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Transcript of
Nathaniel Branden's Honoring the Self - Side 1

Every day, we present ourselves to the world. At work, we interact with people we like. At home, we relate to people we love. And we wonder: when others look at us, what do they see? The answer to this question is simple. Others see us the way we see ourselves. And this sense of ourselves, our self esteem, is the foundation on which we build our lives.

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden has been studying self esteem for nearly 30 years. His pioneering work in this field is known around the world and his writings have been published in 10 languages. In this insightful program, Doctor Branden shows you how self esteem is the basis of your success both at work and in love. He’ll help you see yourself better, so you’ll know better how others see you. And he’ll show you how to love and respect your inner self.

And now, the Nightingale Conant Corporation presents, Doctor Nathaniel Branden: Your guide to your living, thriving self.

You stand in the midst of an almost infinite network of relationships, to other people, to things, and to the universe. And yet at three o’clock in the morning, when you are alone with yourself, you realize that the most intimate and powerful relationship, the one you can never escape, is the relationship to yourself. No significant aspect of your thinking, motivation, feelings or behavior is unaffected by your self evaluation.

We are not only conscious but self-conscious. As human beings that is our glory and at times our burden. We ask ourselves:

“Who am I? What do I want?”

“Where am I going?”

“What’s my purpose in life?”

“Is my behavior appropriate to this purpose?”

“Am I proud or ashamed of my choices and actions?”

“Am I happy or unhappy to be who I am?”

You have the ability to ask these questions AND you have the ability to run from them. But the questions wait for your response. Even if you chose to pretend they don’t exist, or don’t concern you. They are there when you come home after a busy day at work, when you come home from a party, from the arms of a lover, from a political rally, or a religious encounter.

This program will be concerned with the ultimate human encounter. The relationship of the “I” to the “me”, of the ego to the self. The issues touched by this encounter reach into virtually every significant human experience, from the level of your self esteem, to the kind of person you are likely to fall in love with, to the ambitions and life goals you will set for yourself, to your most personal sense of what it means to be a human being.

At each step of the way you confront some form of the question, “Will I honor, or will I betray myself?” We rarely identify the issue in these terms. We often prefer not to know the nature of the choice we are making. But in the natural course of our lives, we face a variety of questions like these:

“Do I belong to myself or to others?”

“Is my main purpose to pursue my own happiness, and fulfill my own potential, or is it to comply with the wants and expectations of others?”

“Do I live by my own vision of life, or by the vision of others?”

“Is my basic concern with my own approval, or with the approval of others?”

How you relate to yourself affects how you relate to others and the world around you, just as how you relate to others and to the world affects how you relate to yourself. But we begin with the self, and we will end with the self. And why this is so will be clear by the time we arrive at the end of our road.

Today, selflessness is commonly regarded as a synonym of virtue, and selfishness as a synonym of evil. The presumed goal of spiritual evolution is considered to be self transcendence. In this context a program called “Honoring the Self” may sound strange, even disorienting. That is why the title was chosen. This program is grounded in the recognition that self esteem and personal autonomy are essential for human well being. Its focus is on the meaning of these states and how we can realize them. That goal is the guiding principle of all that you are about to hear.

It will take me the entire program to develop fully what I mean by “honoring the self,” but I offer a brief statement of its meaning here.

The first act of honoring the self is the assertion of consciousness. The choice to think, to be aware, to send the searchlight of consciousness outward toward the world, and inward toward your own being. To fail in this effort is to fail the self at the most basic level. To honor the self is to be willing to think independently, to live by your own mind, and to have the courage of your own perceptions and judgments.

To honor the self is to be willing to know not only what you think, but also what you feel, what you want, need, desire, suffer over, are frightened or angered by, and to accept your right to experience such feelings. The opposite of this attitude is denial, disowning, repression, self-repudiation. To honor the self is to preserve an attitude of self acceptance, which means to accept what you are without self criticism, without lying about who you are in a pretence aimed at deceiving either yourself or someone else. To honor the self is to live authentically. To speak and act on your innermost convictions and feelings. To honor the self is to refuse to accept unearned guilt, and to do your best to correct any guilt you may have earned. To honor the self is to be committed to your right to exist, which comes from the knowledge that your life belongs to you, and that you are not here on Earth to live up to somebody else’s expectations. To many people, this is a terrifying responsibility.

To honor the self is to be in love with your own life, in love with your possibilities for growth and for experiencing joy. In love with the process of discovery and exploring your uniquely human potential. To honor the self is to practice selfishness in the highest, noblest and least understood sense of that word. And this requires as we shall see, enormous independence, courage and integrity.

