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Nathaniel Branden's Honoring the Self - Side 1
Every day, we present
ourselves to the world. At work, we interact with people
we like. At home, we relate to people we love. And we
wonder: when others look at us, what do they see? The
answer to this question is simple. Others see us the way
we see ourselves. And this sense of ourselves, our self
esteem, is the foundation on which we build our lives.
Psychologist Nathaniel Branden has been studying self
esteem for nearly 30 years. His pioneering work in this
field is known around the world and his writings have
been published in 10 languages. In this insightful
program, Doctor Branden shows you how self esteem is the
basis of your success both at work and in love.
Hell help you see yourself better, so youll
know better how others see you. And hell show you
how to love and respect your inner self.
And now, the Nightingale Conant Corporation presents,
Doctor Nathaniel Branden: Your guide to your living,
You stand in the midst of an almost infinite network of
relationships, to other people, to things, and to the
universe. And yet at three oclock in the morning,
when you are alone with yourself, you realize that the
most intimate and powerful relationship, the one you can
never escape, is the relationship to yourself. No
significant aspect of your thinking, motivation, feelings
or behavior is unaffected by your self evaluation.
We are not only conscious but self-conscious. As human
beings that is our glory and at times our burden. We ask
Who am I?
What do I want?
Where am I going?
Whats my purpose in life?
Is my behavior appropriate to this
Am I proud or ashamed of my choices and
Am I happy or unhappy to be who I am?
You have the ability
to ask these questions AND you have the ability to run
from them. But the questions wait for your response. Even
if you chose to pretend they dont exist, or
dont concern you. They are there when you come home
after a busy day at work, when you come home from a
party, from the arms of a lover, from a political rally,
or a religious encounter.
This program will be concerned with the ultimate human
encounter. The relationship of the I to the
me, of the ego to the self. The issues
touched by this encounter reach into virtually every
significant human experience, from the level of your self
esteem, to the kind of person you are likely to fall in
love with, to the ambitions and life goals you will set
for yourself, to your most personal sense of what it
means to be a human being.
At each step of the way you confront some form of the
question, Will I honor, or will I betray
myself? We rarely identify the issue in these
terms. We often prefer not to know the nature of the
choice we are making. But in the natural course of our
lives, we face a variety of questions like these:
Do I belong
to myself or to others?
Is my main purpose to pursue my own happiness,
and fulfill my own potential, or is it to comply with
the wants and expectations of others?
Do I live by my own vision of life, or by the
vision of others?
Is my basic concern with my own approval, or
with the approval of others?
How you relate to
yourself affects how you relate to others and the world
around you, just as how you relate to others and to the
world affects how you relate to yourself. But we begin
with the self, and we will end with the self. And why
this is so will be clear by the time we arrive at the end
of our road.
Today, selflessness is commonly regarded as a synonym of
virtue, and selfishness as a synonym of evil. The
presumed goal of spiritual evolution is considered to be
self transcendence. In this context a program called
Honoring the Self may sound strange, even
disorienting. That is why the title was chosen. This
program is grounded in the recognition that self esteem
and personal autonomy are essential for human well being.
Its focus is on the meaning of these states and how we
can realize them. That goal is the guiding principle of
all that you are about to hear.
It will take me the entire program to develop fully what
I mean by honoring the self, but I offer a
brief statement of its meaning here.
The first act of honoring the self is the assertion of
consciousness. The choice to think, to be aware, to send
the searchlight of consciousness outward toward the
world, and inward toward your own being. To fail in this
effort is to fail the self at the most basic level. To
honor the self is to be willing to think independently,
to live by your own mind, and to have the courage of your
own perceptions and judgments.
To honor the self is to be willing to know not only what
you think, but also what you feel, what you want, need,
desire, suffer over, are frightened or angered by, and to
accept your right to experience such feelings. The
opposite of this attitude is denial, disowning,
repression, self-repudiation. To honor the self is to
preserve an attitude of self acceptance, which means to
accept what you are without self criticism, without lying
about who you are in a pretence aimed at deceiving either
yourself or someone else. To honor the self is to live
authentically. To speak and act on your innermost
convictions and feelings. To honor the self is to refuse
to accept unearned guilt, and to do your best to correct
any guilt you may have earned. To honor the self is to be
committed to your right to exist, which comes from the
knowledge that your life belongs to you, and that you are
not here on Earth to live up to somebody elses
expectations. To many people, this is a terrifying
To honor the self is to be in love with your own life, in
love with your possibilities for growth and for
experiencing joy. In love with the process of discovery
and exploring your uniquely human potential. To honor the
self is to practice selfishness in the highest, noblest
and least understood sense of that word. And this
requires as we shall see, enormous independence, courage
The two most striking characteristics of men and women
who seek psychotherapy are a low level of self esteem and
a condition of self alienation. In some crucial ways they
do not feel appropriate to life and its requirements.
