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Competence and Self-esteem

At a dinner meeting I attended, the topic of self-esteem arose and generated quite a lively debate on what it is and how it develops. The answer to these questions are highly relevant to troubled eaters who generally exhibit low self-esteem and are looking for ways to raise it. Here’s a how-to from the so-called “father of self-esteem.”

According to Nathaniel Branden, author of THE SIX PILLARS OF SELF-ESTEEM, “Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.” Self-esteem isn’t about feeling good arbitrarily nor is it about loving yourself unconditionally. It comes from achieving competence which gives you confidence which, in turn, reinforces competence. To raise your self-esteem in the eating arena, you have to achieve competence which means learning and practicing skills until you are very, very good at them.

Competence evolves from hard work, repetition, and tolerating being unskilled or only semi-skilled for a long time because becoming a “normal” eater is no walk in the park. (More like a walk in the dark!) Many of you expect positive feelings of self-esteem and competence in “normal” eating without working arduously for it. The truth is that you will not reach your goals without giving your all—and then some. No one succeeds at anything if they have an unrealistic attitude about achieving success. On the plus side, by overcoming your eating problems, your self-esteem will grow by leaps and bounds.

The other aspect of Branden’s definition of self-esteem, “being worthy of happiness,” is also enlightening. The question is how to become worthy. There is inherent self-worth, the belief that you are born lovable and deserve happiness, and then there’s earned self-worth, which is the product of trial and error, experience, and acquired competence. You need both to have bona fide self-esteem, that is, you must hold the initial conviction that you are lovable and deserve to be happy and successful and you need to gain skills and competencies to increase your value in your own eyes.

Which aspect of self-esteem is holding you back? Do you not believe you’re worthy of the good things in life and therefore don’t try hard enough to achieve them (or sabotage your successes)? Or do you have trouble gaining competence because you give up too easily? Although other factors affect eating and weight, “normal” eating develops from a set of skills for fueling and pleasuring yourself with food appropriately and effectively. These skills are learnable by anyone and everyone and will enhance your self-esteem.