Gaining Confidence in Life
Raising Your Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is our own emotional evaluation or measurement of our self-worth. Its level tells us how worthy we think we are personally, as human beings. If we don’t think much of ourselves, it means our self-esteem is low. Low self-esteem is usually associated with underperformance in life, and often, with some degree of depression.
Low self-esteem stops you enjoying your life as much as you might, and it stops you achieving your full potential. You may not think you have much potential, or many possibilities open to you, but if low self-esteem is blocking you, well, you would think that, wouldn’t you? And even if your skills are limited, and you are hemmed in by all sorts of restrictions, if your inner resources are fully available to you, you will be in a position to make the best of it even so.
The definition usually used was first formulated by Nathaniel Branden, and written about in his book, Six Pillars of Self Esteem. He defined it as the degree to which you experience yourself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life, and to what extent you feel yourself to be worthy of happiness. That means it is in effect the sum of your self-confidence (your perceived ability to do things), and your self-respect (your feeling of self-worth). With good self-esteem, you feel confidently appropriate to life, and confident in your ability to think. He said that self-esteem is based upon what he called six pillars, which you can develop in yourself with awareness, practice and constant vigilance.
This is having maximum awareness of what is going on in your own mind. It comes as a surprise to most people that we are not in fact generally all that aware of what we are thinking about much of the time, but if you think about it, the science of psychology depends upon it! However, high self-esteem means becoming more aware of it: we need to know when we are in denial, when we are not acting in accordance with our stated goals or in line with reality, when we are lying or being defensive, when we are hiding from our feelings, and so on. Usually, we miss all of that or forget it conveniently after a moment, in part because it passes through our awareness so quickly, and in part because we don’t like to see the negative sides of ourselves so much. But we must if we are going to improve our minds, and we must be in control of our thinking to a greater degree if we are going to improve our lives. Essentially, living consciously is much like the Eastern concept of enlightenment.
This is about accepting the truth of what you are; an acceptance of the reality of you. You accept your feelings without denying them, and without necessarily following their impulses, and without necessarily liking them either: you avoid denial. You also accept yourself in the sense that you value yourself as you are, and are committed to yourself: you will stand up for your right to exist, and to be who you are. This doesn’t mean you can’t work on yourself and try to improve yourself, but you accept that we all come from somewhere and you have to start with where you are right now. Also: you accept your potential greatness too, and your successes and your failures.
Remember this phrase: “No-one is coming.” What this means is that no-one is coming to rescue you from your situation. No knight in shining armour is just around the corner; the cavalry is not going to arrive; no lucky accident or lottery win is going to help you out. You must do it yourself. You are responsible for your actions, your level of consciousness, your behaviour, your priorities, your time management, your values and for starting and ending your relationships. Sorry. Get on with it.
Life is better if you honour your wants, needs and values: you must speak up, and be authentic. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions or to challenge authority; just be prepared to accept the consequences, or plan for them accordingly and strategically (think about how to deal with them in advance). People with high self-esteem think for themselves and oppose what they deplore. They fully live and express their values without fear or favour. They learn new skills, and they are persistent in pursuing their goals. They live their lives as participators, not as spectators.
Make concrete goals for yourself: specific, measurable and consisting of actions that you can monitor. Someone who is living purposefully lives and acts according to their intentions. The goals can be material or spiritual, it doesn’t matter: whatever suits who you are. Just make them solid and develop your self-discipline by being proactive and productive in your pursuit of them. Don’t wait around for chance or the cavalry (see self-responsibility, above): make your strategies and act.
Interestingly, a high level of personal integrity correlates with high self-esteem too. It is no use being a hypocrite and thinking that no-one will know. Even if you are the only one who does know, hypocrisy is tantamount to saying that your own judgement is worthless. If you lie, you will know that your word is worthless, won’t you? If you value yourself so little, your self-esteem will go down a little bit every time you do it, because self-esteem measures exactly this kind of behaviour.