Jim A.

Raising one's self-esteem

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I know Nathanael Branden wrote some book on raising one's self-esteem, but I'm dubious about reading that. For myself, I'll put forth an assertion: that a person usually makes better decisions about things in their life when his or her self-esteem is high, even better if it's very high. But if one at present does not have good self-esteem, does that mean he or she is predetermined to make poor decisions?

Absolutely not. But there is a cycle that a person can easily fall into: when their self-esteem is low, they make poor decisions; those poor decisions lead to consequences that further lower the person's esteem of himself; then he makes more poor--or poorer--decisions; self-esteem goes down further, and so on. But just as it is safe to say that the person can stop at any time and focus, and, as painful as it may be, make a rational, thought-out decision about something, even if their emotions are tugging at them to do the opposite, is it not also safe to say that the person can take the approach: Act as if you have self-esteem already, and self-esteem will come? Is it not conceivable that one way a person can raise their self-esteem is to take those actions that they would naturally want to take if their self-esteem was high, even though their self-esteem at present would almost seem to make that impossible?

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Is it not conceivable that one way a person can raise their self-esteem is to take those actions that they would naturally want to take if their self-esteem was high, even though their self-esteem at present would almost seem to make that impossible?

I think that self-esteem is a rather broad, more general assessment of oneself, and that one's specific actions are more reflective of self-esteem (or its lack) than its immediate source. Not to imply that self-esteem is divorced from action -- quite the contrary -- but simply acting as if one had the self-esteem one lacks, does not really address the problem at its source.

Doing what is right and not acting against one's interests will have existential value even if not motivated from within, but I think the real issue in regard to self-esteem has to be addressed on a more fundamental basis.

The writings on self-esteem in the Objectivst literature -- quite a few articles in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist -- offer a lot in both theoretical understanding and in practical advice.

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Act as if you have self-esteem already, and self-esteem will come? Is it not conceivable that one way a person can raise their self-esteem is to take those actions that they would naturally want to take if their self-esteem was high, even though their self-esteem at present would almost seem to make that impossible?

First of all, I highly recommend Nathaniel Branden's writings in "The Objectivist".

But to answer your question: I think you might be confusing feelings with conclusions. Self-esteem means that one regards oneself as both worthy and capable of achieving one's values. This is a conscious assessment, even though there are related emotions.

I would say that fundamentally, acting based on reason is what one should do, and that even if feelings of self-doubt rear their ugly head, then one must remind oneself of the truth of the matter and proceed with one's own best judgment. This can be complicated, because sometimes self-doubt is justified, and the emotion is a valid reminder to revisit some premises. But if after revisiting you honestly can't see a valid reason for the self-doubt, then the proper thing to do is follow reason and persevere in your value-pursuit.

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I would add one more thought: In case one's self-esteem is justifiably low (because you betrayed your values and know it), then one must still have self-esteem: one must regard oneself as worth and able to improve one's self-esteem, i.e., make better choices in the future. This should be held as a rational conviction not a feeling. It is authentic self-esteem, albeit a lower self-esteem than one could and should have.

The only time this would not apply was if you had committed a grievous crime and deserved death, or were on your deathbed.

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I know Nathanael Branden wrote some book on raising one's self-esteem, but I'm dubious about reading that.

...

s it not also safe to say that the person can take the approach: Act as if you have self-esteem already, and self-esteem will come? Is it not conceivable that one way a person can raise their self-esteem is to take those actions that they would naturally want to take if their self-esteem was high, even though their self-esteem at present would almost seem to make that impossible?

Re: The Psychology of Self-Esteem, this is an excellent book. The basic formulations were arrived at with the considerable assistance of Ayn Rand and the book is a good introduction to the issue. Branden's later books are a hodge-podge, a marketing of his "Pillars of Self-Esteem" workshops, dubious, manipulative techniques ("guided" questions that assume the answer, etc.), and redundancy, and even some mysticism, thanks to ex-wife Devers Branden. The first book is "safe" :) and useful.

"Acting as if" one had high self-esteem is, essentially, faking reality and doomed to failure. Self-esteem (derived from L. ├Žstimare "to value, appraise,") is arrived at by observing reality; your moral virtues and deficiencies, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. You achieve self-esteem by accomplishments, some small, some large. It takes effort. One cannot just fake their way to self-esteem, as the public schools would have it. What, exactly, would you be feeling good about?