They lack adequate contact with their inner world, with
their needs, wants, feelings, thoughts, values and
potential. Diminished in consciousness, they are
estranged from their proper human estate. Large areas of
the self lie undiscovered, unexpressed, unlived. They are
sleepwalkers through their own existence.
But this group isnt much different from the rest of
us. In fact, it reflects the condition of most people, to
varying degrees. No study has ever suggested that people
in therapy are on average more troubled and demoralized
than anyone else. Instead, they have simply chosen to
confront problems of poor self esteem. They have chosen
to seek better lives for themselves and to achieve better
contact with the inner world of the self. In doing so,
they offer us an opportunity to learn a good deal about
the psychological condition of the general population.
I am a
psychotherapist, and the context in which I speak is that
intimate arena where it is always three oclock in
the morning. The private experience of the individual
human being struggling to create a meaningful and
The conventional view of psychotherapy regards this
struggle in terms of illness or disease, and sees people
as somewhat helpless pawns manipulated by forces outside
their control. In contrast I see the endeavor as
potentially heroic. It contains all the elements of great
myth or great drama. The beginning of self actualization
entails breaking free of the gravitational pull of
mother, father, and family, and continues with
adventures, crisis, anxieties, rites of passage,
victories and defeats, that are all part of the growth
process. There are heights to be climbed, depths to be
explored, adversities to be confronted in the world and
in the mind. And finally, the terrible and exhilarating
uncertainty concerning the outcome of the story. You are
all on the heros journey.
In the course of this program you will see how the
challenge to honor the self calls on the heroic
possibilities of our nature. On the will to think, to
understand, to remain true to our understanding, to
struggle, to endure, to persevere, to remain open and
responsive to life, sometimes in the face of dread,
despair, confusion and loneliness.
This work represents a new examination of the role of
self esteem in human development. To say it more
personally, a new examination of the role of self esteem
in your development and in your life.
Virtually all psychologists know there is some connection
between the degree of a persons self esteem and the
degree of overall mental well being, just as there is
between a condition of a persons self esteem, and
behavior and work and human relationships. And yet there
has been surprisingly little study in this area. It is
obvious that the concepts of honoring the self and self
esteem are intimately related and in this program
Ill explore the nature of this relationship with
you. Ill talk about the role of self esteem in
human life, the conditions necessary for positive self
esteem, and the many ways your life is affected by your
self-appraisal or self-assessment.
Ill approach these same themes from a different
angle when I discuss the ways that an individual either
evolves or fails to evolve towards increasing autonomy,
increasing independence. Here I use a perspective that is
developmental as contrasted with the previous focus on
the here and now. I will address the problem of self
alienation and Ill discuss how the self-alienated
man or woman can move toward increasing wholeness,
rediscovering and bringing into harmony different aspects
of the self.
Throughout this program I will be concerned with the
process of change, and how you can help yourself rise to
higher levels of self esteem, autonomy, and an integrated
experience of self. My goals are these:
one, to demonstrate
specifically and concretely what honoring the
self means, and show the overwhelming importance of
this issue to human life and well being.
Two, to examine the
kinds of behaviors that either honor or betray the self.
Three, to develop a
deeper understanding of the meaning of self esteem and
how it determines the course of our lives.
Four, to show what the
attainment of positive self esteem depends on.
Five, to explore the
meanings of autonomy and individuation and the path to
And six, to point the
way out of the widespread problems of self-alienation.
The overall purpose:
to restore us to ourselves. To give us a stronger,
healthier, happier sense of who we are, and what is
possible to us.
xxGoethe wrote, The greatest evil that can befall
man is that he should come to think evil of
In this statement he was acknowledging a profound truth
about human nature. The greatest barrier to happiness is
having the sense that happiness is not your proper
destiny. The greatest barrier to love is the secret fear
that you are unlovable. The greatest barrier to
achievement and success is not lack of talent or ability,
but the fact that achievement and success, above a
certain level, depends on your self-concept, your image
of who you are and what is appropriate to you. This is
the importance of self esteem.
Lets begin by understanding what self esteem means.
Unfortunately like so many other terms in psychology
there is no generally agreed upon definition, and to
assume that we all know what self esteem means is a
Lets think this through together: A person who
doesnt feel confident to fly an airplane, design a
computer program, or operate a business, doesnt
necessarily suffer from poor self esteem. But a
physically healthy person who feels fundamentally
inadequate to the normal challenges of life, such as
earning a living, most certainly does.
