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The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem | Book Summary

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” is a seminal work by psychologist Nathaniel Branden, one of the foremost advocates of the concept of self-esteem and its importance in human life. Published in 1994, the book offers an in-depth exploration of what self-esteem is, why it’s essential, and how one can improve it.

The Six Pillars of Self Esteem Summary

Branden postulates that self-esteem is the single most crucial aspect of a person’s psychological health and well-being. He defines self-esteem as “the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as deserving of happiness”

In this book, Branden presents self-esteem as having six pillars. 

They are:

1. The Practice of Living Consciously

This is about being aware of both the internal and external world, being present in the moment, and understanding the consequences of your actions. 

Living consciously is about seeking truth, understanding, and knowledge. Branden argues that it is nearly impossible to maintain self-esteem without a commitment to this practice.

2. The Practice of Self-Acceptance

Accepting oneself is a prerequisite for high self-esteem, Branden argues. 

This does not mean you should be content with all of your faults and shortcomings. 

Instead, it means you should acknowledge them honestly, without denial or evasion, and strive to improve while still maintaining a sense of self-respect and compassion for yourself.

3. The Practice of Self-Responsibility

This pillar involves understanding that you are the author of your choices and actions, and accepting the responsibility for the same. It includes recognizing one’s role in creating one’s experiences, life, happiness, and personal fulfillment.

4. The Practice of Self-Assertiveness

This practice involves honoring one’s needs, wants, and values, and seeking appropriate forms of their expression in reality. It’s about standing up for oneself and one’s rights while respecting the rights of others.

5. The Practice of Living Purposefully

This pillar involves formulating goals and purposes congruent with your values and acting accordingly. It means using your powers for the attainment of goals you have selected: the goal of studying, of earning a living, of raising a family, or of achieving a serene old age.

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, we have integrity. According to Branden, a person cannot maintain self-esteem in the absence of the practice of personal integrity.

In the book, Branden also discusses the impact of low self-esteem and its consequences on a person’s life, including anxiety, depression, and fear of the new or unfamiliar. He underscores that these conditions can be remedied by strengthening self-esteem.

Finally, he provides a variety of exercises and strategies designed to increase one’s self-esteem. They are real-life examples and vignettes to illustrate each of the six pillars and to offer practical guidance for incorporating these pillars into one’s life.

the six pillars of self-esteem summary

What can you learn from the book?

1. The Foundation of Self-Acceptance

This is more than just positive thinking or self-delusion. 

It involves acknowledging and accepting one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and the recognition that no one is perfect. 

Dr. Nathaniel Branden illustrates the notion of self-acceptance using numerous examples, showing that it is about accepting our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, regardless of whether we like them or not.

It’s understanding that our worth isn’t dependent on our successes or failures, but rather it comes from acknowledging our intrinsic value as human beings. 

The practice of self-acceptance can lead to a healthier self-esteem and better life outcomes.

2. Living Consciously

This involves being aware of what is happening within and around us, and making active choices about how we respond to these experiences. Living consciously requires continuous efforts to expand our awareness, both of ourselves and the world around us. 

Branden emphasizes that refusing to see reality or choosing ignorance can lead to a decline in self-esteem. 

For instance, if a person ignores their deteriorating health condition, it not only exacerbates the physical problem, but it also negatively affects their self-esteem due to the lack of self-care and self-respect.

3. Asserting Personal Responsibility

Branden stresses the pillar of personal responsibility, explaining that self-esteem is built by assuming responsibility for our choices and actions. 

This means not blaming others for our mistakes, but owning up to them and learning from them. 

The book gives an example of a student who blames his failure on his teacher. While the teacher might have their shortcomings, Branden suggests that the student should instead focus on what he could have done differently – perhaps additional study or seeking external help. 

This act of taking responsibility empowers the individual and contributes positively to self-esteem.

4. The Power of Personal Integrity

Integrity involves aligning your behaviors with your values and beliefs. In other words, it’s practicing what you preach. Failure to do so can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and a lowered sense of self-esteem. 

For instance, if a person values honesty but frequently finds themselves lying to others, this dissonance between their actions and values can erode their self-esteem. 

On the contrary, when our actions align with our beliefs, we experience a sense of authenticity and self-respect, thereby bolstering our self-esteem.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” is a comprehensive and detailed guide that offers readers the tools to understand, improve, and maintain their self-esteem. By understanding and integrating the six pillars into their lives, readers can significantly improve their overall psychological health and ability to navigate life’s challenges.

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