The Six Pillars of Self-esteem


Nathaniel Branden‎

My Thoughts

A quick and easy read on how to overcome the doubts, frustrations and insecurities we face everyday.

Highlights & Summary Notes

Self-esteem — the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.

Two components of self-esteem

  • Self-efficacy — confidence in our ability to learn what we need to learn and do what we need to do in order to achieve our goals
  • Self-respect — entails the expectation of friendship, love, and happiness as natural, as a result of who we are and what we do. Self-respect is the conviction of our own value.

1. Practice Living Consciously

In virtually all of the great spiritual and philosophical traditions of the world there appears some form of the idea that most human beings are sleepwalking through their own existence.

If we do not bring an appropriate level of consciousness to our activities, if we do not live mindfully, the inevitable penalty is a diminished sense of self-efficacy and self-respect.

We cannot feel competent and worthy while conducting our lives in a mental fog.

Living consciously entails:

  • A mind that is active rather than passive.
  • Being “in the moment,” without losing the wider context.
  • Being concerned to know if my actions are in alignment with my purposes.
  • A concern to know not only external reality but also internal reality, the reality of my needs, feelings, aspirations, and motives
  • A concern to be aware of the values that move and guide me

2. Practice Self-Acceptance

Self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do.

Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.

The concept has three levels of meaning:

Level 1:  To be self-accepting is to be on my own side—to be for myself.

Level 2: Self-acceptance entails our willingness to experience—that is, to make real to ourselves, without denial or evasion—that we think what we think, feel what we feel, desire what we desire, have done what we have done, and are what we are.

It is the refusal to regard any part of ourselves—our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions, our dreams—as alien, as “not me.”

Level 3: Self-acceptance entails the idea of compassion, of being a friend to myself.

3. Practice Self-Responsibility

To feel competent to live and worthy of happiness, I need to experience a sense of control over my existence.

This requires that I be willing to take responsibility for my actions and the attainment of my goals.

This means that I take responsibility for my life and well-being.

Self-responsibility entails:

  • Responsibility for my choices and actions.
  • Responsibility for my personal happiness.
  • Responsibility for how I prioritise my time.
  • Responsibility for accepting or choosing the values by which I live.
  • Responsibility for raising my self-esteem.


Through the exercise of our intelligence toward some useful ends, we become more fully human.

Without productive goals and productive effort, we remain forever children.

Self-responsibility is expressed through an active orientation to life.

Thinking for Oneself

Living actively entails independent thinking in contrast to passive conformity to the beliefs of others.

Thinking independently—about our work, our relationships, the values that guide our life, the goals we set for ourselves—strengthens self-esteem

4. Practice of Self-Assertiveness

Self-assertiveness means honouring wants, needs, and values and seeking appropriate forms of their expression in reality.

One of the great self-delusions is to think of oneself as “a valuer” or “an idealist” while not pursuing one’s values in reality. To dream one’s life away is not self-assertion.

To practice self-assertiveness logically and consistently is to be committed to my right to exist, which proceeds from the knowledge that my life does not belong to others and that I am not here on earth to live up to someone else’s expectations.

Within an organisation, self-assertiveness is required not merely to have a good idea but to develop it, fight for it, work to win supporters for it, do everything within one’s power to see that it gets translated into reality.

A well-realised man or woman is one who has moved successfully along two lines of development that serve and complement each other:

  1. The track of individuation (autonomy)
  2. The track of relationship (human connectedness)

One of the ways we build self-esteem is by being self-assertive when it is not easy to do so.

5. Practice Living Purposefully

To live without purpose is to live at the mercy of chance—the chance event, the chance phone call, the chance encounter—because we have no standard by which to judge what is or is not worth doing

Productivity and purpose — To live purposefully is, among other things, to live productively, which is a necessity of making ourselves competent to life.

Efficacy and purpose — We build our sense of fundamental efficacy through the mastery of particular forms of efficacy related to the attainment of particular tasks.

Fundamental efficacy cannot be generated in a vacuum; it must be created and expressed through some specific tasks successfully mastered.

It is easier for people to understand these ideas as applied to work than to personal relationships. That may be why more people make a success of their work life than of their marriages.

Self Discipline — To live purposefully and productively requires that we cultivate within ourselves a 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.

Living purposefully entails:

  • Taking responsibility for formulating one’s goals and purposes consciously.
  • Monitoring behavior to check that it is in alignment with one’s goals.

It means that we live and act by intention.

6. Practice Personal Integrity

Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs—and behavior.

When we behave in ways that conflict with our judgment of what is appropriate, we lose face in our own eyes. We respect ourselves less.

Integrity means congruence. Words and behavior match.

If I act in contradiction to a moral value held by someone else but not by me, I may or may not be wrong, but I cannot be faulted for having betrayed my convictions. If, however, I act against what I myself regard as right, if my actions clash with my expressed values, then I act against my judgment, I betray my mind.

Hypocrisy, by its very nature, is self-invalidating.


The essence of guilt, whether major or minor, is moral self-reproach. I did wrong when it was possible for me to do otherwise.

It is imperative that we be clear on what is and is not in our power—what is and is not a breach of integrity. Otherwise, we run the risk of accepting guilt inappropriately.

Once we see that living up to our standards appears to be leading us toward self-destruction, the time has come to question our standards.

Steps to restoring integrity

  1. Own the fact that it is we who have taken the particular action.
  2. Seek to understand why we did what we did.
  3. Acknowledge explicitly to the relevant person or persons the harm we have done.
  4. Take any and all actions available that might make amends.
  5. Firmly commit to behaving differently in the future