Self-concept is Destiny

I met her when she came to a workshop I was conducting on “Self-esteem and the Art of Being.”

            She was thirty-two years old, pretty, and worked as a receptionist in a law firm. Early in life she had decided that she knew what she was—“a bad girl.” How else could she explain the endless screaming reproaches of her mother, and the emotional coldness of her father, and a home that lacked any trace of love, affection, or kindness? As an adult, she supported the claim that she was a bad girl trough sexual promiscuity, and an inability to remain faithful to any lover or boyfriend.

            I met him at the same self-esteem workshop as the one where I met her.

            He was thirty-five, athletic, and worked as an artist in an advertising firm.  He had come to the United States from Norway.

            Months later—when he became a therapy client—he would tell me their story as he saw it.

            When he was six years old, his mother had deserted him and his father to run off with another man. He knew what this meant.  “If your own mother doesn’t love you, what can you expect from another woman?”  He decided that he was unlovable.  With the help of his embittered father, he also learned that no woman can be trusted, all women are sluts, and to love is to be hurt.

            Picture about one hundred-and thirty people in a hotel meeting room   I give an opening talk of about ninety minutes, then there is a fifteen minute break, and then I ask the group to stack the chairs against the walls and sit on the floor in circles of four.  “Do not sit with anyone you know,” I say.

            I take the group through a sentence-completion exercise. Then I invite them to share their experiences and what they may have learned.  I stand on the stage scanning the room, and I notice a young couple whose hands and other aspects of body language suggest an immediate connection.

            I ask the group to stand up, stretch, and then move into new circles of four, but only with complete strangers.  “Don’t sit with anyone you sat with in the previous circle,” I say.  I see that this couple ignores my instructions and moves together into a new group.  This happens two more times as I keep “reshuffling” the groups until the evening program ends. Then I see them standing near the exit, until their bodies convey a kind of tension that is unmistakable in its meaning. “How in hell can it happen so fast?” I ask myself, fascinated.

            I see them finding each other with the terrifying accuracy of two guided missiles meeting in space.           

            Within a week, as I learn later, they were on fire with love.  They felt born to a new innocence.  All feelings of guilt, sinfulness, or weighted sadness were washed away in the cleanliness of a love liked nothing they had ever experienced.  They did not feel that they were unlovable.  They felt that they were the essence of love.

            Then the time bomb that lay sleeping in both of them began to tick—the sense that they were in danger, that love such as they imagined is illusion, that to love is to be hurt.

            Anxiety awakened first in him and then in her.  He became a little impatient with her, a little critical, and she responded by becoming defiant, contemptuous of some of his mannerisms—each of them gearing up to defend against the rejection they dreaded and felt to be inevitable.

            In one moment, she would complain of being “suffocated” in their relationship and in the next she would beg for more time and attention because, she would say, “I don’t know how to live without you.”  Then he would suggest that perhaps he had not paid enough attention to how few books she read.  She would say, bitterly, that she was not an intellectual, and he would mutter under his breath that she could say that again.  Then he would weep, “I love you so much.”

            It lasted a few months longer—until the day when one or both of them were no longer able to believe their relationship was salvageable.

            As he would tell me later, on the day that was the “official” end of their “romance,” they stood on the steps of the building where she lived, and they hugged each other, and then she watched him walking away and she cried “Why? Why? We were so happy together! What was wrong with us?”  He did not turn around, but merely shrugged.  Then, once again, she shouted “Why?”

            Self-concept generates life scripts.

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24 Comments on “Self-concept is Destiny”

  1. pwsmith Says:

    Dear Dr. Branden,

    I am VERY happy that you have embarked on this blog. Your influence on my life through your books and lectures has been profound and I have achieved happiness and success.

    Your entry about self-concept predicting destiny is on the mark, but it fills me with some small anxiety. You see… I am the father of a 3 month old child. I am acutely aware that my influence on him today will affect him positively or negatively in the future. I would like him to be equipped earlier in life with the tools that I had to acquire much later through the discovery of your works in my 20’s. Do you have any generalized suggestions as to things I might consider… approaches I might take?

