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This topic is fascinating. We're all concerned. We're all driven by this invisible force. We lack of awareness. This book is a gift.

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I saw my contemporaries surrendering and losing their fire—and, sometimes in painful, lonely bewilderment, I wanted to understand why. Why was growing up equated with giving up?

Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.

human being cannot hope to realize his potential without healthy self-esteem.

Self-esteem works its way within us with or without our knowledge.

Self-esteem is that spark that psychotherapists and teachers seek to fan in those they work with.

There is a continuous feedback loop between our actions in the world and our self-esteem. The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self-esteem.

Low self-esteem seeks the safety of the familiar and undemanding.
The lower our self-esteem, the less we aspire to and the less we are likely to achieve.
The lower our self-esteem, the more urgent the need to “prove” ourselves—or to forget ourselves by living mechanically and unconsciously.

One day at a time, I will tell clients; see if you can get through today without doing anything to undermine or subvert your good feelings.
Such perseverance is self-esteem building.

When we doubt our minds, we tend to discount its products. We dread being visible; so we make ourselves invisible, then suffer because no one sees us.

poor self-esteem can show up an inability to elicit their best from people.

a person’s image of the future may be a better predictor of future attainment than his past performances.

Self-concept is destiny. Our self-concept is who and what we consciously and subconsciously think we are.
We cannot understand a person’s behavior without understanding the self-concept behind it.

It is frightening to be flung beyond the limits of one’s idea of who one is.

“Is it possible to have too much self-esteem?” No, it is not; no more than it is possible to have too much physical health or too powerful an immune system.

Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; Their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else.

When we have unconflicted self-esteem, our motive is not to “prove” our worth but to live our possibilities. Joy is our motor, not fear. Our purpose is self-expression, not self-avoidance.

No one is coming to rescue us. We need to know what matters to us; We must learn to think for ourselves.

Nature has given us an extraordinary responsibility: the option of turning the searchlight of consciousness brighter or dimmer.

For the optimal realization of our possibilities, we need to trust ourselves and we need to admire ourselves, and the trust and admiration need to be grounded in reality, not generated out of fantasy and self-delusion.

The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they look for self-esteem in every direction except within, and so they fail in their search.

Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.


Introduction

the most important factors on which self-esteem depends.

If self-esteem is the health of the mind, then few subjects are of comparable urgency.

The turbulence of our times demands strong selves with a clear sense of identity, competence, and worth.
it is a dangerous moment in history not to know who we are or not to trust ourselves.

The stability we cannot find in the world we must create within our own persons.
To face life with low self-esteem is to be at a severe disadvantage.

When I published The Psychology of Self-Esteem in 1969, I told myself I had said everything I could say on this subject.
In 1970, realizing that there were “a few more issues” I needed to address, I wrote Breaking Free.
Then, in 1972, “to fill in a few more gaps,” I wrote The Disowned Self.

A decade or so passed, and I began to think about how much more I had personally experienced and learned about self-esteem since my first work, so I decided to write “one last book” about it; Honoring the Self was published in 1983.

A couple of years later I thought it would be useful to write an action-oriented guide for individuals who wanted to work on their own self-esteem—How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, published in 1986.

Surely I had finally finished with this subject, I told myself. But during this same period, “the self-esteem movement” exploded across the country; everyone was talking about self-esteem; books were written, lectures and conferences were given—and I was not enthusiastic about the quality of what was being presented to people.

Once again, I found myself drawn back to examine new aspects of this inexhaustibly rich field of study, and to think my way down to deeper levels of understanding of what is, for me, the single most important psychological subject in the world.
I understood that what had begun so many years before as an interest, or even a fascination, had become a mission.

I saw my contemporaries surrendering and losing their fire—and, sometimes in painful, lonely bewilderment, I wanted to understand why. Why was growing up equated with giving up?
I experienced myself as a teacher—a teacher of values.
Your life is important. Honor it. Fight for your highest possibilities.

I was struck by the fact that whatever the person’s particular complaint, there was always a deeper issue: a sense of inadequacy, of not being “enough,” a feeling of guilt or shame or inferiority, a clear lack of self-acceptance, self-trust, and self-love. In other words, a problem of self-esteem.

Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.

Commenting on the urgent need for education in self-esteem, a visiting Russian scholar remarked to me, “Not only are our people without any tradition of entrepreneurship, but our managers have absolutely no grasp of the idea of personal responsibility and accountability that the average American manager takes for granted. And you know what a gigantic problem passivity and envy is here. The psychological changes we need may be even more formidable than the political or economic changes.”

Throughout the world there is an awakening to the fact that, just as a human being cannot hope to realize his or her potential without healthy self-esteem, neither can a society whose members do not respect themselves, do not value their persons, do not trust their minds.

My experience is that most people underestimate their power to change and grow. They believe implicitly that yesterday’s pattern must be tomorrow’s. They do not see choices that—objectively—do exist. They rarely appreciate how much they can do on their own behalf if genuine growth and higher self-esteem are their goals and if they are willing to take responsibility for their own lives. The belief that they are powerless becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A self is to be actualized and celebrated—not aborted and renounced.


PART I - Self-Esteem: Basic Principles


1 - Self-Esteem: The Immune System of Consciousness

Regardless of what we do or do not admit, we cannot be indifferent to our self-evaluation. However, we can run from this knowledge if it makes us uncomfortable. We can shrug it off, evade it, declare that we are only interested in “practical” matters, and escape into baseball or the evening news or the financial pages or a shopping spree or a sexual adventure or a drink.

Yet self-esteem is a fundamental human need. Its impact requires neither our understanding nor our consent. It works its way within us with or without our knowledge. We are free to seek to grasp the dynamics of self-esteem or to remain unconscious of them, but in the latter case we remain a mystery to ourselves and endure the consequences.

A Preliminary Definition

By “self-esteem” I mean much more than that innate sense of self-worth that presumably is our human birthright—that spark that psychotherapists and teachers seek to fan in those they work with. That spark is only the anteroom to self-esteem.

Self-esteem, fully realized, is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life.

confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life; and confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

I do not share the belief that self-esteem is a gift we have only to claim (by reciting affirmations, perhaps). On the contrary, its possession over time represents an achievement.

The Basic Pattern

To trust one’s mind and to know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem.
The power of this conviction is more than a feeling. It is a motivator. It inspires behavior.

In turn, it is directly affected by how we act.
There is a continuous feedback loop between our actions in the world and our self-esteem.
The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self-esteem.

When my actions lead to disappointing or painful results, I feel justified in distrusting my mind.

With high self-esteem, I am more likely to persist in the face of difficulties. With low self-esteem, I am more likely to give up or go through the motions of trying without really giving my best.

The Impact of Self-Esteem: General Observations

The level of our self-esteem has profound consequences for every aspect of our existence: how we operate in the workplace, how we deal with people, how high we are likely to rise, how much we are likely to achieve—and, in the personal realm, with whom we are likely to fall in love, how we interact with our spouse, children, and friends, what level of personal happiness we attain.

Healthy self-esteem correlates with rationality, realism, intuitiveness, creativity, independence, flexibility, ability to manage change, willingness to admit (and correct) mistakes, benevolence, and cooperativeness.

Poor self-esteem correlates with irrationality, blindness to reality, rigidity, fear of the new and unfamiliar, inappropriate conformity or inappropriate rebelliousness, defensiveness, overcompliant or overcontrolling behavior, and fear of or hostility toward others.

High self-esteem seeks the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals. Reaching such goals nurtures good self-esteem. Low self-esteem seeks the safety of the familiar and undemanding. Confining oneself to the familiar and undemanding serves to weaken self-esteem.

The more solid our self-esteem, the better equipped we are to cope with troubles that arise in our personal lives or in our careers; the quicker we are to pick ourselves up after a fall; the more energy we have to begin anew. (An extraordinarily high number of successful entrepreneurs have two or more bankruptcies in their past; failure did not stop them.)

The higher our self-esteem, the more ambitious we tend to be, not necessarily in a career or financial sense, but in terms of what we hope to experience in life—emotionally, intellectually, creatively, spiritually.

