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My 1996 chapter on self-esteem

Page on Self Esteem from San Diego State University (Also in Spanish)

From Nathaniel Branden

I was raised to sense what someone wanted me to be and be that kind of person. It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes.

Actress Sally Field


This is a sign of emotional intelligence, and "other esteem". It is natural for children to be approval seeking. But when a child grows up in a dysfunctional home, this causes big problems.

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From Nathaniel Branden

Here are some notes from Nathaniel Branden's work (from his book The Six Pillars of Self Esteem)

Your life is important. Honor it. Fight for your highest possibilities.

p. xiii

Branden says:

I first lectured on self-esteem and its impact on love, work, and the struggle for happiness in the 1950's and published my first articles on the subject in the 1960's. The challenge then was to gain public understanding of its importance. "Self-esteem" was not yet an expression in widespread use. Today, the danger may be that the idea has become fashionable. It is on everyone's tongue, which is not to say that it is better understood. Yet if we are unclear about its precise meaning and about the specific factors its successful attainment depends on -- if we are careless in our thinking, or succumb to the oversimplifications and sugarcoatings of pop psychology -- then the subject will suffer a fate worse than being ignored. It will become trivialized. That is why...we begin our inquiry...with an examination of what self-esteem is and is not.

p 21 "Our motive is not to prove our self-worth, but to live up to our possibilities". [And by so doing, others may see our worth to the species.]

"If one error is to deny the importance of self-esteem, another is to claim too much for it. 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. The matter is more complex than that. Self-esteem is not an all-purpose panecea. Aside from the question of the external circumstances and opportunities that may exist for us, a number of internal factors clearly have an impact -- such as energy level, intelligence, and achievement drive. (Contrary to what we sometimes hear, this last is not correlated with self-esteem in any simple or direct way, in that such a drive can be powered by negative motivation as well as by positive, as, for example, when one is propelled by fear of losing love or status rather than by the joy of self-expression.) A well developed sense of self is a necessary condition of our well being but it is not a sufficient condition. Its presence does not guarantee fulfillment, but its lack guarantees some measure of anxiety, frustration or despair.

He then adds this footnote:

One difficulty with much of the research concerning the impact of self-esteem, as I said in the Introduction, is that different researchers use different definitions of the term and are not necessarily measuring or reporting the same phenomenon. Another difficulty is that self-esteem does not operate in a vacuum; it can be hard to track in isolation; it interacts with other forces in the personality.

Chapter 14 - Self-esteem in the schools

p. 202

"To many children, school represents a 'second chance' -- an opportunity to acquire a better sense of self and a better vision of life than was offered in their home."

Branden says a teacher who can "project confidence in child's goodness and competence" and who treats students with respect can "offer a powerful antidote" to the many dysfunctional messages a child may receive in the home.

Branden suggest that a teacher who "refuses to accept a child's negative self-concept and relentlessly holds to a better view of the child's potential" can be the turning point in a childs life. When Branden says such a teacher can sometimes even literally save a child's life, I agree. A suicide may be prevented when a begins to feel a glimmer of hope after years of hopelessness. A death by abuse at the hands of a parent, step-parent or a mother's current sexual partner might be prevented if the child feels empowered enough and worthy enough to report the abuser.

Branden also gives this example of how a parent can de-value a person.

To the boy who had dreams of doing something great, of changing the world, his father, instead of encouraging him, would say, "Don't take yourself so seriously, don't be a dreamer. Go mow the lawn if you want to do something great."