(intro music: You Appearing by M83)
"Without self-acceptance, self-esteem is impossible", writes Dr. Nathaniel Branden in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.
What is self-esteem and why does it matter? Self-esteem is the way in which one experiences themselves. A person with healthy self-esteem experiences themselves as capable of handling life's basic challenges and as being worthy of love and happiness. A person with unhealthy self-esteem experiences themselves as being incapable of handling life's difficulties and as being unworthy of joy and love.
Self-esteem matters because how you experience yourself will affect your success in every area of your life. It determines the goals your set for yourself, the partner you choose, the risks you are willing to take, how well you care for your own health and well-being, and so much more. Self-esteem is so critical to a high quality of life, and yet there are so many false definitions of self-esteem being spread around, even by well-meaning professionals. As a result, this critical centerpiece of a life well-lived has been deemed unnecessary of considering or fostering.
"It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior." - Nathaniel Branden
For example, self-esteem is too often described as believing yourself to be better than others or as seeing yourself as "special" in comparison to others. This is nonsense. Sure there are people who go about self-esteem wrongly, and try to foster it by being better than other people. This does not mean that self-esteem is about being better than other people any more than people following fad diets that are restrictive and ultimately harmful in the name of being healthy means that health is about restrictive fad diets that make people unwell.
Anyone who has ever suffered from debilitatingly low self-esteem, as I have, knows that the goal is to finally get to a place where you can live your life as a person with a deep inner sense that you are as able and as worthy as those around you, not more capable or more worthy.
So where do you begin if you want to foster healthier self-esteem? You begin by practicing self-acceptance. This is the basis of a positive self-experience.
There are 3 levels to effectively accepting yourself:
"Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself." -The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem
1. To be for yourself; to be on your own side
To be for yourself-to be on your own side-is a primal internal interest in the self. It is a sense of mattering that stems from the fact that you are alive and conscious. It is your birthright. It is the voice of your inner life force that says "I deserve to exist". It is this voice that will keep you going when you feel like giving up, that will lift you out of your deepest moments of despair, that will encourage your to call for help when you can't find your own strength. It is from this position as your own advocate that you will choose to treat yourself with respect and to value yourself. One must possess this basic attitude of self-affirmation in order to practice essential self-love and develop self-esteem.
2. To willingly accept (rather than disown) and experience the full reality of yourself
To fully accept the reality of yourself is to be willing to see and experience yourself as your truly are. It is the refusal to disown any part of yourself- your body, your thoughts, your feelings, your behavior, your dreams. You accept all of it. As you feel, think, do, respond, you are willing to see and accept these as an expression of yourself, regardless of whether you like or dislike what you observe. You do not try to deny, rationalize or explain any of it away. You remain present with what is happening. You practice respect for reality as it applies to the self. It is when you can accept that the thoughts, feelings, reactions you have are yours that you are free to learn from them and grow and improve. You cannot learn from an expression of yourself that you deny you have. You cannot forgive yourself for an action you do not acknowledge having taken. To begin to live more consciously, for instance, is to accept that we sometimes live unconsciously.
3. To be a friend to yourself; to practice self-compassion
Since self-acceptance does not deny reality, it requires that we acknowledge when something we have done is not all right. But that doesn't mean that we judge ourselves harshly and engage in self-criticism. We also acknowledge the fact that we are imperfect and will make mistakes. Therefore, when we make a mistake we extend compassion to ourselves by trying to understand what prompted this behavior. We extend the same gentleness to ourselves that we would a dear friend who has erred in some way. You can condemn an action but still have a compassionate interest in why it occurred. Being self-compassionate is not the same as eschewing responsibility. It is after you take responsibility for an action that you can go deeper and learn from it without any self-rejection or repudiation.
In short, self-acceptance requires that you affirm your innate worth and right to exist, that you accept and willingly experience your whole self without denial or rejection, and that you act as a gentle, compassionate friend to yourself whenever you make a mistake or find yourself struggling.
How are you at practicing self-acceptance? What parts of your being might you embrace more willingly? How can you be more compassionate to yourself in your life?