Many teens and young adults who come to therapy report low levels of self-esteem. Plagued by insecurities about their physical appearance or social status, they tend to withdraw in the spirit of self-preservation. They want nothing more than to be their own person and think for themselves, but the risk of being ostracized by family or peers are far too great. Such inner conflicts yield a propensity for people-pleasing and perfectionism as compensatory strategies for absolving that unsettling feeling of not being able to measure up to certain ideals imposed by social norms that seem to be reinforced by pop culture. The final byproduct is a distorted self-image that perpetuates feelings of anxiety and depression.
6 Pillars of Self-Esteem
Nathanial Branden (1994), a pioneer in the self-esteem movement, defines self-esteem as “the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life” (pp. 4). In other words, Branden (1994) describes self-esteem as your confidence in your ability to cope with the basic challenges of life and being able to trust your mind and judgement with such conviction that you are driven by inspired action.
Lisa LaGuardia Fischer, founder of Soul 2 Soul Healing, defines self-esteem as a measurement of our self-worth that answers the fundamental question: “Do I matter?” Self-esteem is very much tied to the way we think about ourselves in terms of external factors such as our looks, associations, or achievements, whereas self-worth is very much tied to how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we are good enough or worthy to have what we want. When we believe that we matter, we value ourselves and the efforts we make to achieve our goals. But when we start believing that we don’t matter, we tend to devalue ourselves and feel like our efforts are somehow not good enough.
However way you choose to define self-esteem for yourself, here are six ways you can lay the groundwork for improving and strengthening your self-esteem.
1. Develop the skill of mindfulness to practice living consciously.
There’s a reason why mindfulness has become a common intervention in many therapeutic practices. Mindfulness sets the foundation for creating awareness and using that awareness to live with conscious intention. In order to facilitate our own personal growth, we have to be able to accurately assess our environment, both internally and externally, so we can make effective decisions about how we want to show up in our lives. This is the essence of living consciously, the first pillar of self esteem.
You can practice the skill of mindfulness by recognizing when you get lost in either your thoughts or emotions, and learning to center yourself by leveraging both to find the wisdom that lies between, what practitioners of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) refer to as the “wise mind” from which living consciously becomes far more accessible. The pathway to building a positive sense of self begins with the practice of living consciously.
2. Show yourself plenty of compassion to master self-acceptance.
As you begin a practice of living consciously, you may become acutely aware of the judgements you hold toward yourself. Such judgements feed on insecurities like a wildfire and can diminish one’s sense of value in a world governed by celebrities, influencers, and social capital (aka the value of your network and connections). When you become aware of such judgements, recognize it as an opportunity to treat yourself with kindness and respect.
Branden (1994) identified the second pillar of self-esteem as the practice of self-acceptance and described it as a precondition to change and growth. To accept oneself is to make a conscious choice to value yourself, to be your own friend and ally, and to fully experience reality as it appears to you. The practice of self-acceptance allows you to live in love and truth rather than in fear and denial so that you can learn and grow from each and every experience life has to offer you.
3. Take ownership of your well-being to practice self-responsibility.
Through a practice of self-acceptance, you may come to realize that while some things are well within your control, there are many others that are well beyond your control. Building off the first two pillars of self-esteem, the third pillar works to protect self-esteem. The practice of self-responsibility challenges you to discern between what is up to you and what is simply not.
When living unconsciously or in denial of uncomfortable truths, the path of least resistance may light your way — but is it even in a direction you want to be going? To engage with the world in such a way can be detrimental to your self-esteem. Trying to control things you can’t or denying responsibility for things you can can be erosive to the self-esteem.
The practice of self-responsibility puts you back in the driver seat of your life. When you start taking ownership of your dreams, goals, and outcomes — and even your failures, mistakes, and shortcomings — things don’t just happen TO you for you to suffer in pain but rather FOR you to evolve and adapt.
4. Learn how to advocate for yourself to build your muscles of self-assertiveness.
Once you start practicing self-responsibility, you begin to recognize all the ways you have inadvertently given your personal power away by living your life according to everyone else’s standards and expectations but your own. This strategy for survival can dramatically compromise your self-esteem without the previously discussed practices supporting the weight of your ego — that part of you that thrives on other people’s approval and needs to be validated or accepted at all costs.
The practice of self-assertiveness refers to honoring your needs, wants and values and expressing them in an ecological way that works for not just you, but also for others, society, and the world. When you’re practicing self-assertiveness, there is a willingness to stand up for yourself, to be who you are openly, and to treat yourself with respect in all interactions (Branden, 1994).
You can practice self-assertiveness simply by living by your own set of standards and learning to say no to other people’s expectations of you if they are not yours or aligned with your values. The foundation needed for self-esteem to develop becomes much more stable when you become your own ally and advocate.
5. Set daily intentions and weekly goals to practice living purposefully.
To live without purpose means to live at the mercy of chance because there’s no standard by which to judge whether something is worth doing or not (Branden, 1994). To live with purpose, on the other hand, means using of all of the personal power you have to achieve meaningful goals that propel you forward and energize your existence (Branden, 1994).
When you set intentions and goals for yourself, you are in essence living on purpose rather than by accident. Think of intentions as how you want to show up (or how you want others to show up for you) when completing a task, and think of goals as a specific outcome your are working toward accomplishing by doing that task. Intentions and goals are the building blocks of productivity, an element of self-esteem worth noting.
Healthy self-esteem requires you to support your own existence by setting goals and actively working towards achieving them. However, it’s not the achievement itself that proves our worth or right to exist; it is in the process of achieving by which we develop our competency to function in the world and the skills necessary to cope with the basic challenges of everyday living —taking care of yourself, managing your schedule, balancing priorities, paying bills, and completing chores, among other things.
The practice of living purposefully, the fifth pillar of self-esteem, allows you to cultivate self-esteem by integrating all pillars to help you remain on path and on purpose through the actions you take daily. When you are productive in working toward your goals or changing your situation, you are building self-esteem one action at a time.
6. Cultivate alignment between what you do and say by committing to personal integrity.
The easiest way to erode self-esteem is by saying your going to do something and then not doing it. When your actions and behaviors are incongruent with your values and convictions, a breach of integrity occurs that wounds the self-esteem.
While most issues of integrity may be small (like snoozing your wake up alarm), their accumulated weight can compromise your self-esteem as you start losing face with yourself. With each lapse of integrity, you stop respecting yourself until you reach a point when you can’t even trust yourself anymore. Integrity is the only way to heal such wounds to the esteem.
The practice of personal integrity is the final pillar of self-esteem that serves as your own personal moral code. Without it, you have no basis from which to make the best possible decisions for yourself. You can practice personal integrity by clarifying what matters most to you and questioning the standards that govern your world.
Nurture Self-Esteem By Practicing These Skills
Self-esteem is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Think of the six pillars as different muscle groups that collectively work together to form a healthy and strong self-esteem.
Each time you practice living consciously, embracing self-acceptance, exercising self-responsibility, embodying self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and behaving with personal integrity, you are building a healthy and positive self-esteem.
Self-Esteem Counseling at Soul 2 Soul Healing
Soul 2 Soul Healing offers self-esteem counseling for teens and young adults who want to feel more confident in themselves. If you’re looking for a self-esteem therapist in El Segundo, please reach out to us today.
Branden, N. (1994). The six pillars of self-esteem. Bantom Books.