Self-esteem And How It Affects Virtually Every Aspect Of Our Life.

No one who is familiar with my writings will be surprised to learn that one of my favorite subjects is self-esteem and how it affects virtually every aspect of our life. Even if I seem to be writing about something else, sooner or later self-esteem has a way of being invited to the party.

Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the fundamental challenges of life and as being worthy of happiness. (For more details, read The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem). Why the definition of self-esteem can be as important as it is controversial is an issue I will address in a future post.

In recent years, I have been increasingly interested in business and career problems as they relate to self-esteem. Here is a simple example

The head of a medium-sized company consulted me because, he said, although he had made a great success of his business, he was depressed and unhappy and could not understand why. We discovered that what he had always wanted to be was a research scientist but that he had abandoned that desire in deference to a father who pushed him toward a career in business. Not only was he unable to feel more than the most superficial kind of pride in his accomplishments, but he was wounded in his self-esteem—because in one of the most important issues of his life, he had surrendered his mind to another human being. This is always dangerous, no matter how brilliant the person to whom one surrenders.

It was not difficult to discover that his depression reflected a lifetime of performing admirably while ignoring his deepest needs. While he operated within that framework, pride and satisfaction were beyond his reach, except to a very limited extent. Until he was willing to challenge that framework, and to face the fear of doing so, no solution was possible.

At this point, someone may want to jump in and say, “Wait a minute, Branden. This is not a story uniquely applicable to business. It’s applicable to every aspect of human relationships.”

“You are quite right.” Probably most of us have heard someone say, “I have accomplished so much. Why don’t I feel more proud of myself?” And these people may not be thinking about business. They might be thinking about their marriage, their beautiful children, or their beautiful home. They may believe that these “successes” are guaranteed paths to self-esteem. They ask, not in so many words, “Haven’t my parents or friends promised me?” (See my treatment of autonomy in my “Taking Responsibility?

Although there are several reasons why someone may not enjoy his or her attainments, it can be useful to ask, “Who chose your goals? You — or the voice of some ‘significant other’ inside you?” Neither pride nor self-esteem can be supported by the pursuit of second-hand values that do not reflect who we really are.

Tying our self-esteem to the approval of “significant others,” and betraying our own judgment in the process, is only one of the tragic mistakes by which we can betray our selves. But it is a common one.

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6 Comments on “Self-esteem And How It Affects Virtually Every Aspect Of Our Life.”

  1. pluckplucker Says:

    In my experience, a lot of very ambitious people (myself included), seem less happy than it seems like they really should be, because they tend to worry too much, focus too much on negatives and not enough on positives. Do you think this is probably related to a lack of self-esteem, or is it likely a different problem?


  2. To the extent that a person suffers from an under-developed self-esteem, it is likely that there will be a tendency focus more on the negatives in life than on the positives. To the extent that a person enjoys a well-developed self-esteem, and with that a confidence in his or her resourcefulness, the opposite tends to be true: a disposition to focus on the positives more than on the negatives. I understand happiness to mean an affirmative experience of life and of self. We have enough research, worldwide, to support the conclusion that happiness co-relates with self-esteem.

    This is not to say that self-esteem is the only factor that will influence where we put our mental focus. Other factors, such as unrecognized health problems, may play a role. On the other hand, being raised by parents who insisted that their children be “tough” and always focus on the positives, especially in times of adversity. Just the same, other things being equal, a person of high self-esteem and a person of low self-esteem will tend to react to challenges differently.

  3. Ralf Wilmes Says:

    Through your sentence stems I discovered a lot about what values I took from my parents and then thought about the question if I really agree on those values. Is it normal that it takes such a long time before some ‘automated’ ways of reacting to life disappear? Example: I was taught to be ‘nice’ to everybody regardless who it is.


  4. Dear Ralf

    No one can predict how long the process can take. It will be different for one person and another. There are different techniques that a therapist might use. A number of factors might make a difference.

    Even though you already have some experience working with sentence stems, I think you might find it helpful to do the exercises presented in “Taking Responsibility.” Do the exercise not once but several times. And, of course, read the book if you have not already done so.

  5. Ralf Wilmes Says:

    Dr.Branden, last year I purchased the self-hypnosis tapes from your site, which I used and still use a lot and find very effective and enjoyable. I do not know if other such material of yours is available through other sales-channels, but if not, I’d like to ask if you can advise anybody else who produces similar tapes or material. I’ve heard quite some other self-hypnosis tapes which I do not value at all because they are in ‘sugar-sweet new-age’ style, and just don’t work for me because I do not agree at all with the idea’s they mostly present, thank you for your help.


  6. Dear Ralf,

    If you have not already done so, check out the cassettes available from www. Nathaniel Branden.com

    In a few months, however, we expect to be offering cassettes from my web site in fairly large quanitites.

    As to other cassettes from people, I can’t think of any that i can recommend. There are probably some very good ones out there that I don’t happen to know about.


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