Dr. Nahal Delpassand Explores the Meaning of Self-Esteem and How to Cultivate It
Six practices to follow that will help build trust in yourself during difficult times
By Dr. Nahal Delpassand
Dr. Nahal Delpassand, a licensed psychologist working in central Austin, has recently expanded her clinical practice to include RESPIRE CONSULTING, PLLC. Aimed at focusing on corporate consulting, writing and speaking engagements, this new endeavor has been a long-time passion project. Born from the changes – both personal and professional – that Dr. Delpassand has experienced, the new pursuit solidifies the importance of extending and diversifying her reach beyond the office in hopes of translating useful psychological concepts to various realms of life.
In such turbulent times, many of us are still overcome with doubt and fear as we continue to reckon with our ever-changing world. We are called not only to draw upon our community resources but our individual psychological resources for stability. It is critical now more than ever to trust ourselves and the choices that we make. The basis of trust in oneself is rooted in self-esteem.
Self-esteem is not merely self-confidence, self-love or self-infatuation. It is made up of individual core beliefs, feelings and actions that either expand or constrict our recognition of the possibilities that exist in our lives. Self-esteem acts as an internal compass that drives our values, choices and, most importantly, our inherent quest for wellbeing. Self-esteem is our reputation with ourselves.
Renowned psychologist Nathaniel Branden fathered the concept of self- esteem. In his classic book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, his definition has two core components: self-efficacy and self-respect. Self-efficacy is an enduring belief in our ability to cope with life’s challenges. Self-respect is defined as believing we are worthy of happiness and fulfilment in our lives.
When we have positive self-esteem, we are propelled into action by trusting our capacity towards making choices that ensure our wellbeing. When we have poor self-esteem, we make decisions that are in opposition to what is best for us. Branden emphasizes that self-esteem is not a given. Nor is it fixed. Self-esteem can shift based on internal and external circumstances.
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The good news is that self-esteem can be strengthened over time by practicing these six pillars: living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully and personal integrity. The more one practices the habits and behaviors as described, the more ingrained they become. So let’s explore what each pillar looks like.
Paying attention to what matters most is the first pillar of self-esteem. The pandemic and the recent winter storms have been a jarring reminder to keep up awareness of ourselves and the world around us. We must focus on what seems small but can compound in our lives and become major sources of distress. The opposite of living consciously is living devoid of attachment and through avoidance or denial. As Branden points out, “most human beings are sleep-walking through existence.” Escaping the truths about ourselves through maladaptive coping strategies does not make those truths disappear but instead magnifies individual suffering.
This is not merely about recognizing our feelings; it is about a deeper exploration that breeds understanding and curiosity rather than minimizing, suppressing or fighting emotional experiences. The process of surrendering to understanding elicits increased calmness that allows for solutions to be more readily available. The heightened energy exerted in fighting emotional experiences detracts awareness of the broad spectrum. Self-acceptance is the complete acknowledgement of all the nuances that exist within us. Self-acceptance allows us to avoid the social media trap of comparing ourselves to the curated version of others. Healthy self-acceptance helps us to work on improving our blind spots and embrace the traits that serve us.
The focal point of this practice is taking ownership of choices that are in our control and refraining from blaming others. It allows for agency instead of victimhood. Self-responsibility lends itself to initiative and a personal sense of agency that is proactive rather than reactive. Branden points out that taking responsibility for what is outside of our control hinders self-esteem because expectations are unable to be achieved.
This pillar is often confused with being confrontational. This is not an act of aggression but rather involves a willingness to speak up, respecting our intrinsic values and being steadfast about our convictions. Branden points out that the point of saying no is not in being oppositional. The point is embedded in helping us come closer to what we value most.
The cornerstone of this pillar is self-discipline. Branden emphasizes that living purposefully involves organizing our behavior over time in the service of specific tasks. It is important to note that goals are achieved when they are precise. It is not sufficient to say we want happiness but more critical to ask questions that help us understand what may be hindering this exploration. It is critical to understand the obstacles that are barriers to specific purposeful outcomes.
The sixth pillar of self-esteem highlights the importance of keeping our behaviors in alignment with our values. When there is a mismatch of values and behaviors this prohibits the construction of trust in ourselves. A lack of alignment leads to feeling unsettled and groundless.
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The opportunity in trying times is an unexpected nudge towards personal growth as we are forced to slow down, or even stop, the conveyor belt of our lives. Using this time to self-assess and get reacquainted with our inner world is a challenge worth accepting.
Some people have cleaned out their closets during this pandemic. We can also clean out our psychological closets. Branden’s pillars of self-esteem provide a set of tools for doing precisely that. We can shed the mindlessness of the conveyor belt and replace it with an intention to live consciously, accept our strengths and weaknesses, act with agency as we take responsibility for our lives, assert ourselves as agents of change and self-respect, garner the discipline to live and love with purpose and, finally, hold on to our integrity.