address of this reprint is
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting lost.
This YouTube video complements Dr. Branden's message:
survivors of low-nurturance childhoods are burdened with up to six psychological
injuries. One of the most difficult wounds to reduce is excessive
shame - the primal
belief that "I am flawed, stupid, "bad," no good, worthless, and
unlovable, no matter what I achieve or other people say."
This epidemic wound colors our perceptions, goals, and relationships in
subtle and obvious ways. It is a
relentless source of inner pain until we
hit bottom and choose to reduce it and other wounds. One wound-reduction goal is to
(a) admit excessive shame, and then (b) intentionally convert it to
self love and self respect - i.e. "positive self esteem."
Nathaniel Branden is globally renown for his work helping people toward
self esteem. This reprint summarizes key points from his useful 1995 book
Six Pillars of Self Esteem.This is a classic example of
self-help advice that many wounded people in denial are unable to
If you know an adult or child with "low self esteem" (significant
shame), keep them in mind as you read. The hilights and links below are mine. See my comments after the
article. - Peter Gerlach, MSW
The Power of Positive Self Esteem
Of all the judgments we make in life, none are more important than the ones
we make about our-selves.
These self-evaluations directly affect the way we act and react... the
values we choose... the goals we set... and how we meet the challenges that
confront us. The key to meeting these basic challenges and feeling worthy of happiness
is having high self-esteem. Self-esteem's components:
is our ability to think, to learn, to choose and to make appropriate
is confidence in our right to be happy, and confidence that achievement,
success, friendship, love and fulfillment are appropriate to us.
Positive self-esteem is a basic human need. It is essential to normal,
healthy development. If you lack positive self-esteem, your psychological
growth will be stunted.
Positive self-esteem operates as the immune system of consciousness,
providing resistance, strength and a capacity for
regeneration. When our self-esteem is low, our resilience when facing life's
problems is diminished.
Example: To contemporary women - who are shedding their traditional gender
roles, fighting for emotional and
intellectual autonomy, starting their own businesses, invading one formerly
male bastion after another and challenging age-old prejudices -
is indispensable. It is not all that is needed for success, but without it
the battle cannot be won.
A common trap: When self-esteem is low, negatives have much more power over us
than positives. We are motivated more by the desire to avoid pain than to
experience joy. But if we do not believe in our-selves - in our efficacy or
in our goodness and lovability - the universe is a frightening place.
Women and men who have realistic confidence in their self-worth and feel
secure within themselves will most likely respond appropriately to today's
challenges and opportunities. Positive self-esteem empowers, energizes, and motivates.
It inspires us to achieve, and allows us to take pleasure and pride in
our achievements. It also helps us pick ourselves up more quickly after
a fall, leaving us with more energy to begin anew. The more solid our
self-esteem, the better equipped we are to cope with the troubles that
arise in our careers and personal lives.
Characteristics of people who have high self-esteem:
Ambitious. People with high
self-esteem tend to be more ambitious in what they hope to experience in
life emotionally, romantically, intellectually, creatively, and spiritually.
They have a strong drive to express the self, reflecting the sense of richness
Goal-oriented. They seek the
and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals. Attaining such goals
nurtures good self-esteem.
Communicative. People with high
self-esteem are more capable of having open, honest and appropriate
communications with others. They believe their thoughts have value. As a
result, they welcome clarity in-stead of fearing it. They want to be
Loving. They form nourishing
relationships instead of toxic ones. Vitality and expansiveness in others
are naturally more appealing to persons with good self-esteem than are
emptiness and dependency.
Attractive. Self-confident women
and men are usually drawn to each other.
people who have low self-esteem:
Fearful of change. These people
to less and, therefore, achieve less. People with low self-esteem seek the
safety of the familiar and undemanding. Confining oneself to what is already
known serves to weaken self-esteem.
Non-communicative. People with low
self-esteem become muddy, evasive and inappropriate in their communications
because of uncertainty about their own thoughts and feelings. And they feel
anxious about the listener's response.
