The concept of self-esteem remains cloudy: some individuals seem not to have enough while others have so much that it may resemble something more like narcissism. That said, however, defining and implementing self-esteem may not remain an easy task, which is what brought psychologist Nathanial Branden to publish his seminal work, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” in 1969.
According to Branden, self-esteem remains an extension of an individual’s ability to reason. Strongly influenced by the philosophy of the Russian-born author Ayn Rand, Branden argued that “we are rational beings in full control of our destiny,” as writer Tom Butler-Bowdon puts it. So, what, according to Branden, makes a person have self-esteem?
Learning to rise above one’s turbulent emotional state, according to Branden, is the mark of the psychologically mature person; or, in other words, learning to “think in terms of principles, not emotions” remains the prime way of developing psychological maturity.
According to Butler-Bowdon, when a person gets caught up in the emotions of the moment, he or she may lose sight of the bigger picture. Self-doubt—the antithesis of self-esteem—can be overcome through the use of reason, an ability to apply abstract guiding principles to concrete situations. Moreover, “neurosis,” as Butler-Bowdon writes, “occurs when we let our feelings dictate our thoughts and actions.” That said, then, one path to self-esteem is through allowing our actions to be guided by our rational selves. “Brandon disabuses the reader of the idea that self-esteem is a ‘feel-good phenomenon’,” Butler-Bowdon explains. “Rather, it is a deep need that cannot be satisfied by shallow means.” He adds: “We think of happiness as an emotion, but it is one that stems from values [author’s emphasis] that have been conscientiously chosen and developed . . . .”
One important aspect of Brandon’s work on self-esteem remains his idea of developing your “true self.” This idea is rather simple: individuals who cultivate a strong sense of self-esteem also stay true to who they are, developing principles based on reason, and not relaxing those principles when facing challenges.
The concept remains a powerful, inspiring one.
Also, as articulated by Butler-Bowdon, Brandon’s concept of self-esteem remains premised on the idea that “. . . we are rational beings in full control of our destiny.” He explains further: “If we accept this truth and take responsibility for it, we naturally see ourselves in a good light. If we fail to take responsibility for our life and actions, that estimation falls into danger.” Therefore, staying true to who you are involves a sense of personal responsibility.
It may, however, take time to build such a personal concept. When one falls into depression or self-doubt, Brandon argues, it is the result of improper training of one’s mind. He described it this way: “The collapse of self-esteem is not reached in a day, a week, or a month: it is the cumulative result of a long succession of defaults, evasions, and irrationalities—a long succession of failures to use one’s mind properly.” Finally, self-esteem remains obtainable, and with the proper attitude and state of mind, it may endure.
Brandon was writing a time when two schools of thought had dominated psychology: Freudian psychoanalysis and behaviorism. How, then, did these two schools of thought explore the concept of self-esteem?
Answer: they didn’t.
Brandon’s work remains important for that reason. That other approaches to psychology largely ignored self-esteem, how to obtain it and what it actually is, remained troubling to Brandon, which prompted him to write “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” and other related works such as “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.”
In addition, Brandon’s work has endured, and, according to Butler-Bowdon, it “still has the power to change minds.” If an individual develops and practices Brandon’s concept of self-esteem, he or she may enjoy the power of it. Finally, it may be important to change the way self-esteem is popularly thought of. Rather than an emotion, perhaps self-esteem ought to be thought of as the result of rational thinking, as urged by Brandon.
Bowdon, T. (2007). 50 psychology classics who we are, how we think, what we do : Insight and inspiration from 50 key books. London: Nicholas Brealey Pub.