Nathaniel Branden suggests that unlike other definitions of self-esteem, which are nothing more than “feel good notions” (he even lists such erroneous definitions at the end of the book with explanations on why they’re erroneous), it is the nature of our response to challenges, and the mental processes behind those responses, that affect how we see, identify, and define ourselves. This is our fundamental “sense of self”. Branden affirms that consciousness, responsibility and moral choices fundamentally affect our self-esteem, and therefore self-esteem cannot be divorced from our actions and responses.
Self-esteem is constituted of two components, which are not self-conscious thoughts that perpetuate in a high self-esteem individual, but rather, properties of the experience of self-esteem itself. The high self-esteem experience inescapably and inevitably consists:
- “self-efficacy means confidence in the functioning of my mind, in my ability to think, understand, learn, choose, and make decisions; confidence in my ability to understand the facts of reality that fall within the sphere of my interests and needs; self-trust; self-reliance.” (Branden embodies this experience immaculately in his first-person description).
- This experience generates the sense of control over one’s life. “The sense of being at the vital centre of one’s existence rather than a passive spectator or a victim of events”.
- “self-respect means assurance of my value; an affirmative attitude toward my right to live and to be happy; comfort in appropriately asserting my thoughts, wants, and needs; the feeling that joy and fulfilment are my natural birth right.”
- This experience generates a healthy (benevolent, non-toxic, non-neurotic) sense of community with other individuals, the sense of “fellowship of independence and mutual regard”. The polar opposite of such an experience would be either the feeling of “alienated estrangement from the human race” on one hand, or “mindless submergence into a tribe” on the other.
Nathaniel Branden continually stresses the importance of working on self-esteem with clarity and focus. A precise and distinguishing definition, understanding and comprehension of what is implied by ‘self-esteem’ is required – so that it is not confused with anything that it is not.
It’s at this point that I’m reminded of another great book I’m listening to, Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World, which gives a remarkable historic narrative of the early childhood of Genghis Khan, whose mother Hoelun is abandoned by the tribe after the death of her husband (Genghis Khan’s father) Yesügei Baghatur. Yesügei is treacherously poisoned by the Tartars whilst sharing a meal with them, so with this fate, Genghis Khan and his six siblings are raised along the cold and arid banks of the Onon river. Being one of the eldest, Genghis would help his mother forage for roots, berries and millets, and would later learning to hunt rats and other small rodents when they would become available. Should his circumstances be considered unfortunate? It is this very experience that forged his sense of self-efficacy, and his trust in his own ability to think and come up with the ingenious solutions to practical problems of raid and warfare that were vital to the sustenance of the nomadic tribes of arid lands. Author Professor Jack Weatherford later gives a description of the remarkable way in which Genghis Khan, with his nomadic tribesman (all on horseback), lay siege to Bukhara and Samarkand. Genghis Khan seeks to put the arrogant sultan Shah Muhammad and his vicious governors to justice – to avenge the disfigurement of his envoys delivering nothing more than a sincere letter initiating a friendship and a trade deal. Throughout the book it also becomes clear how Genghis Khan, through the experience that circumstances afford him, copes with challenges – only to become rooted in and affirmative of his own individual values, well before he is even titled “The Great Khan”.