The lower our self-esteem, the less we aspire to and the less we are likely to achieve. Either path tends to be self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating.

The higher our self-esteem, the stronger the drive to express ourselves, reflecting the sense of richness within.

The lower our self-esteem, the more urgent the need to “prove” ourselves—or to forget ourselves by living mechanically and unconsciously.

The higher our self-esteem, the more open, honest, and appropriate our communications are likely to be, because we believe our thoughts have value and therefore we welcome rather than fear clarity. The lower our self-esteem, the more muddy, evasive, and inappropriate our communications are likely to be, because of uncertainty about our own thoughts and feelings and/or anxiety about the listener’s response.

The higher our self-esteem, the more disposed we are to form nourishing rather than toxic relationships. The reason is that like is drawn to like, health is attracted to health. Vitality and expansiveness in others are naturally more appealing to persons of good self-esteem than are emptiness and dependency.
we tend to feel most comfortable, most “at home,” with persons whose self-esteem level resembles our own.

The healthier our self-esteem, the more inclined we are to treat others with respect, benevolence, goodwill, and fairness—since we do not tend to perceive them as a threat, and since self-respect is the foundation of respect for others.

With healthy self-esteem, we are not quick to interpret relationships in malevolent, adversarial terms.
We do not approach encounters with automatic expectations of rejection, humiliation, treachery, or betrayal.

And finally, research discloses that high self-esteem is one of the best predictors of personal happiness, as is discussed in D. G. Meyers’ The Pursuit of Happiness.

Love

There is no greater barrier to romantic happiness than the fear that I am undeserving of love and that my destiny is to be hurt.
Such fears give birth to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Confidence in my competence and worth, and in your ability to see and appreciate it, also gives birth to self-fulfilling prophecies.

if I lack respect for and enjoyment of who I am, I have very little to give—except my unfilled needs. In my emotional impoverishment, I tend to see other people essentially as sources of approval or disapproval.

I do not appreciate them for who they are in their own right. I see only what they can or cannot do for me.
I am not looking for people whom I can admire and with whom I can share the excitement and adventure of life. I am looking for people who will not condemn me

“If you do not love yourself, you will be unable to love others.” Less well understood is the other half of the story.
If I do not feel lovable, it is very difficult to believe that anyone else loves me.

If I do not accept myself, how can I accept your love for me? Your warmth and devotion are confusing: it confounds my self-concept, since I “know” I am not lovable. Your feeling for me cannot possibly be real, reliable, or lasting.

Even if I consciously disown my feelings of being unlovable, even if I insist that I am “wonderful,” the poor self-concept remains deep within to undermine my attempts at relationships. Unwittingly I become a saboteur of love.
I attempt love but the foundation of inner security is not there. Instead there is the secret fear that I am destined only for pain. So I pick someone who inevitably will reject or abandon me.

“Why do I always fall for Mr. Wrong?”
Her father abandoned the family when she was seven, and on more than one occasion her mother had screamed at her, “If you weren’t so much trouble, maybe your father wouldn’t have left us!” As an adult, she “knows” that her fate is to be abandoned. She “knows” that she does not deserve love. Yet she longs for a relationship with a man. The conflict is resolved by selecting men—often married—who clearly do not care for her in a way that would sustain her for any length of time. She is proving that her tragic sense of life is justified.

When we “know” we are doomed, we behave in ways to make reality conform to our “knowledge.”

Everyone knows the famous Groucho Marx joke that he would never join a club that would have him for a member. That is exactly the idea by which some low-self-esteem people operate their love life. If you love me, obviously you are not good enough for me. Only someone who will reject me is an acceptable object of my devotion.

The tragedy of many people’s lives is that, given a choice between being “right” and having an opportunity to be happy, they invariably choose being “right.” That is the one ultimate satisfaction they allow themselves.

I may read books on the subject, participate in seminars, attend lectures, or enter psychotherapy with the announced aim of being happy in the future. But not now; not today. The possibility of happiness in the present is too terrifyingly immediate.