Insecure. Like those with high
self-esteem, these men and women tend to be drawn to one another. They often
form destructive relationships that reflect and increase their essential
lack of self-worth.
Pillars Of Self-Esteem
The key virtues, or practices, on which healthy self-esteem depends, are
living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility,
living purposefully and personal
live consciously is to be
aware of what
you are doing. You must seek to understand whatever has an impact on
your interests, values, and goals.
Be aware of both the world around you
as well as
the world within.
To be self-accepting is to be
compassionate toward yourself - even at those times when you do not
admire or enjoy some of your feelings or decisions. It also means
consciously refusing to reject yourself.
To be self-responsible is to recognize that you are the
author of your own choices and actions.
You are the source of your own
fulfillment. No one is going to make your life right for you...or make
you truly happy...or give you self-esteem.
To be self-assertive is to
honor your wants and
needs and to look for ways to express them. Be willing to be who you are and
allow others to see it. Stand up for your convictions, values, and feelings.
live purposefully is to
take responsibility for identifying your goals. Perform the actions that
will allow you to achieve them, and keep yourself on track and moving toward
live with integrity is
to have principles of behavior to which you remain loyal in your actions.
Keep your promises and honor your commitments.
The Key to a Happy Relationship
you hope to achieve a happy relationship with someone,
nothing is more
important than self-esteem - both for you and the other person. There is no
greater barrier to romantic success than the deep-seated feeling that one is
first love affair we must consummate successfully is the one we have with
ourselves. Only then are we ready for relationships, and only then will we
be fully able to love and to let love in - to accept that other people love
that confidence, another person's love will never be quite real or
convincing, and in our anxiety, we may find ways to undermine it.
want to stress that
self-esteem is an intimate experience. It resides in the core of one's
being. It is what you think and feel about yourself, not what someone else
thinks or feels about you. You
can project an image of assurance and poise that fools almost everyone yet
secretly tremble with a sense of inadequacy. You can fill the expectations
of others yet fail your own...or win every honor yet feel you have accomplished nothing.
acclaim of others does not create self-esteem. Nor do education, material
possessions, marriage, parenthood, philanthropic endeavors, sexual
conquests, or face-lifts. These things can make us feel better about
ourselves temporarily or more comfortable in particular situations. But
comfort is not self-esteem.
+ + +
Like many self-help authors, Dr. Branden offers well-intentioned suggestions about living
well. Few people would argue with his premises - and yet many people
(like you?) seem
unable to achieve and maintain the six pillars he outlines.
is because they are unaware of being controlled by a well-meaning
''false self'' which blocks attaining the pillars - until
hitting bottom and intentionally
empowering the resident true Self to
guide the person's decisions and actions.
The characteristics of people with "low self esteem"
(shame) in this article are
a few of the traits of people this Web
Grown Wounded Children - survivors of low childhood nurturance.
One of six pervasive psychological
wounds from inadequate
early nurturance is excessive shame - i.e. low self esteem. Like many authors promoting self confidence and self-respect,
In this reprint, Branden
never uses the words "shame" and
As he defines it, Branden's term "Self efficacy" is what this Web site
calls "true-Self guidance" of your
personality. People who are governed by a false self lack this efficacy, and are
shame-based because of the influence of a powerful
shamed inner child and its
Guardian subselves. Branden seems unaware of this, like many other veteran professionals.
Perhaps for clarity, Branden
doesn't mention the strong relationship between
guilt ("I do bad things") and shame ("I AM a bad thing."). Achieving
stable self esteem often also requires learning how to intentionally
reduce excessive guilts to normal. That's why Lesson 1 here
treats excessive shame and guilt as one wound.
I disagree with Branden's premise that the greatest
barrier to healthy relationships is low self esteem. It is
being unaware of (a) psychological wounds and the topics in this
For more perspective on
options for converting excessive shame to genuine self-love, see these
Lesson-1 articles on...