“Nathaniel Branden is a psychotherapist and writer best known today for his work in the psychology of self-esteem from a humanistic perspective (see self-esteem in humanistic psychology). A former student and one-time romantic partner of novelist Ayn Rand, Branden had a prominent role in promoting Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism.” -excerpted from Wikipedia entry on Nathaniel Branden
Yesterday I did some independent research on Nathaniel Branden, one of the key figures of the Objectivist movement. I was curious to find out how someone so intimately familiar with Rand’s philosophy had grown to reject it (or at least some aspects of it.) During the search, I came across a number of outstanding articles written by Branden that were particularly interesting to me because they represented the first legitimate critiques of Ayn Rand. Granted, the main article in which this came from also included vast amounts of (rightly deserved) praise for Objectivism as well.
As I continued researching, I discovered that Branden went on to do extensive research in the field of self-esteem, penning numerous books and articles on the subject. I’m just scratching the surface of his body of work, but so far I’m extremely impressed.
Here are my notes on the various articles featured on his blog, which you can find at NathanielBranden.com:
Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness.
You cannot have a world that works, you can’t have an organization, a marriage, a relationship, a life that works, except on the premise of self-responsibility. (“Self-Responsibility”)
(People) have been taught that the essence of virtue is self-sacrifice. To a large extent that is a doctrine of control and manipulation. “Selfish” is what we call people when they are doing what they want to do, rather than what we want them to do.
High self-esteem seeks the challenge and stimulation of worthwhile and demanding goals. Reaching such goals nurtures good self-esteem. Low self-esteem seeks the safety of the familiar and undemanding. Confining oneself to the familiar and undemanding serves to weaken self-esteem. (“Our Urgent Need For Self-Esteem”)
The higher our self-esteem, the stronger the drive to express ourselves, reflecting the sense of richness within. The lower our self-esteem, the more urgent the need to “prove” ourselves—or to forget ourselves by living mechanically.
The higher our self-esteem, the more open, honest, and appropriate our communications are likely to be, because we believe our thoughts have value and therefore we welcome rather than fear the clarity. The lower our self-esteem, the more muddy, evasive, and inappropriate our communications are likely to be, because of uncertainty about our own thoughts and feelings and anxiety about the listener’s response.
“Self-esteem” is sometimes used interchangeably with “self-image,” which is unfortunate, because the concept is much deeper than any “image.” Self-esteem is a particular way of experiencing the self. (“Self-Esteem as a Spiritual Discipline”)
To observe that the practice of living purposefully is essential to well-realized self-esteem should not be understood to mean that the measure of a person’s worth is his or her external achievements…The root of our self-esteem, as I have discussed at length elsewhere (Branden, 1994) is not our achievements, but those internally generated practices that, among other things, make it possible for us to achieve all the self-virtues mentioned above. (“Nurturing Self-Esteem in Young People”)
To give a child the experience of being accepted and respected does not mean to signal that “I expect nothing of you. “Teachers who want children to give their best must convey that that is what they expect. Children often interpret the absence of such expectations as evidence of contempt.
Self-esteem is an experience. It is a particular way of experiencing the self. It is a good deal more than a mere feeling. It involves emotional, evaluative, and cognitive components. It also entails certain action dispositions: to move toward life rather than away from it; to move toward consciousness rather than away from it; to treat facts with respect rather than denial; to operate self-responsibly rather than the opposite. (“Answering Misconceptions About Self-Esteem”)
Excessive and inappropriate self-absorption is symptomatic of poor self-esteem, not high self-esteem. If there is something we are confident about, we do not obsess about it-we get on with living.
(S)ometimes when people lack adequate self-esteem they fall into arrogance, boasting, and grandiosity as a defense mechanism-a compensatory strategy. Their problem is not that they have too big an ego but that they have too small a one.
What shall it profit us to win the approval of the whole world and lose our own?
(T)o be effective, “praise” – or, more exactly, recognition – should be reality-based, calibrated to the significance of the child’s actions (in other words, not extravagant or grandiose), and directed at the child’s behavior rather than his or her character. Sweeping statements such as “You’re a perfect angel,” or “You’re always such a good girl,” or “You’re always so kind and loving,” are not helpful: rather than nurture self-esteem, they tend to evoke anxiety, since the child knows there are times when they are not true.
Neither a business, nor a marriage, nor a soul can be kept alive and healthy without continuous effort. Responsibility for appropriate action never ends.