“Happiness anxiety” is very common. Happiness can activate internal voices saying I don’t deserve this, or it will never last, or I’m riding for a fall, or I’m killing my mother or father by being happier than they ever were, or life is not like this, or people will be envious and hate me, or happiness is only an illusion, or nobody else is happy so why should I be?

What is required for many of us, paradoxical though it may sound, is the courage to tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.

One day at a time, I will tell clients; see if you can get through today without doing anything to undermine or subvert your good feelings—and if you “fall off the wagon,” don’t despair, pull yourself back and recommit yourself to happiness. Such perseverance is self-esteem building.

The Workplace

It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior. A man whose notion of “power” is stuck at the level of “sexual domination” is a man frightened of women, frightened of ability or self-assurance, frightened of life.

when our insecurity finds evidence of rejection where no rejection exists, then it is only a matter of time until our inner bomb explodes.
Brilliant people with low self-esteem act against their interests every day.

If we fear condemnation, we behave in ways that ultimately elicit disapproval. If we fear anger, eventually we make people angry.

When we doubt our minds, we tend to discount its products.
We dread being visible; so we make ourselves invisible, then suffer because no one sees us.

we note that poor self-esteem can show up as lack of generosity toward the contributions of others or a tendency to fear their ability—and, in the case of a leader or manager, an inability to elicit their best from people.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Self-esteem creates a set of implicit expectations about what is possible and appropriate to us. These expectations tend to generate the actions that turn them into realities.
And the realities confirm and strengthen the original beliefs. Self-esteem—high or low—tends to be a generator of self-fulfilling prophecies.

“In fact, a person’s image of the future may be a better predictor of future attainment than his past performances.”
What we make an effort to learn and what we achieve is based, at least in part, on what we think is possible and appropriate to us.

Self-concept is destiny.
Our self-concept is who and what we consciously and subconsciously think we are—our physical and psychological traits, our assets and liabilities, possibilities and limitations, strengths and weaknesses.
A self-concept contains or includes our level of self-esteem, but is more global. We cannot understand a person’s behavior without understanding the self-concept behind it.

people sabotage themselves at the height of their success all the time. They do so when success clashes with their implicit beliefs.
It is frightening to be flung beyond the limits of one’s idea of who one is.
If a self-concept cannot accommodate a given level of success, and if the self-concept does not change, it is predictable that the person will find ways to self-sabotage.

Self-Esteem as a Basic Need

A need is that which is required for our effective functioning. We do not merely want food and water, we need them; without them, we die.
Self-esteem is a need analogous to calcium, rather than to food or water. Lacking it to a serious degree, we do not necessarily die, but we are impaired in our ability to function.

To say that self-esteem is a need is to say:

An inadequate self-esteem may reveal itself in a bad choice of mate, a marriage that brings only frustration, a career that never goes anywhere, aspirations that are somehow always sabotaged, promising ideas that die stillborn, a mysterious inability to enjoy successes, destructive eating and living habits, dreams that are never fulfilled, chronic anxiety or depression, persistently low resistance to illness, overdependence on drugs, an insatiable hunger for love and approval, children who learn nothing of self-respect or the joy of being.

When self-esteem is low, we tend to be more influenced by the desire to avoid pain than to experience joy. Negatives have more power over us than positives.
If we do not believe in ourselves—neither in our efficacy nor in our goodness—the universe is a frightening place.

For this reason I have come to think of positive self-esteem as, in effect, the immune system of consciousness, providing resistance, strength, and a capacity for regeneration.
Just as a healthy immune system does not guarantee that one will never become ill, but makes one less vulnerable to disease and better equipped to overcome it, so a healthy self-esteem does not guarantee that one will never suffer anxiety or depression in the face of life’s difficulties, but makes one less susceptible and better equipped to cope, rebound, and transcend.

High-self-esteem people can surely be knocked down by an excess of troubles, but they are quicker to pick themselves up again.

That self-esteem has more to deal with resilience.

Whatever made me think I had anything to contribute to psychology?
“What?” he exclaimed. “Nathaniel Branden has such feelings?”

Too Much Self-Esteem?

