If You Do One Thing For Yourself In Life, Let It Be This.
Raise your self-esteem.
Following the breakdown of my last relationship, I realised that the one area of my life where I felt that I was ‘underperforming’ was in romantic relationships. I have strong and extremely rewarding long lasting relationships with friends. These relationships are deep and emotionally intimate in ways that I have not been able to experience in a romantic partnership. My romantic relationships haven’t been terrible, but they have lacked emotional depth and haven’t given me what I am truly searching for. From where I stand today in my self awareness I can see that I had been wearing a mask, not being my authentic self and not asking for what I need for fear of rejection or of not getting it. I would keep up the pretence that everything was OK until one day, I would have had enough and walk away; exasperated with the poor bloke because he didn’t give me what I needed. But how could he? He didn’t know what that was because I didn’t even know what it was!
I decided that this was an area that I wanted to work on and because I didn’t have a clue where to start (I don’t have any good relationship role models in my life) I decided to go to a therapist for some guidance. My therapist, Liz, almost immediately established that I had some issues around my relationship with my mum (big surprise, poor mums) but closely following this, she picked up on my feelings of low self-worth. Now, I’d never considered myself as someone with low self-esteem but when Liz started to point out to me some of the behaviours that demonstrated this, I realised that she probably had a point. ‘So how do I fix it?’ I said. She laughed.
Undeterred, I Googled it and I found this book. In the book, Nathaniel Braden identifies the six pillars of self-esteem as; consciousness, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposefulness and integrity. I’ll do a quick summary of each here;
You can walk through life in a daze, not fully aware of yourself or your actions; how your actions affect others; your emotions, wants, needs, drives, what brings you joy, what makes you angry or fearful and why. We can (and I did) avoid consciousness by using drugs or alcohol because becoming aware can be uncomfortable. Noticing that you are not getting what you want means that you might have to change, and change is scary. When we bring our awareness to all of these things without judgment, it is the first step towards actually knowing ourselves.
Next, you need to accept yourself. All of yourself. We all have parts of us that we would like to deny or disown; a part that someone maybe told us was bad way back in our formative years. We need to own these parts as much as we own our 'good' parts. We all makes mistakes and behave in ways that are out of alignment with our values from time to time. The only way that we can learn from our mistakes is if we accept them, own them and seek to do better in future. You don’t have to like what you did, just accept that you did it. From there, you can grow.
I love this one because it’s so empowering. Some people will hate it. Branden says in the book; ‘no one is coming’. This is your life. You have to take responsibility for yourself and how your life unfolds. What you achieve or don’t, how you behave towards others and the person that you become is all within your control. You are responsible for your choices and your actions. You are responsible for you or your successes or failures and how you use them. Take control and own it.
You have the right to exist, just because you do. You have the right to honour your wants, needs and values. They are as important as someone else’s. If you do not apply appropriate self-assertiveness you are a spectator, not a participant in life. Self-assertiveness means that we are willing to confront rather than avoid the challenges that life presents us with the confidence that our feelings are important.
Living purposefully means formulating your goals and purposes consciously, identifying the actions need to achieve your goals, checking that your behaviour is in line with your goals and paying attention to the outcomes of your actions. If you can achieve this, life will feel a lot more rewarding.
Integrity means congruence – words and behaviours match. Betraying your standards will make you feel bad and lower your self-esteem. Once you have the above in place, knowing what your standards are is a lot easier. I thought I had integrity until I started this work.
Learning these six pillars, and having them crystallised in my mind has changed the way that I view myself and my interactions with others. I’ll warn you - this book is not an easy read. At times you will be brought face to face with some aspects of yourself that you will not want to look at. Look anyway. It will be worth it.
In the appendices, Branden has put together a program of work which will enable you to address each of the areas above, week by week and thus raise your self-esteem. I would say that this work is probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done for myself. I feel like I know who I am and what I want better than I ever have. Every day that I practice the methods Branden outlines, I feel surer of myself, more confident and I feel my self-esteem rise. This is the foundation from which I will improve my romantic partnerships.