Nathaniel Branden was the single biggest figure of the self-esteem movement, and this book is hailed as his definitive masterpiece on the subject. He wrote several other books over a period of many years but this appears to be the “one to read”. I should note that this book seemed antithetic to notions like “everyone is beautiful” or “every child is a winner”. Branden clearly believes that authentic self-esteem begins with awareness of reality.
This work is seminal. After reading it I’ve realised that many other writers have directly borrowed or learned from this book. Especially in the world of self-help or mens’ dating advice. I believe that in cases like this, one gets much more out of reading the original than reading derivative works. It just seems to give you a better grounding because it has to build its case from the foundation up, fully justifying its arguments. It is designed to take you from a state of not knowing about self-esteem to a state of knowing about it, so it gives you more than just the sound bites.
The book takes a very foundational approach to self-esteem. There are no quick fixes. In many respects it is a book about basic virtues such as having integrity. Although this is only insofar as will improve self-esteem.
The book seemed highly reminiscent of Ayn Rand. And sure enough, it is revealed that the author was in a romantic relationship with Ayn Rand for many years.
It uses a psychological technique called sentence stems. Sentence stems involve completing certain unfinished sentences in rapid succession. Supposedly this will bypass the logical mind and hopefully challenge what we think we know. I liked that it had an exercise to practise, because it’s more powerful than simply reading something about your psychology.
The two components of self-esteem are self-respect and self-efficacy. All six of the pillars are geared towards improving these two components. Self-esteem is something that we evolved to have; it has survival and reproduction value.
The six pillars are:
1. The practice of living consciously. Self-esteem requires that we have an attitude of respecting and seeking to be more conscious of reality as it truly stands. No weak excuses, no kidding ourselves, no averting your thinking from painful truths, no trying to escape the present moment and certainly no lying to ourselves.
2. The practice of self-acceptance. If you don’t accept yourself then you effectively don’t have self-esteem. Self-acceptance has various meanings though; such as not “disowning” certain parts of yourself.
3. The practice of self-responsibility. This is about making the successful transition from dependent infancy to independent adulthood. Includes the physical, financial, psychological and whatever else.
4. The practice of self-assertiveness. People with self-esteem aren’t afraid to be assertive (whilst being contextually aware). Whereas low-self-esteem people are more likely to perceive it as risky, unjustified. Acting this way improves self-esteem and having self-esteem causes you to act this way.
5. The practice of living purposefully. Having a sense of purpose is important for humans. I imagine people without purpose as having a certain slave-like quality. Having a purpose that that is wisely chosen is great.
6. The practice of personal integrity. Living in harmony with what we believe or profess to value strengthens our self-esteem, seals up the leaks where we lose respect for ourselves. If we don’t live in accordance with our inner-held values then it creates dissonance and we begin to feel worse about who we are.