A person who feels undeserving of the Noble prize or
universal recognition for their artistic talents, again,
does not necessarily lack good self esteem. But a person
who feels undeserving of happiness, or unworthy of joy
and reward in life, certainly does have a deficiency of
Self esteem then, has to do with a fundamental sense of
effectiveness and a fundamental sense of worth. With
competence and worthiness in principle, high self esteem
can best be understood as the integrated sum of self
confidence and self respect. Self confidence is
consciousness evaluating its own ability to understand
and deal with reality. Self confidence is a mind trusting
itself. Self respect is a feeling of personal worth, a
sense of being entitled to assert ones own
legitimate interests and needs, and entitled to be happy.
Self esteem is an evaluation of your mind, your
consciousness, and your person. It is not an evaluation
of particular successes of failures, or an evaluation of
particular knowledge and skills. You can be very
confident of yourself generally, and still be uncertain
in your abilities in certain social or other situations.
And conversely, you can outwardly delight in your social
savoir faire, let's say, and inwardly be self doubting
and insecure. Going still further, you can be universally
loved and not love yourself. You can be universally
admired and not admire yourself. You can be widely
regarded as brilliant, but think of yourself as
intellectually inadequate. You can be a high achiever and
still feel like a failure if you have not lived up to
your own standards.
Living up to your own standards is an essential condition
of high self esteem. The notion that self esteem is
simply a function of how others see and evaluate you is
false. Well discuss this in greater detail when we
consider the factors that raise or lower self esteem.
I said earlier that positive self esteem is the
experience that you are competent to live, and worthy of
happiness, that you are appropriate to life
appropriate to its requirements and challenges. Its
even more precise to say that positive self esteem is
your tendency to experience yourself in this way. Like
any other feeling or state, it can be experienced more or
less strongly at different times.
Self esteem is an orientation toward the self. Self
esteem is the ultimate ground of consciousness. Ground to
all particular experience. This is the single most
important concept to be understood about its role in
human psychology. Its the foundation of everything
else in our experience. To feel that you are competent to
live means that you have confidence in the functioning of
your mind. To have poor self esteem is to feel that you
are inappropriate to life. That you are wrong. Not wrong
about an issue or fact, but wrong as a person. Wrong in
your being. With poor self esteem you respond to the
challenges and joys of existence with a basic sense of
inadequacy and unworthiness. You might judge yourself by
relatively superficial criteria; whether or not you
failed or succeeded at a particular task, whether or not
you can get love, admiration, approval and so forth. If
you do, your self esteem suffers. Certainly, its
not as high or as healthy as it could be.
The people we are most likely to admire are precisely
those who persevere in faithfulness to their own vision.
Without a lot of positive reinforcement, without the
understanding of others. Without their approval or their
applause. In fact, often in the face of hostility and
opposition. When we see people who are certain about
themselves throughout lifes ups and downs, we sense
that an unusual psychological achievement is involved. We
may or may not realize that we are looking at high self
To the extent that you trust your mind to be effective,
you will persevere when faced with difficult or complex
challenges. With this trust, you are likely to succeed
more often that fail. This in turn confirms and
reinforces your sense of effectiveness. High self esteem
seeks the stimulation of demanding goals. If you
dont trust your mind to be effective, chances are,
you wont persevere. And you are also then more
likely, then, to fail rather than to succeed. This in
turn confirms and reinforces your negative self
evaluation. Low self esteem typically seeks the safety of
the familiar and the undemanding or unchallenging.
If you enjoy healthy self esteem, you will value, rather
than feel threatened by that same trait in others. People
with poor self esteem end up in the company of their own
kind. Shared fear and insecurity reinforce negative self
assessments. And if you feel loveable and deserving of
respect, you treat others well and expect them to treat
you well, but if you feel unlovable and undeserving of
respect and you are treated poorly, you put up with it
and feel such is meant to be your fate. Low self esteem
tends to generate depression and anxiety. If you feel
that you lack effectiveness and worth, you will
inevitably experience existence as frightening and
While good self esteem is only one of the elements
necessary for happiness, and doesnt necessarily
guarantee it, a high level of self confidence and self
respect is closely related to the ability to enjoy life
and be satisfied. High self esteem is a powerful force in
the service of life.
Self esteem and pride are often confused, so Id
like to compare the two concepts. Self esteem as
youve heard, pertains to an inner conviction of
your fundamental effectiveness and worth. Pride pertains
to the pleasure you take in yourself regarding specific
achievements or actions, such as, Im proud
that I did such and such. Positive self esteem
says, I can. Pride says, I have.
The deepest pride you can experience then, is the pride
of knowing, I have achieved healthy self
esteem, because self esteem is a value that has to
be earned and has to be maintained.
Pride is a positive
emotional experience just like self esteem is. It is not
a vice, but a virtue to be attained. It is a form of
honoring the self.
Some people believe that human beings are unworthy by
nature, for example, they believe that people are,
all equally miserable sinners in the sight of
God. Well, a person holding this belief would speak
of the sin of pride and warn that pride goeth
before a fall. I dont share this experience.
