In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. The dictionary defines self-worth as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.
Self-esteem is how we value ourselves; it is how we perceive our value to the world and how valuable we think we are to others. Self-esteem affects our trust in others, our relationships, our work – nearly every part of our lives. Low self-esteem is a debilitating condition where a person feels unworthy, incapable and incompetent and keeps individuals from realizing their full potential. Positive self-esteem gives us the strength and flexibility to take charge of our lives and grow from our mistakes without the fear of rejection.
“Apart from disturbance whose roots are biological, I cannot think of a single psychological problem – from anxiety and depression, to underachievement at school or at work, to fear of intimacy, happiness, or success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spouse battering or child molestation, to co-dependency and sexual disorders, to passivity and chronic aimlessness, to suicide and crimes of violence – that is not traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem. Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.” – Dr Nathaniel Branden from The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Although, self-worth is often used as a synonym for “self-esteem,” Dr. Lisa Firestone believes that self-worth should be less about measuring yourself based on external actions and more about valuing your inherent worth as a person. In other words, self-worth is about who you are, not about what you do.
Dr Kristin Neff argues that there is a problem with society’s focus on high self-esteem. The problem is that this focus involves measuring oneself against others, rather than paying attention to one’s intrinsic value. “Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special and above average to feel good about ourselves, but we can’t all be above average at the same time.” says Dr Neff. In this sense, searching for self-worth by constantly comparing ourselves to others means to always be fighting a losing battle. “There is always someone richer, more attractive, or successful than we are. And even when we do manage to feel self-esteem for one golden moment, we can’t hold on to it. Our sense of self-worth bounces around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our success or failure.”
Furthermore, studies now show that basing one’s self-worth on external factors is actually harmful to one’s mental health. One study at the University of Michigan found that college students who case their self-worth on external sources (including academic performance, appearance and approval from others) reported more stress, anger, academic problems and relationship conflicts. They also had higher levels of alcohol and drug use, as well as more symptoms of eating disorders. The same study found that students who based their self-worth on internal sources, not only felt better, they also received higher grades and were less likely to use drugs and alcohol or to develop eating disorders.
“Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” – Nathaniel Branden
Although real accomplishments are important to acknowledge as you build your sense of self, your self-worth should also take in to account the unique qualities that make you YOU. As mindfulness expert, Dr Donna Rockwell points out, we are all unique and that, in and of itself, gives each of us inherent value. We shouldn’t be rating ourselves, we should just BE OURSELVES!
“What determines the level of self-esteem is what the individual does”, says Nathaniel Branden, and goes on to say that “It’s nice to talk about ideas, memorize inspiring words, and get an intellectual understanding of something. But it’s what we DO that leads to our self-esteem.”
Here I am going to break down the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Branden:
1. The Practice of Living Consciously
“Sentence-completion work is a deceptively simple yet uniquely powerful tool for raising self- understanding, self-esteem, and personal effectiveness. It rests on the premise that all of us have more knowledge than we normally are aware of—more wisdom than we use, more potentials than typically show up in our behavior. Sentence completion is a tool for accessing and activating these ‘hidden resources.’”
Throughout the book, Branden brings us back to the practice of sentence completions as a powerful tool for living more consciously. Super simple, super powerful.
2. The Practice of Self-Acceptance
“We can run not only from our dark side but also from our bright side—from anything that threatens to make us stand out or stand alone, or that calls for the awakening of the hero within us, or that asks that we break through to a higher level of consciousness and reach a higher ground of integrity. The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we may deny or disown our shortcomings but that we deny and disown our greatness—because it frightens us. If a fully realized self-acceptance does not evade the worst within us, neither does it evade the best.” Simply put, the refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with yourself.
3. The Practice of Self-Responsibility
“I am responsible for my choices and actions. To be ‘responsible’ in this context means responsible not as the recipient of moral blame or guilt, but responsible as the chief causal agent in my life and behavior.”
Responsibility. Break it up into its two little word-segments: response-able. It’s simple: We’re responsible when we’re “able to respond” to life’s challenges as healthy, autonomous human beings. NOT as victims, blaming this or that for our challenges or feeling shame or guilt for not living up to someone else’s/society’s standards, but as individuals who own our abilities to manifest our desires as we engage in life.
So, question time: Can you turn your response-able dial up a notch or two?
4. The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
“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.” The essence of this statement is to be REAL. To drive this point home, remember the idea that “authentic” and “author” come from the same root. To be authentic is literally to be the author of your own story. Are you?
5. The Practice of Living Purposefully
“To live purposefully is to use our powers for the attainment of goals we have selected: the goal of studying, of raising a family, of earning a living, of starting a new business, of bringing a new product into the marketplace, of solving a scientific problem, of building a vacation home, of sustaining a happy romantic relationship. It is our goals that lead us forward, that call on the exercise of our faculties, that energize our existence.”
As Branden reminds us: “Purposes unrelated to a plan of action do not get realized. They exist as frustrated yearnings.”
SELF-DISCIPLINE & SELF-COMPETENCE
“No one can feel competent to cope with the challenges of life who is without the capacity for self-discipline. 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.”
Lao-tzu reminds us this isn’t a “Western” thing: “He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” And: “Don’t think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness.” So… How’s your self-discipline practice?
6. The Practice of 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 up, we have integrity.
Observe that before the issue of integrity can even be raised we need principles of behavior—moral convictions about what is and is not appropriate—judgments about right and wrong action. If we do not yet hold standards, we are on too low a developmental rung even to be accused of hypocrisy. In such a case, our problems are too severe to be described merely as lack of integrity.”
“It’s 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.” – Nathaniel Branden
The practice of personal integrity. It’s the sixth and final pillar of self-esteem. Without it, the preceding practices “disintegrate.”
Do your ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs AND behavior all line up?
And, perhaps even more importantly, do you even have a sense of what your ideals, convictions, standards and beliefs ARE to use as a basis for your measurement of how you’re doing?!?
Well, do you? … And, are they? 🙂
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Louise Hay, best-selling author, founder of Hay House and pioneer in self-help movement, has helped millions create more of what they want in their lives, including mind, body and spirit wellness. She used mirror work and affirmations in her own life to experience great success and joy, and now you can do the same, In the Loving Yourself: 21 Days to Improved Self-Esteem Course, you will fall in love with the most important person in the world…YOU.
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