The two most striking characteristics of men and women who seek psychotherapy are a low level of self esteem and a condition of self alienation. In some crucial ways they do not feel appropriate to life and its requirements. They lack adequate contact with their inner world, with their needs, wants, feelings, thoughts, values and potential. Diminished in consciousness, they are estranged from their proper human estate. Large areas of the self lie undiscovered, unexpressed, unlived. They are sleepwalkers through their own existence.

But this group isn’t much different from the rest of us. In fact, it reflects the condition of most people, to varying degrees. No study has ever suggested that people in therapy are on average more troubled and demoralized than anyone else. Instead, they have simply chosen to confront problems of poor self esteem. They have chosen to seek better lives for themselves and to achieve better contact with the inner world of the self. In doing so, they offer us an opportunity to learn a good deal about the psychological condition of the general population.

I am a psychotherapist, and the context in which I speak is that intimate arena where it is always three o’clock in the morning. The private experience of the individual human being struggling to create a meaningful and fulfilling existence.

The conventional view of psychotherapy regards this struggle in terms of illness or disease, and sees people as somewhat helpless pawns manipulated by forces outside their control. In contrast I see the endeavor as potentially heroic. It contains all the elements of great myth or great drama. The beginning of self actualization entails breaking free of the gravitational pull of mother, father, and family, and continues with adventures, crisis, anxieties, rites of passage, victories and defeats, that are all part of the growth process. There are heights to be climbed, depths to be explored, adversities to be confronted in the world and in the mind. And finally, the terrible and exhilarating uncertainty concerning the outcome of the story. You are all on the hero’s journey.

In the course of this program you will see how the challenge to honor the self calls on the heroic possibilities of our nature. On the will to think, to understand, to remain true to our understanding, to struggle, to endure, to persevere, to remain open and responsive to life, sometimes in the face of dread, despair, confusion and loneliness.

This work represents a new examination of the role of self esteem in human development. To say it more personally, a new examination of the role of self esteem in your development and in your life.

Virtually all psychologists know there is some connection between the degree of a person’s self esteem and the degree of overall mental well being, just as there is between a condition of a person’s self esteem, and behavior and work and human relationships. And yet there has been surprisingly little study in this area. It is obvious that the concepts of honoring the self and self esteem are intimately related and in this program I’ll explore the nature of this relationship with you. I’ll talk about the role of self esteem in human life, the conditions necessary for positive self esteem, and the many ways your life is affected by your self-appraisal or self-assessment.

I’ll approach these same themes from a different angle when I discuss the ways that an individual either evolves or fails to evolve towards increasing autonomy, increasing independence. Here I use a perspective that is developmental as contrasted with the previous focus on the here and now. I will address the problem of self alienation and I’ll discuss how the self-alienated man or woman can move toward increasing wholeness, rediscovering and bringing into harmony different aspects of the self.

Throughout this program I will be concerned with the process of change, and how you can help yourself rise to higher levels of self esteem, autonomy, and an integrated experience of self. My goals are these:

one, to demonstrate specifically and concretely what ‘honoring the self’ means, and show the overwhelming importance of this issue to human life and well being.

Two, to examine the kinds of behaviors that either honor or betray the self.

Three, to develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of self esteem and how it determines the course of our lives.

Four, to show what the attainment of positive self esteem depends on.

Five, to explore the meanings of autonomy and individuation and the path to their realization.

And six, to point the way out of the widespread problems of self-alienation.

The overall purpose: to restore us to ourselves. To give us a stronger, healthier, happier sense of who we are, and what is possible to us.

xxGoethe wrote, “The greatest evil that can befall man is that he should come to think evil of himself”.

In this statement he was acknowledging a profound truth about human nature. The greatest barrier to happiness is having the sense that happiness is not your proper destiny. The greatest barrier to love is the secret fear that you are unlovable. The greatest barrier to achievement and success is not lack of talent or ability, but the fact that achievement and success, above a certain level, depends on your self-concept, your image of who you are and what is appropriate to you. This is the importance of self esteem.

Let’s begin by understanding what self esteem means. Unfortunately like so many other terms in psychology there is no generally agreed upon definition, and to assume that we all know what self esteem means is a mistake.

Let’s think this through together: A person who doesn’t feel confident to fly an airplane, design a computer program, or operate a business, doesn’t necessarily suffer from poor self esteem. But a physically healthy person who feels fundamentally inadequate to the normal challenges of life, such as earning a living, most certainly does.

A person who feels undeserving of the Noble prize or universal recognition for their artistic talents, again, does not necessarily lack good self esteem. But a person who feels undeserving of happiness, or unworthy of joy and reward in life, certainly does have a deficiency of self esteem.

