“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays
Self-esteem is like a muscle. If you understand the mechanisms of growing and maintaining muscle tone, you’ll get results. Just like exercising, providing the proper proteins, and resting are crucial for muscle growth, there are 6 pillars or elements to developing a healthy self-esteem.
Before we can initially dive into these pillars, we first need to understand the fundamentals. The highlight being – what is self-esteem???
Self-esteem, in it’s full realization, is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life. In basic terms, you feel confident that you are worthy to be alive and feel capable to deal with any situation that life tosses at you.
To dive into a more technical realm however, psychology comes to explain self esteem as the composition of these two elements (both crucial to the existence of self-esteem).
- Self-Efficacy: confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life
- Self-Worth: Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts
If that wasn’t revelational in it’s own right, what’s even more stunning is the fact that self esteem has an impact on every aspect of our existence; from the professional to the social to the personal dimensions of life. It’s how we operate in the workforce or at school, to how we deal with people, how high we’re likely to rise, how much we’re likely to achieve, to the personal aspect like who are we going to fall in love with, how do your relations look like and the list goes on.
Now that I’ve pinpointed how important self-esteem is let’s dive into the pillars.
The First Pillar: The Practice of Living Consciously
In virtually every great spiritual and philosophical tradition, there appears to be an idea that most humans walk through life sleepwalking. As a result, the epitome or spiritual goal would be to reach enlightenment (the phenomenon of waking up). This entails seeing the world completely as it is and accepting it accordingly.
As humans we have been provided with an extraordinary choice- that of seeking awareness or not bothering (or actively avoiding it), seeking truth or not bothering, focusing our mind or not bothering.
“I know I’m not giving my best at work (or school), but I don’t want to think about it.”
“I know I’m phoney and lie about my accomplishments, but…”
This is a perfect example of the diffusion to see reality as it is.
Self-esteem, in clarity, is the reputation we acquire with ourselves. To live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that bears on our actions, purposes, values, and goals – to the very best of our ability.
The Second Pillar: The Practice of Self-Acceptance
This stage is incredibly crucial; in fact without self acceptance self esteem is impossible.
In order to thrive as an individual one must entail the idea of compassion to self; where one treats self as a friend (versus a foe).
Simply put, the act of self-acceptance is accepting one’s own feelings and thoughts; regardless of the liking. It does not mean we cannot imagine or wish for changes or improvements. It means experiencing, without denial or avoidance, that a fact is a fact. If you persist with this practice, by surrendering yourself to the reality of the situation, you may notice that a feeling of relaxation and a sense of true connection with the self.
The Third Pillar: The Practice of Self-Responsibility
To feel competent to live and be worthy of happiness, one needs to experience a sense of control over their existence. This requires that I am willing to take responsibility over my actions and the attainment of my goals. This means I take responsibility for my life and well-being.
Example: I like to blame my parents for how screwed up my habits and life is. If I were to take responsibility for my life; I’d have to stop blaming my parents and would have to go do something about it.
The Fourth Pillar: The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
This is the belief that one has a right to exist. How easy is it for you to say that statement without defiance or defensiveness? It’s not so easy, is it?
Self-assertiveness means honouring my wants, needs, and values and seeking appropriate forms of expression in reality.
To clarify, self assertion does not mean belligerence or inappropriate aggressiveness; it does not mean pushing to the front of the line or knocking other people over; it does not mean uploading my own rights while being blind or indifferent to everyone else’s. It simply means being able to stand up for myself, to be who I am openly, to treat myself with respect in all human encounters. It means the refusal to fake my person to be liked.
The Fifth Pillar: The Practice of Living Purposefully
To live without purpose is to live at the mercy of chance; the chance event, the chance phone call, the chance encounter- because we have no standard to judge what is or is not worth doing. Our orientation to life is reactive versus proactive. We are drifters.
Goals are what leads us forward – that energize our existence. Whether that’s the goal of studying, of raising a family, of earning a living, of starting a business, solving a scientific problem…
To live purposefully is to live productively, which is a necessity of making ourselves competent to life. Productivity is the act of translating our thoughts into reality, of setting our goals and working for their achievement, of bringing knowledge, goods, or services into existence.
The Sixth Pillar: The Practice of Personal Integrity
As we mature and develop our values and standards (or absorb them from others), the issue of personal integrity becomes of great importance to our personal assessment.
Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs- to behaviour. When our behaviour is congruent with our professed values, when ideas and practice match, we have integrity.
When we behave in ways that conflict with our judgment of what is appropriate, we lose face in our own eyes. We respect ourselves less. If this becomes habitual we trust ourselves less or cease to trust ourselves at all.