My grand plan upon realizing I have self-esteem issues while reading The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden was to read the book, understand the book, and to internalize what it was saying. To take the book and make what it was staying part of my being. The more detailed plan was to go through each one of his pillars one-by-one and discover which ones I needed to work on. The book argues that self-esteem is constructed upon six “pillars” — fundamental areas that need to be developed for self-esteem to thrive — and that lacking strength in any pillar can weaken the entire foundation of self-esteem. It shouldn’t be too hard to go through each one logically and discover which ones were problematic for me.
I’m about half-way through the pillars and so far I’ve identified one area that I’m sorely lacking in: self-acceptance. The first pillar is living consciously and I’m pretty proud of myself in that area. Summing that one up in a terrible way: be aware of the moment you’re in. Be receptive of information. Be open and accepting of the world. Shit like that. The third pillar is of self-responsibility: you are responsible for yourself. There are certain people that love to blame others for their problems, and while other people can cause problems for you, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t your responsibility to fix. I’ve heard somewhere (with regards to mental health but it applies to everything) something like this, “It might not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility.” Consider this shitty scenario. You get a divorce and your ex has taken everything from you. It’s a shitty situation right? While you might be perfectly innocent in the matter, you still need to act in favor of yourself and your happiness. In short, you are responsible for you.
You might’ve noticed I skipped the second pillar and that’s because it is the topic of this post. The second pillar is self-acceptance. Upon initially reading the chapter I thought it would be another pillar to mostly ignore: I already accepted myself about as well as I knew how to. Seriously. This was mostly because the first half of the chapter talked mostly about accepting your flaws, which I’m assuming most people are terrible at because of how much the author had written about it. This covered things such as admitting when you’re wrong and admitting that you’re not perfect. Owning your flaws and mistakes. And guess what? I’m amazing at that! I’m constantly thinking I’m wrong (but also feeling that I’m probably right but not wanting to come across as cocky or something), I’m always open to critique, and so on. In short I am very open and accepting of my flaws.
But then the book totally beat the shit out of me over something that’s very similar to admitting your flaws: to be self-accepting is to also accept the good things about yourself. If you’re going to own all of the bad shit about yourself, you also need to accept the good things about yourself as well. This makes perfect sense if the goal is to have perfectly honest self-acceptance. And holy fuck if that didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks.
You don’t have to, but go check out my post about self-esteem and writing. I love to use that as my go-to example because it writhes in its lack of self-esteem. It’s so brutally honest it’s amazing to use as an example. In that post I wrote about how when I receive positive feedback with my writing it must be a fluke or a mistake like I accidentally wrote something good. Something about putting enough monkeys in a room with typewriters and eventually one will write Shakespeare. I attribute any and all success I achieve to luck or chance. But when my posts don’t get positive feedback it is something that resonates with me. Those are the facts for me, the clear signs that I’m a failure as a writer. It’s classic “disown the good” and “accept the bad” which is not accepting yourself fully and openly.
Self-acceptance means owning the shit out of the good. But that is scary to someone with little to no self-esteem. It’s easy to admit skill in areas that don’t matter: I’m good at driving, I’m good at hanging blinds, I’m a decent cook, but am I a decent writer? Really? Am I scared of being good? Yeah, kinda, but so what? What the hell am I writing for if not to be good? There is a disconnect between the blogger/writer who consistently writes but doesn’t actually think they’re good at it. If I thought I wasn’t good on some level why would I be writing in the first place? Most people don’t do thing that they know they’re awful at (besides golf for some reason). Something in me believes that I have something special otherwise I wouldn’t be writing. It’s only on the conscious (or subconscious?) level that I think I suck.
I rambled a bit, but apply this line of thinking to yourself. Are you perfectly accepting of your skills and abilities? Do you disown everything good you do as an accident or believe that “it wasn’t that difficult…”? Are you scared of actually being successful? And do you own, personify, and internalize your failures over your success? Are you defined by your flaws and shortcomings? You are one total and complete package — the good along with the bad — and they each need to be accepted together. Feel free to admit that you’re good at painting, writing, blogging, or whatever it is that you do. It doesn’t mean that you close yourself off to actual critique and criticism, but don’t let yourself become identified by your failures. Self-acceptance kinda sucks, until you learn to do it properly. And then I suppose it’s awesome.