I regard it as evil and anti-life. I teach that human
beings ought to feel pride in themselves, and that pride
has to be earned.
Is it possible, you might ask, to have too high a level
of high self esteem? Not if its genuine. And not
some over-inflated estimation of value aimed at hiding a
deficiency. No one would ask if its possible to
enjoy too high a level of physical health. Health is an
unqualified desirable. So is positive self esteem.
Genuine self esteem please understand this
genuine self esteem is not competitive or comparative.
Genuine self esteem isnt expressed by
self-glorification at the expense of others, or by trying
to make yourself superior to everyone else, or
diminishing others in order to elevate yourself.
Arrogance, boastfulness, the overestimation of your
abilities, reflect low self esteem, even though
were often encouraged to believe the opposite. In
human beings, joy in the simple fact of existence is a
core meaning of healthy self esteem. Thus understood, how
can you possibly have too much of it?
When you meet a person for the first time, often, one of
your earliest impression concerns that persons self
appraisal. Usually youre not aware of this. And
youre not always right, of course. You may change
your mind when you know the person better. My point here
is, that from the very beginning, we are very quick to
intuit, consciously or more often, as they say,
unconsciously, how another person feels about himself or
herself. From the beginning almost like an animal you
sense another persons level of comfort and
happiness with the self his or her level of self
confidence and self respect. And the way you respond
depends, not only on the other persons level of
self esteem needless to say, but also on your own level
of self esteem.
Id like to tell you about some of the criteria that
I myself use when attempting to asses in a new person the
level of his or her self esteem. I think you might find
these interesting criteria to try out for yourself.
When a person has got
fairly good self esteem, I notice that you tend to see
items like the following in their person and behavior:
individuals face, manner, way of talking and
moving, project joy in being alive.
2. The person can speak of accomplishments or
shortcomings with directness and honesty.
3. The person is comfortable in giving and receiving
compliments, expressions of affection, appreciation
4. The person is open to criticism and comfortable
about acknowledging mistakes.
5. The persons words and movements have a
quality of ease and spontaneity.
6. There is harmony between what the person says and
does and how he or she looks, sounds and moves.
7. The person exhibits an attitude of openness to,
and curiosity about, new ideas, new experiences and
new possibilities of life.
8. The person is able to see and enjoy the humorous
aspects of life, in self and in others.
9. The person projects an attitude of flexibility in
responding to situations and challenges, a spirit of
inventiveness and even playfulness.
10. The person is comfortable with assertive
11. The person preserves a quality of harmony and
dignity under conditions of stress.
This list is by no
means exhaustive and not every person of high self esteem
will have each of these traits to the same degree. But
the list does reflect some of the essential indications
of how a person feels about her or himself. We respond to
the sum total of what a person presents. We dont
just focus on one item and generalize simply from that.
For example, a relaxed, well balanced posture and hard,
chronically staring eyes tell a conflicting story, and we
need to notice both elements. No single trait or
characteristic can be judged fairly out of context.
Id like to add some specifically physical
indicators that you will notice in persons with good self
esteem. Watch for these. Check yourself out for them.
There are very interesting physical signs that we tend to
find where we see good self esteem. We tend to see:
1. Alert, bright
and lively eyes.
2. A relaxed face that exhibits natural color and
good skin vibrancy.
3. A chin that is held naturally in alignment with
4. A relaxed jaw.
5. Shoulders that are relaxed and erect.
6. Relaxed, graceful and quiet hands.
7. Arms that hang in a relaxed, natural way.
8. A relaxed, erect and well balanced posture.
9. A walk that is purposeful without being aggressive
10. A voice that is modulated with an intensity
appropriate to the situation and with clear
Did you notice how the
theme of relaxation occurs again and again? Relaxation
implies that the person is not hiding him or herself, is
not at war with who he or she is. Chronic tension conveys
a message of some form of internal split or self denial
or self disowning or self repudiation. It suggests that
some aspect of the self is being disowned, or being held
on a very tight leash.
The human voice is
often a profoundly eloquent indicator of self esteem.
People with high self esteem are willing to take
responsibility from what they say. Therefore, they are
willing to be heard. They speak clearly, not over-loudly
or over-aggressively. Their speech is appropriate. Now
then, it is easier to grasp that self esteem is important
to human life, than to grasp why it should be.
Where does the need for self esteem come from in
the first place? Lower animals dont need it. Why do
we? What is it about our nature that makes us need self
esteem? Why do we have to judge ourselves at all?
We cannot fully understand the meaning of self esteem
until we answer these questions. Until we understand the
roots of the need and the reasons for its existence, we
cant fully appreciate the steps to build or rebuild
a healthy self esteem. And the reasons of our need for
self esteem are far from self evident. And yet ladies and
gentlemen, in all the psychological literature, I have
never even found the problem addressed. This is the issue
we will turn to now.
End of side 1
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