Self esteem then, has to do with a fundamental sense of effectiveness and a fundamental sense of worth. With competence and worthiness in principle, high self esteem can best be understood as the integrated sum of self confidence and self respect. Self confidence is consciousness evaluating its own ability to understand and deal with reality. Self confidence is a mind trusting itself. Self respect is a feeling of personal worth, a sense of being entitled to assert one’s own legitimate interests and needs, and entitled to be happy.

Self esteem is an evaluation of your mind, your consciousness, and your person. It is not an evaluation of particular successes of failures, or an evaluation of particular knowledge and skills. You can be very confident of yourself generally, and still be uncertain in your abilities in certain social or other situations. And conversely, you can outwardly delight in your social savoir faire, let's say, and inwardly be self doubting and insecure. Going still further, you can be universally loved and not love yourself. You can be universally admired and not admire yourself. You can be widely regarded as brilliant, but think of yourself as intellectually inadequate. You can be a high achiever and still feel like a failure if you have not lived up to your own standards.

Living up to your own standards is an essential condition of high self esteem. The notion that self esteem is simply a function of how others see and evaluate you is false. We’ll discuss this in greater detail when we consider the factors that raise or lower self esteem.

I said earlier that positive self esteem is the experience that you are competent to live, and worthy of happiness, that you are appropriate to life – appropriate to its requirements and challenges. It’s even more precise to say that positive self esteem is your tendency to experience yourself in this way. Like any other feeling or state, it can be experienced more or less strongly at different times.

Self esteem is an orientation toward the self. Self esteem is the ultimate ground of consciousness. Ground to all particular experience. This is the single most important concept to be understood about its role in human psychology. It’s the foundation of everything else in our experience. To feel that you are competent to live means that you have confidence in the functioning of your mind. To have poor self esteem is to feel that you are inappropriate to life. That you are wrong. Not wrong about an issue or fact, but wrong as a person. Wrong in your being. With poor self esteem you respond to the challenges and joys of existence with a basic sense of inadequacy and unworthiness. You might judge yourself by relatively superficial criteria; whether or not you failed or succeeded at a particular task, whether or not you can get love, admiration, approval and so forth. If you do, your self esteem suffers. Certainly, it’s not as high or as healthy as it could be.

The people we are most likely to admire are precisely those who persevere in faithfulness to their own vision. Without a lot of positive reinforcement, without the understanding of others. Without their approval or their applause. In fact, often in the face of hostility and opposition. When we see people who are certain about themselves throughout life’s ups and downs, we sense that an unusual psychological achievement is involved. We may or may not realize that we are looking at high self esteem.

To the extent that you trust your mind to be effective, you will persevere when faced with difficult or complex challenges. With this trust, you are likely to succeed more often that fail. This in turn confirms and reinforces your sense of effectiveness. High self esteem seeks the stimulation of demanding goals. If you don’t trust your mind to be effective, chances are, you won’t persevere. And you are also then more likely, then, to fail rather than to succeed. This in turn confirms and reinforces your negative self evaluation. Low self esteem typically seeks the safety of the familiar and the undemanding or unchallenging.

If you enjoy healthy self esteem, you will value, rather than feel threatened by that same trait in others. People with poor self esteem end up in the company of their own kind. Shared fear and insecurity reinforce negative self assessments. And if you feel loveable and deserving of respect, you treat others well and expect them to treat you well, but if you feel unlovable and undeserving of respect and you are treated poorly, you put up with it and feel such is meant to be your fate. Low self esteem tends to generate depression and anxiety. If you feel that you lack effectiveness and worth, you will inevitably experience existence as frightening and futile.

While good self esteem is only one of the elements necessary for happiness, and doesn’t necessarily guarantee it, a high level of self confidence and self respect is closely related to the ability to enjoy life and be satisfied. High self esteem is a powerful force in the service of life.

Self esteem and pride are often confused, so I’d like to compare the two concepts. Self esteem as you’ve heard, pertains to an inner conviction of your fundamental effectiveness and worth. Pride pertains to the pleasure you take in yourself regarding specific achievements or actions, such as, “I’m proud that I did such and such.” Positive self esteem says, “I can”. Pride says, “I have”. The deepest pride you can experience then, is the pride of knowing, “I have achieved healthy self esteem,” because self esteem is a value that has to be earned and has to be maintained.

Pride is a positive emotional experience just like self esteem is. It is not a vice, but a virtue to be attained. It is a form of honoring the self.

Some people believe that human beings are unworthy by nature, for example, they believe that people are, “all equally miserable sinners in the sight of God”. Well, a person holding this belief would speak of the sin of pride and warn that ‘pride goeth before a fall’. I don’t share this experience. I regard it as evil and anti-life. I teach that human beings ought to feel pride in themselves, and that pride has to be earned.