If you want to orient your life more towards reality, which is necessary for achieving your goals in reality, how would it benefit you to repeat, as the Logical Positivists did: "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better?" Or, "I'm strong and attractive and successful and women [or men] admire me," If this is not actually the case. Your mind, if it is not completely broken -- and obviously, yours is not for you to be seeking honest answers -- would be screaming: "No, I'm not!...no, they don't! What the hell are you talking about?!?" Maybe all it would take for those things to be true would be to join a gym and start working out, take some college classes and raise your marketability and knowledge, get a haircut, or take up ballroom dancing. But, to assess where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there, you need to be honest with yourself. From personal experience, I've been in a rut or two in my life and taken conscious, continued action and made my life better and self-esteem was a consequence, not a cause. Start with taking stock.

And that means that faking reality is out.

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Re: The Psychology of Self-Esteem, this is an excellent book. The basic formulations were arrived at with the considerable assistance of Ayn Rand and the book is a good introduction to the issue.

Yes, and I believe Ayn Rand edited the essays.

Self-esteem is essentially your overall evaluation of yourself. A good, healthy self-esteem means that you've made an objective assessment of yourself and came up with positive results. Like any judgement, you need to be objective and honest, and you need to have a standard by which to judge. That means having a good, clear idea of what makes someone a good person.

It also means knowing what matters to you personally, what makes you happy and what you want out of life, not just abstractly, but clearly and concretely where it counts. For instance, if you aren't happy with your appearance or driving a beat-up economy car, do something about it. You'll find that with the effort to fix up your appearence and get a car you care about, you care more about your own life in general. It means valuing yourself enough to enjoy your life and feel worthy of rewarding yourself when you accomplish things.

What Alan said about self-esteem being a consequence is true. The first thing is to set goals for things that matter to you. Then go after them. As you achieve them, you can look at yourself and feel pride for reaching that goal. As you pursue multiple goals across the range of your life, you'll find that you develop an overall sense that you are a good person; you develop a sense of self-admiration.

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But just as it is safe to say that the person can stop at any time and focus, and, as painful as it may be, make a rational, thought-out decision about something, even if their emotions are tugging at them to do the opposite, is it not also safe to say that the person can take the approach: Act as if you have self-esteem already, and self-esteem will come? Is it not conceivable that one way a person can raise their self-esteem is to take those actions that they would naturally want to take if their self-esteem was high, even though their self-esteem at present would almost seem to make that impossible?

I think there is an inherent contradiction here. Self-esteem is mind-esteem.* Your mind is your self, and self-esteem is an indicator of one's confidence in his own mind. Specifically, it is confidence that you can know reality, make sound judgments and decisions, solve problems, and so on. A person with low self-esteem does not view himself as capable of making good judgments or decisions. So, I don't know how such a person can "act as if" he has self-esteem. Would that mean that he goes ahead and makes a decision and tells himself that it's based on good judgment even if he's not sure it is? I think this would be attempting something impossible.

That being said, the idea of the possible value of taking an action in spite of strong emotions against it as a means of changing irrational thoughts has merit. For instance, a number of Behaviorist treatments in psychology use this approach. It's based on the commonly understood idea that most things aren't as bad as we make them in our minds. So, you get someone to confront a fear by putting them in the situation that elicits it (with appropriate preparation and safeguards, of course), and sure enough they see that it's not that bad. Do this enough times with other forms of treatment and it's quite successful.

However, if you want to see some truly incredible examples of this, watch the television show "The Dog Whisperer." I have only seen two episodes, but this guy is truly one of the best psychologists I've ever seen. What you'll see is that he is really getting the owners to change their behavior, which impacts the dog's behavior. However, what I noticed was that as the owners started acting more confident and in control, the good reaction by the dogs shows the owner the progress they have made. There is immediate "feedback" on the success of their actions, and you can see a change in their own self-esteem and confidence. It's really quite amazing.

* I acknowledge that people can feel badly about themselves because of a physical problem, and that this can contribute to low self-esteem. However, I think it might be more appropriate to call this a problem with body image rather than low self-esteem as such. It's arguable, though.

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Just making a standalone point here about "raising one's self-esteem"...

You raise your self-esteem by not ignoring your reasoning of the world and not trying to evade reality. The (subconscious) knowledge that you are acting in conformance to reality, gives you a certainty that raises your self-esteem and keeps it intact even in face of failures or losses or errors.

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