    Thank you,


  2. javidreza Says:

    What would have been each individual’s responsibility prior to this engagement? Is it the practice of self-acceptance? How would they improve on self-concept?

  3. In answer to your question, moderation is required b/c it is my blog and I hold myself responsible reguarding comments and there quality.

  4. Dear Paul,

    I salute your concern and your desire to be a competent parent. Allow me to put your question on hold for two or three weeks b/c I’m going to post an essay dealing with the practice of nurturing self-esteem in young people.

  5. javidreza Says:

    Hi Paul,

    I recommend a book called P.E.T.(Parent Effectiveness Training). It is the most studied parenting program in the world. A parent-training program to teach parents how to communicate more effectively with kids and offer step-by-step advice. It is also available in audio cd.

  6. raygrden Says:

    Dr. Branden, is it you who is actually the moderator? I have never participated in a blog before and I just assumed it was a bunch of your fans trying to out “Intellectualize” each other. Forgive me as I seem to have been wrong. Thank you for all your inspiration.

  7. Ralf Wilmes Says:

    Dear dr. Branden, I’m convinced that self-concept is destiny. Is there a way to bring more awareness to one’s own self-concept? I presume at least part of it is subconscious?

  8. Hello Ray,

    Yes I am the moderator of my own blog. And yes, sometimes I delete posts that, in your words are “trying to out intellectualize each other.

    For more on my comment criteria, please see my answer to Veronica.

  9. raygrden Says:

    I tried to read your answer to Veronica but I don’t think it passed moderation! (small joke) I think I understand the nature of the your blog now and I meant no disrespect. I understand you are trying to pass information to people who are seeking through a forum grounded by your work. I have followed your work for over twenty years and for some reason when I write on this blog I just feel the need to be childish and unconventional and now realize I got the child part right but was more off the point than unconventional. I guess I just wanted my fifteen minutes with you and didn’t realize you were watching the whole time I was trying to get your attention.
    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, it truely is an honor.
    p.s Sometimes it is a blessing to be over three lines! (because I know this does not have serious relevance to this blog!)

  10. javidreza Says:

    What is the relationship between self-concept and self esteem?
    Does self-concept affect self esteem or vice versa?
    What is the first indication of poor self concept?

  11. celestecatca Says:

    Dr. Branden,
    I just read The Psychology of Romantic Love. It is profoundly “evocative” of the consciousness required for romantic love to blossom and sustain itself. There is no other book that addresses the dynamics of romantic love with the depth, vision and ground of fundamental principles that you have. It’s rich, I loved it!

  12. asif11 Says:

    Dear Dr. Branden,

    I am Asif Iqbal from India. Being in India, I never thought I will ever get an opportunity to interact with you. I am a software programmer and I thanked my profession, which made this possible.

    I came to know abt u and ur work thru Ayn Rand novels. I benefited and suffered equally from my understanding of her work. And I realized it only after I read ur article ‘The Benefits and Hazard of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand’. Thanks for that and for everything you have done to pscycology.

    Currently I am undergoing psycotherapy to cope with my low-level of self-esteem (all the 6 factors). I am also working with your book ‘The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem’ and doing the sentence completion excercises (though some time I feel a resistance to do that).

    Self-Concept is destiny, but I am curious how much of one’s self-concept is influenced by genes or biological factor. is there a connection?

    Thanks and Regards,

  13. Dear asof11 Says,

    I am happy that you found my books helpful. I invite you to visit my website:

    Regarding your question about self-concept, there may be ways in which genes or bioloical factors might influence self-concept. For example. some people come into this world with a high energy level Some come into this world which a low tolerance for anxiety. Such factors as these almost certainly influence how we see ourselves. But the right word is “influence,” not “determine.”

    Keep punching.

  14. Dear javidreza,

    I agree that P.E.T is very good. However I would like to draw to your attention two outstanding writers on parenting–Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber, authors of such brilliant books as “Liberated Parents/ Liberated Children,” “Siblings Without Rivalry,” and “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk.” I cannot praise their work enough. Although there are many areas of agreement, there are some differences between their approach and that of P.E.T. I side with them.

