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What is Self-Esteem? - Definition, Six Pillars & Issues

Instructor: Carrie Hill

Carrie enjoys teaching psychology at the college level, and has a master's degree in counseling.

High self-esteem is linked to both physical and psychological health. Read this lesson to learn exactly what self-esteem is, and how it can be improved.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem: you may remember it from every after school special ever created. It's the topic of school assemblies, self-help books, and magazine articles galore. But what exactly is self-esteem? And why is it such a big deal?

Generally speaking, we can think of self-esteem as the extent to which we approve of and respect ourselves. It's our personal evaluation of our own worth, and may not reflect our actual talents and abilities. It's strictly our opinion: how we feel about ourselves.

Nathaniel Branden was a leading expert in the field of self-esteem, and wrote extensively on the topic. According to Branden (1995), self-esteem is made up of two main components:

Self-efficacy: Confidence in our ability to cope with life's challenges.

Self-respect: Believing that we are deserving of happiness, achievement and love.

So, if we have self-esteem we are confident in our abilities, and feel that we deserve happiness.

The Six Pillars of Self Esteem

Pillars of Self-Esteem
pillars in a row

Branden believed that self-esteem comes from within us, and is based on six practices that we take part in. He called the practices the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, meaning that they support the development of high self-esteem. The more we participate in these practices, the stronger our self-esteem becomes.

1. The first pillar is the practice of living consciously. This means that we're present in each moment and aware of what's going on inside of us as well as around us. We don't ignore information that we don't like, and we pay attention to our emotions. People who are living consciously are able to focus on what is happening now, and to stop thinking about the past and the future.

2. Self-acceptance is the second pillar. It means that we accept ourselves unconditionally. We are compassionate toward ourselves even when we don't admire our own feelings or decisions. These factors do not change our respect for ourselves.

3. Self-responsibility means recognizing that we're in charge of our own choices and actions, and that no one else can make them, change them, or fix them for us. We don't blame others for our own choices, and don't expect others to make us happy.

4. Self-assertiveness is the fourth pillar. It's the practice of honoring our needs and interests and of expressing them in appropriate ways. We know that it's okay to have needs, and that it's acceptable to let others know about them in a healthy way.

5. Living purposefully is all about our goals. If we're living purposefully, we set goals, and make plans that will allow us to reach them. We live with these goals in mind.

6. The last pillar of self-esteem is personal integrity. This means that we have convictions about what behavior is appropriate, and we keep our behavior in line with that standard. You might summarize this pillar by saying that we 'walk our talk.'

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