What You Don’t Know About Building True Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is defined as having confidence in your abilities and your own worth as a person. That much is pretty obvious, but what isn’t often so obvious is how to get more of it.

Sure, there are countless little tips and tricks out there that claim to help, but when it comes straight down to it, if you can’t see the bigger picture of what’s going on and what you really should be working on, it’s easy to get pretty lost in all those morning affirmations or nighttime journal entries in hopes of having some sort of self-esteem breakthrough at some point.

Story of my life. I thought that my main goal was to just simply improve my overall level of self-esteem, but it turns out there are several other major practices and habits that I have to adopt first before I can make that happen. According to Nathaniel Branden’s book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, these practices are what everyone ought to strive to master if they ever want to experience a true transformation in self-esteem.

You have to live consciously. All this means is being totally aware of what you’re doing and where you are. That sounds simple, but it’s really not. Think about how often you let your mind just go on autopilot, not just in your thoughts, but in all your actions, too. Living consciously means being aware and attentive enough to maintain control of everything you think and do on consistent basis, so you can make smart decisions rather than being a slave to impulsive behavior.

You have to be willing to accept yourself as you are. This one sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Self-esteem is all about improving yourself, so how can you accept the way you are now? One important point Branden makes in his book is that self-acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like yourself. Acceptance and liking are two completely different things. You can still be fully accepting of the way you are right now even if you don’t like it, while still having the intention of working to improve yourself.

You have to take full responsibility for yourself and your entire life. Many people think responsibility means always being in control. They mistakenly believe that anything they don’t have control over must not be their responsibility. For example, someone whose genetics make them more susceptible to weigh gain and therefore lower self-esteem might understand that they don’t have control over their genes, therefore assuming they aren’t responsible for them. This is the wrong way to interpret what life throws in your way. To be self-responsible means to deal with anything and everything that you experience—good or bad, whether you have control over it or not—without any expectation that someone or something else will handle it for you.

You have to be self-assertive. To be self-assertive means to honor your wants, need, and values while actively seeking to express and realize them. For people who have made a lifelong habit out of holding their thoughts and feelings back, trying to live up to other people’s expectations and fearing what other people might think of them, this can be a difficult practice to adopt on a consistent basis. But ask yourself this: If you decided to live just five percent more assertively, what would that do for you? Start with that, and grow slowly from there.

You have to live purposefully. It’s really hard to feel good about yourself when you feel like you have no direction or purpose in life, isn’t it? If there’s anything that society struggles with, it’s the fact that most people never discover or fully develop their purposes. This can take a lot internal work, experimentation and even failure to find exactly what’s most meaningful to you. But even if takes you years, it’s well worth the effort.

You must have integrity. Integrity is the behavioral integration of what you know is fair, honest and morally right. What’s interesting about this particular practice is that Branden says most people’s problems with integrity aren’t huge and obvious—but rather the accumulated weight of smaller issues over time. For example, those little white lies that you’ve made a habit out of telling everyone you meet may eventually become strong enough to have an impact on your sense of self. This can be complicated even more by standards you’ve set for yourself that are possibly mistaken or irrational, which must be questioned if you become aware enough to realize they’re leading you down a path of self-destruction.

These aren’t practices you learn to master once and then expect to live an easy life of high self-esteem forever and ever until the end of time. Just like the maintenance of your physical health that takes consistent healthy eating and exercise, good mental health and personal growth is a lifelong journey that requires self-discipline and established habits.

Which practice (or practices) do you struggle with the most? If you’d like more info on getting stuff done and becoming a better person, check out my list of helpful lifestyle tips for some extra inspiration and guidance.

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Photo Credit: Jozef Turóci


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

B.J. M.
DJ M3 years ago

good to know the time i've put into developing these traits has been well spent! (more to do, of course - we are 'works in progress;)

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn3 years ago

Many thanks to you !

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H3 years ago

“You have to live consciously.” Working on this. I do it part-time. Now if I could train myself not to spend so much time on C2 and instead focus on going to bed earlier (because I love getting up early), I’d be there…

“You have to be willing to accept yourself as you are.” Yes, warts and all.

“You have to take full responsibility for yourself and your entire life.” Entire life? Why was I responsible for the things that went pear-shaped in my childhood? I am responsible for the way I’ve grown around these things, to make the most of life in spite of them.

“You have to be self-assertive.” Yes. Sometimes it leads me into conflict, but that beats silent resentment.

“You have to live purposefully.” Yes. I know the life I want and what my goals are.

“You must have integrity.” Yes, apart from occasional white lies (but those can spare other people’s feelings…

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H3 years ago

Good article! Yes, to Anne M who says that you have to go through a lot of crap to get there. I had to go through an experience known to drive some people to suicide. I came through it and won! That, and the happenings surrounding my healing, is the foundation of my self-esteem.

But it's not the same as being big-headed. The big-headed person thinks they are better than anyone else (probably they are insecure behind the front they put on.) With self-esteem everyone else is just as good as yourself, (unless they choose to sink, and that's their problem). But there are folk out there who still have to discover their self-esteem, and you can give them kind words and a helping hand.

Ricky T.
Ricky T3 years ago

Self-esteem, it's the pod you ride through life in...if it's not intact, it cracks ones life.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran3 years ago

great advice!

Michelle A.
Michelle a3 years ago

Great article!!!

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.