself with the utmost respect because you know you have the right to exist. You become selfish in a good way because you refuse to condone abuse and humiliation from anyone, including yourself.

Many people have a sense of self-hatred because they perceive specific aspects of their personality as alien. They disown some of their thoughts, emotions, needs, and desires as things to be ashamed of. This prevents you from truly being yourself and building self-esteem. However, when you practice self-acceptance, you acknowledge everything about yourself simply as an experience and expression of reality.

If you experience a negative emotion or do something shameful, you should explore the situation compassionately to better understand your motives. Though you may condemn your actions, you can still forgive yourself and choose to mend your ways. By being benevolent toward yourself, you reduce the likelihood of repeating undesirable behaviors in the future.

Actions to take

Practice Self-Responsibility

“To wait passively for something to happen that will raise my self-esteem is to sentence myself to a life of frustration.”

If you want to feel worthy of happiness, you need to have a sense of control over your life. You need to feel that you have the power to make decisions that benefit you. However, you also have to be willing to take responsibility for your actions and outcomes. By practicing self-responsibility, you’re taking full control of every aspect of your life. Some may see this as a burden, but it is actually a very empowering thing.

There is nothing as disempowering as waiting for someone or something outside of yourself to raise your self-esteem. Some may argue that God is responsible for providing us with self-esteem. But the truth is that we aren’t meant to stay as dependent children who’re oblivious to our choices' impact on our self-esteem. Passivity and faith in God do not relieve you of your responsibility.

Indeed, you cannot take responsibility for some things in life, such as accidents or the negative actions of others. Some things are simply beyond your control. However, if you take responsibility for those within your control, you’ll be much happier, and your self-esteem will grow.

Actions to take

Practice Self-Assertiveness

“To think for oneself—and to stand by what one thinks—is the root of self-assertion.”

Being assertive means honoring your needs and values. Self-assertiveness can be considered as having unique thoughts and values that differ from those around you. However, you must go beyond thinking and take real action. If someone makes an offensive joke, it’s not enough to refuse to laugh. You must also speak up and let them know how you feel.

This is often easier said than done. Though the Western world is largely built on individualism, most people succumb to the social pressure to fit in. This can manifest in a relationship where one person sacrifices their authenticity to receive approval from their partner. It can also be seen in the way we choose to go along with our parents' wishes just to maintain a sense of familial loyalty. Simply put, we prefer to fit in rather than stand out to avoid being ostracized by the tribe.

Groups generally perceive individuation and self-esteem as threats to the social order. So, if your main source of security is your community, it’s difficult to embrace self-assertiveness as a virtue. You need to first be secure in your individuality before embracing relationships with others who are also doing the same.

Actions to take

Live Purposefully

“Productive work has the potential of being a powerful self-esteem-building activity.”

To live purposefully is to set goals and strive to achieve them. It is about setting a standard to judge what actions are or aren’t worth doing. When you aren’t living with purpose, you’re at the mercy of external forces that will bounce you around because you lack initiative.

Therefore, you cannot live a productive life without being purposeful. Furthermore, a lack of purpose means you won’t master any useful skills in life. The process of striving to achieve a worthy goal allows you to improve your effectiveness. Without it, you become incompetent and ineffective, negatively affecting your self-esteem. Living purposefully goes beyond conventional work-related goals. It’s also an important pillar when it comes to personal relationships.

We often assume that love and happiness are automatic in intimate relationships. This lack of intentionality is precisely why most relationships fail. You need to have an action plan to ensure that your relationships succeed—just as you would in a business or career. You must cultivate self-discipline and stick to your goals at all times.

Actions to take

Practice Personal Integrity

“The challenge for people today, and it is not an easy one, is to maintain high personal standards while feeling that one is living in a moral sewer.”

We all have beliefs, values, and ideals that we profess. We also do our best to live according to these values. By aligning our actions with our moral convictions, we are practicing personal integrity. Conversely, when we behave in a way that conflicts with our convictions, we lose self-respect. If we keep violating our convictions, then we are betraying our integrity.

A lapse in personal integrity causes a major injury to your self-esteem. It’s one thing to contradict someone else's values—this may not harm you much, especially if you don’t share those convictions. However, when you act against your values, you’re invalidating your very essence. It’s like going to war with your mind. This is more damaging than an external rejection.

You may tell yourself that nobody will find out, but you forget that your consciousness will judge you. You cannot run from that inner voice that’s forever with you. The good news is that it’s possible to restore your integrity in situations where you’re personally responsible for violating it.

Actions to take

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