The question is sometimes asked, “Is it possible to have too much self-esteem?” No, it is not; no more than it is possible to have too much physical health or too powerful an immune system.
boasting or bragging or arrogance reflect too little self-esteem.

Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a comparative standard. Their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else.

Insecure men, for instance, often feel more insecure in the presence of self-confident women. Low-self-esteem individuals often feel irritable in the presence of people who are enthusiastic about life.

The sad truth is, whoever is successful in this world runs the risk of being a target. People of low achievement often envy and resent people of high achievement. Those who are unhappy often envy and resent those who are happy.

When Nothing Is “Enough”

a poor self-esteem does not mean that we will necessarily be incapable of achieving any real values.
But it does mean that we will be less effective and less creative than we have the power to be; and it means that we will be crippled in our ability to find joy in our achievements. Nothing we do will ever feel like “enough.”

poor self-esteem undercuts the capacity for satisfaction.
“Why,” a brilliantly successful businessman said to me, “is the pain of my failures so much more intense and lasting than the pleasure of my successes.

When we have unconflicted self-esteem, joy is our motor, not fear.
Our purpose is self-expression, not self-avoidance.
Our motive is not to “prove” our worth but to live our possibilities.

If my aim is to prove I am “enough,” the project goes on to infinity—because the battle was already lost on the day I conceded the issue was debatable.
So it is always “one more” victory—one more promotion, one more sexual conquest, one more company, one more piece of jewelry, a larger house, a more expensive car, another award—yet the void within remains unfilled.

In today’s culture some frustrated people who hit this impasse announce that they have decided to pursue a “spiritual” path and renounce their egos. This enterprise is doomed to failure. An ego, in the mature and healthy sense, is precisely what they have failed to attain. They dream of giving away what they do not possess. No one can successfully bypass the need for self-esteem.

A Word of Caution

In their enthusiasm, some writers today seem to suggest that a healthy sense of self-value is all we need to assure happiness and success.
Aside from the question of the external circumstances and opportunities that may exist for us, a number of internal factors clearly can have an impact—such as energy level, intelligence, and achievement drive.

A well-developed sense of self is a necessary condition of our well-being but not a sufficient condition.

Self-esteem is not a substitute for the knowledge and skills one needs to operate effectively in the world, but it increases the likelihood that one will acquire them.

The Challenges of the Modern World

The United States has shifted from a manufacturing society to an information society.
We have witnessed the transition from physical labor to mind work.
We now live in a global economy characterized by rapid change, accelerating scientific and technological break-throughs, and an unprecedented level of competitiveness.
Specifically, these developments ask for a greater capacity for innovation, self-management, personal responsibility, and self-direction.

persons with a decent level of self-esteem are now needed economically in large numbers.
Historically, this is a new phenomenon.

We no longer have unquestioning faith in “tradition.” We no longer believe that government will lead us to salvation—nor church, nor labor unions, nor big organizations of any kind. No one is coming to rescue us, not in any aspect of life. We are thrown on our own resources.
We have more choices and options than ever before in every area.

we have a greater need for personal autonomy.
We need to know who we are and to be centered within ourselves.
We need to know what matters to us;
We must learn to think for ourselves,
to cultivate our own resources,
and to take responsibility for the choices, values, and actions that shape our lives.

The greater the number of choices and decisions we need to make at a conscious level, the more urgent our need for self-esteem.

The entrepreneurial spirit has been stimulated not only in business but also in our personal lives. Intellectually, we are all challenged to be “entrepreneurs”—to produce new meanings and values.

We have been flung into what T. George Harris has called “the era of conscious choice.”
The choice of this religion or that religion or none. The choice to marry or simply to live together. To have children or not to. To work for an organization or for oneself. To enter any one of a thousand new careers that did not even exist a few decades ago. To live in the city, the suburbs, or the country—or to move abroad. On a simpler level, there are unprecedented choices in clothing styles, foods, automobiles, new products of every kind—all demanding that we make a decision.

If we lack adequate self-esteem, the amount of choice offered to us today can be frightening.

some of us seek escape in the “security” of cults, or religious fundamentalism, or “correct” political, social, or cultural subgroups, or brain-destroying substances.