  15. Dear javidreza,

    To respond to your Feb.19 question about the couple in “Self-concept is Destiny”

    Their “responsibility” would be to live more mindfully, to be more self-examining, to cease blaming each other and take responsibility for their actions (without pointless self-castigation).

    Yes, self-acceptance would be of value; they don’t need to suffer more guilt then they are experiencing already.

    To answer your Feb. 22 question concerning the relationship between self-esteem and self-concept: Self-concept contains self-esteem but is more global in that it contains the sum of our beliefs about ourself.

  16. javidreza Says:

    Dear Dr. Nathaniel Branden,

    Thank you for your response and also clarifying theses matters for me.

  17. raygrden Says:

    What about the idea that we are born with that sense of life; with the thought that we are born with our core personality and that is what we strive to be throughout our life. To live up to that which we know is our most simplest and most complicated form of the essence of who we know ourselves to be. To find out along the path that growth is not sabotaging the core of what we love in ourselves.

  18. Dear Ray,

    Well, what about the idea?

    The question is: What are the grounds for this belief? What is the evidence? It may be true and it might not.

    I grant you, the idea has appeal.

  19. raygrden Says:

    My only evidence is my own journey through life and that I have come to see that there is a part of my personality that has not changed since I have been a young boy. It is this part that hold most of my core values and ethics and was wondering if anyone else has that same experience and if so how does one protect that voice that is at the core of every word we speak? When I say protect I also mean nurture and honor.

  20. Ray,

    You started out by asking about core values allegedly present from the beginning. Now you no longer start at birth but write in terms of early childhood. Or else you refer to “personality” being partly evident more or less at birth.

    Allow me not to take a lot of time to figure out what you really mean. So I will offer you one more chance to clarify what you have in mind.

    Forget the notions mentoned above. Start from the beginning.

    Good luck!

    And keep it to 3 sentences at most!

  21. raygrden Says:

    I am referring to the young boy part as being the earliest I can remember being self-aware or having thoughts about what kind of life I would like to live. Since It didn’t feel like I intellectually concluded that, but that it was more like becoming aware of, or discovering, what my personal character was, I was thinking that perhaps genetics has a lot to do not only with where we start but also with where we desire to end up later in life.

  22. Ray,

    Good clarification.

    I don’t believe genetics influences ethical factors in one’s development, except in a very indirect way. For example, if one starts out in life with a lower than average level of energy (which can happen), there may be a greater liklihood of a dependency orientation, and this in turn may influence core values.

    It’s good to remember that our memory can play tricks on us with regard to what we “remember.”

    Ayn Rand use to say that she had held the same philosophy since the age of 5. Once I said to her, ‘Ayn, that’s impossible. No five-year-old has an ability to think in abstractions of a philosophical order. Philosophy exists only at the conceptual level of consciousnes.” She chuckled and said, “You’re right. But within a few weeks she was again declaring that she held the same philosophy since the age of 5.” Oh well.

  23. roger1948 Says:

    Dr. Branden, I have enjoyed all of your books, and some of them have had great value to me in regard to my personal life and career. In particular I really liked The Disowned Self, especially in conjunction with the ideas of the tennis guru Timothy Gallwey (Inner Game of Tennis) and the principles of Al-Anon.

    One thing I have wanted to ask you for some time: when your book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem first came out, the name simply seemed self-descriptive. But then more recently I heard about the Five Pillars of Islam. Was this an “inside” humorous poke at Islam, implying that self-esteem is worthier or “better” than Islam, because it has ~six~ rather than ~five~ pillars? Or perhaps should we be concerned because self-esteem ~needs~ more pillars to support it than does Islam? (My attempt at humor.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to know if you were aware of the connection at the time you chose the title for your book.

    Roger Bissell

  24. Hello, Roger

    I was vaguely aware of the five pillars of Islam, but this was of no significance to me.

    Of more significance, perhaps, was that when I was six years old I decided that six was my favorite number.

    I also decided that blue was my favorite color. My eyes are blue, in case you’re wondering.



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