Is it possible, you might ask, to have too high a level of high self esteem? Not if it’s genuine. And not some over-inflated estimation of value aimed at hiding a deficiency. No one would ask if it’s possible to enjoy too high a level of physical health. Health is an unqualified desirable. So is positive self esteem.

Genuine self esteem – please understand this – genuine self esteem is not competitive or comparative. Genuine self esteem isn’t expressed by self-glorification at the expense of others, or by trying to make yourself superior to everyone else, or diminishing others in order to elevate yourself. Arrogance, boastfulness, the overestimation of your abilities, reflect low self esteem, even though we’re often encouraged to believe the opposite. In human beings, joy in the simple fact of existence is a core meaning of healthy self esteem. Thus understood, how can you possibly have too much of it?

When you meet a person for the first time, often, one of your earliest impression concerns that person’s self appraisal. Usually you’re not aware of this. And you’re not always right, of course. You may change your mind when you know the person better. My point here is, that from the very beginning, we are very quick to intuit, consciously or more often, as they say, unconsciously, how another person feels about himself or herself. From the beginning almost like an animal you sense another person’s level of comfort and happiness with the self – his or her level of self confidence and self respect. And the way you respond depends, not only on the other person’s level of self esteem needless to say, but also on your own level of self esteem.

I’d like to tell you about some of the criteria that I myself use when attempting to asses in a new person the level of his or her self esteem. I think you might find these interesting criteria to try out for yourself.

When a person has got fairly good self esteem, I notice that you tend to see items like the following in their person and behavior:

1. The individual’s face, manner, way of talking and moving, project joy in being alive.

2. The person can speak of accomplishments or shortcomings with directness and honesty.

3. The person is comfortable in giving and receiving compliments, expressions of affection, appreciation and alike.

4. The person is open to criticism and comfortable about acknowledging mistakes.

5. The person’s words and movements have a quality of ease and spontaneity.

6. There is harmony between what the person says and does and how he or she looks, sounds and moves.

7. The person exhibits an attitude of openness to, and curiosity about, new ideas, new experiences and new possibilities of life.

8. The person is able to see and enjoy the humorous aspects of life, in self and in others.

9. The person projects an attitude of flexibility in responding to situations and challenges, a spirit of inventiveness and even playfulness.

10. The person is comfortable with assertive behavior.

11. The person preserves a quality of harmony and dignity under conditions of stress.

This list is by no means exhaustive and not every person of high self esteem will have each of these traits to the same degree. But the list does reflect some of the essential indications of how a person feels about her or himself. We respond to the sum total of what a person presents. We don’t just focus on one item and generalize simply from that. For example, a relaxed, well balanced posture and hard, chronically staring eyes tell a conflicting story, and we need to notice both elements. No single trait or characteristic can be judged fairly out of context.

I’d like to add some specifically physical indicators that you will notice in persons with good self esteem. Watch for these. Check yourself out for them. There are very interesting physical signs that we tend to find where we see good self esteem. We tend to see:

1. Alert, bright and lively eyes.

2. A relaxed face that exhibits natural color and good skin vibrancy.

3. A chin that is held naturally in alignment with the body.

4. A relaxed jaw.

5. Shoulders that are relaxed and erect.

6. Relaxed, graceful and quiet hands.

7. Arms that hang in a relaxed, natural way.

8. A relaxed, erect and well balanced posture.

9. A walk that is purposeful without being aggressive and overbearing

10. A voice that is modulated with an intensity appropriate to the situation and with clear pronunciation.

Did you notice how the theme of relaxation occurs again and again? Relaxation implies that the person is not hiding him or herself, is not at war with who he or she is. Chronic tension conveys a message of some form of internal split or self denial or self disowning or self repudiation. It suggests that some aspect of the self is being disowned, or being held on a very tight leash.

The human voice is often a profoundly eloquent indicator of self esteem. People with high self esteem are willing to take responsibility from what they say. Therefore, they are willing to be heard. They speak clearly, not over-loudly or over-aggressively. Their speech is appropriate. Now then, it is easier to grasp that self esteem is important to human life, than to grasp why it should be.

“Where does the need for self esteem come from in the first place? Lower animals don’t need it. Why do we? What is it about our nature that makes us need self esteem? Why do we have to judge ourselves at all?”

We cannot fully understand the meaning of self esteem until we answer these questions. Until we understand the roots of the need and the reasons for its existence, we can’t fully appreciate the steps to build or rebuild a healthy self esteem. And the reasons of our need for self esteem are far from self evident. And yet ladies and gentlemen, in all the psychological literature, I have never even found the problem addressed. This is the issue we will turn to now.

End of side 1

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