The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem


I’ll be honest and say self-esteem is not something I have ever struggled with. I’m fairly confident, and have always been, but I know many others wrestle with this issue quite a bit.

I wanted to find out what causes me to be confident by default, and since I knew I was going to write about it later, I wanted to find ways to help others with their struggle.

So, I read this book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field, by Nathaniel Branden. I was surprised to find that the book had a lot of great information within it. It was also relatively short, so I read it in a few hours.

As I’m sure this information would prove useful to someone out there, I decided to share what’s in the book briefly, but I still recommend you read the book for yourself if you find it interesting.

That being said, let’s get to it.

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem


“Apart from disturbance who roots are biological, I cannot think of a single psychological problem – from anxiety and depression, to underachievement at school or at work, to fear of intimacy, happiness, or success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spouse battering or child molestation, to co-dependency and sexual disorders, to passivity and chronic aimlessness, to suicide and crimes of violence – that is no traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem. Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.”

Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

Nathaniel Branden is a new author to me personally, but having read up on him, I now realize he was “kind of a big deal”. He was a well known American psychotherapist, whose work (at least in literature) focused mostly around self-esteem. So, he devoted most of his life to this idea – we can safely assume he’s an expert in this field even before opening the book. That’s always reassuring.

Branden mentions his relationship with Ayn Rand (a rather controversial figure herself) quite a few times in his book. They worked together for a long period of time and were close acquaintances. Rand broke her relations with Branden publicly in 1968, and from what I gathered (although it is confusing), Rand didn’t approve of what Branden was doing in his personal life, and that resulted in a fiery conflict and public denouncement of Branden by Rand. I’ll have to read up more on that to actually figure out what happened, if I ever get the time. Either way Rand seems to have had big impact on Branden, and that somehow ties to this book.

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem itself was published in 1994, and it is Branden’s most popular book. It deals with exactly what’s on the title.

What are the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem?

Pillar 1:

The Practice of Self-Esteem


“What determines the level of self-esteem is what the individual does.”

First we have to understand something fundamental about this book, and self-esteem itself. Self-esteem is not an idea. It’s a practice.

We can talk about ideas, memorize inspiring words, and be left with an understanding of something. But ultimately it’s not what we think, but what we DO that leads to our self-esteem.

“A ‘practice’ implies a discipline of acting in a certain way over and over again – consistently. It is not action by fits and starts, or even an appropriate response to a crisis. Rather, it is a way operating day by day, in big issues and small, a way of behaving that is also a way of being.”

It is important to understand this as you read a long, as simply thinking about these ideas is not enough. If you want to achieve a better self-esteem, you need to put these thoughts into practice. Starting immediately as you learn about them.

Pillar 2:

The Practice of Living Consciously


“Sentence-completion work is a deceptively simple yet uniquely powerful tool for raising self-understanding, self-esteem and personal effectiveness. It rests of the premise that all of us have more knowledge than we normally are aware of — more wisdom than we use, more potentials than typically show up in our behavior. Sentence completion is a tool for accessing and activating these ‘hidden resources.'”

The practice of living consciously is the first pillar of self-esteem.

This practice is mentioned in many of the chapters in the book, so Branden does come back to this idea over and over again. It’s a very simple concept to grasp, and it works well.

The basic idea here is to create a sentence stem (for example, “Living consciously to me means…”) and then go on to create 6 to 10 completions to that same sentence. Of course these sentences should be grammatically correct, and that is the only rule. As you create these sentences, write them down quickly, don’t stop to think. In Branden’s words: Any ending is fine, just keep going

Some examples from the book:

  • Living consciously to me means…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities today…
  • if I pay more attention to how I deal with people today…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my insecurities then…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my priorities then…

Pillar 3:


The Practice Of Self-Acceptance

“We can run not only from our dark side but also from our bright side – from anything that threatens to make us stand out or stand alone, or that calls for the awakening of the hero within us, or that asks that we break through to a higher level of consciousness and reach a higher ground of integrity. The greatest crime we commit against ourselves is not that we may deny or disown our shortcoming but that we deny and disown our greatness – because it frightens us. If a fully realized self-acceptance does not evade the worst within us, neither does it evade the best.”

This is probably the most important pillar for people to get right on their journey to having great self-esteem. It’s no surprise, but most people don’t live in a world (in their head) where they can just accept themselves as the person they are. There’s always something wrong, or things could be better. Yeah, you may be right, there are some things that are wrong about you, but that doesn’t mean you have to obsess over every tiny detail other people probably won’t even notice.

This chapter can be summed up in this sentence: “my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself.”

Branden even goes to further emphasize the point that this pillar is very important on becoming a person with high self-esteem:

“As a psychotherapist I see nothing does as much for an individual’s self-esteem as becoming aware of an accepting disowned parts of the self. The first steps of healing and growth are awareness and acceptance – consciousness and integration.”

Accept yourself as you are, fix the problems you can fix, and the other stuff – well, if you can’t change it, don’t worry about it.

Pillar 4:

The Practice Of Self-Responsibility


“I am responsible for my choices and actions. To be ‘responsible’ in this context means responsible not as the recipient of moral blame or guilt, but responsible as the chief causal agent in my life and behavior.”

Simple enough to understand. Practice self-responsibility. Try to take the responsibility for your actions more and more, for it is important.

This is something Jordan B. Peterson advocates for too, but he also adds that to live a fulfilling life, one should seek responsibilities, not avoid them.

I suggest you start taking on more responsibilities, too.

Pillar 5:


The Practice Of Self-Assertiveness

“To practice self-assertiveness is to live authentically, to speak and act from my innermost convictions and feelings – as a way of life, as a rule.”

In essence, be REAL. Real about yourself, your intentions, and everything else in your life.

Don’t let other people overpower your opinion with theirs. Other people shouldn’t change your opinion, if they haven’t given enough data to support that change. Stand your ground. Be yourself.

Here’s more: “Warren Bennis, our preeminent scholar of leadership, tells us that the basic passion in the best leaders he has studied is for self-expression. Their work is clearly a vehicle for self-actualization. Their desire is to bring ‘who they are’ into the world, into reality, which I speak of as the practice of self-assertiveness.”

Pillar 6:


The Practice Of Living Purposefully

“To live purposefully is to use our powers for the attainment of goals we have selected: the goal of studying, of raising a family, of earning a living, of starting a new business, of bringing a new product into the marketplace, of solving a scientific problem, of building a vacation home, of sustaining a happy romantic relationship. Is is our goals that lead us forward, that call on the exercise of our faculties, that energize our existence.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will have seen something similar to this being uttered before. It is no surprise (at least to me) that to live a meaningful live, you must have goals to aim for.

What are your goals?

What inspires you? What do you think is truly important?(Not what others around you think is important) Think about it, and set a goal for yourself.

The End

I’ll end this review a little abruptly, as we’ve gone through the six pillars in the book already. The rest of the book is used to talk about self-discipline, competence, personal integrity and talking about how small improvements are big.

I’m not saying those points aren’t important, but I think you get the idea for the book from reading the six pillars themselves. If it seems interesting, yes, I do recommend it.

Buy it here: The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field

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