Working on building a positive self esteem is a life long task, no-one has a completely positive self esteem, nor negative. as long as our relationship with ourself lasts, so our self-esteem it will evolve and change. It changes in relationship to life events and hormones as well as an ongoing relationship with self. I am going to talk here about how living our life with integrity, or not, will affect our self esteem.

Nathaniel Branden who has written a number of books on self esteem talks about living consciously versus unconsciously and how unconscious living creates negative self esteem. It may seem somewhat obvious that to live a life with integrity, honesty, compassion, kindness is going to make us feel good about ourselves. However, so often our need for short term gains or avoidance of pain can take precedence over these ideals. The consequences of breaking those ideals, not only effects those around us but we let our self down. Even if there are no terrible consequences to our actions we still feel that twinge of guilt because it goes against our authentic self.

Living Unconsciously.

When we live unconsciously we tend to protect ourself from guilt and responsibility for our actions. Using rationalizations is common, telling ourself that our actions are no big deal or that I am justified because you hurt me. Distracting ourselves from feeling guilt is another common way. This protection limits the opportunity to transform our actions into something else. Additionally, the disowned quilt eats away at us reinforcing feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy that are the hallmarks of a negative self esteem.

Living unconsciously makes it difficult to take responsibility for our actions when we betray or hurt those we care about. We want those we have hurt to forgive us quickly so we don’t feel guilty. Or worse, blame other people or a set of circumstances for our actions, rather than the choices we made. When we empathize with the pain we have caused someone, this can feel devastating. By not empathizing we can keep a distance from our guilt and responsibility for hurting them. We are then vulnerable to repeat offenses because we haven’t acknowledge that something is wrong in the first place or what those we love need from us. This course of action can often end up in a bewildering array of failed relationships and at the very least having to deal with people’s disappointment and anger towards us on a regular basis. We may conclude that the best we can do is to avoid explosions because we feel helpless to do anything about disappointing those we love.

A common motivation behind this process is an attempt to be perfect. Mistakes are shameful and we want to hide them from ourselves and others, so as we fight against accepting these experiences in an attempt to try and be perfect. It is a vicious cycle. We portray and experience ourself in a limited way because we have developed beliefs about what is acceptable. We disown the so called ‘bad’ parts which creates a lack of knowledge or choices in relation to them. Then when we act badly we are unable to take responsibility and disown what is happening as we try to maintain the image of perfection.

In the unconscious cycle there is no change and the experience of our destructive and unethical actions becomes more ingrained. Over time we feel a sense of hopelessness about ever being perfect and resign ourself to ‘being bad’. At this point depression can develop as the negative image of ourself takes over.

Living consciously

Living consciously could be defined as paying attention to oneself and others to do no harm. A way to judge no harm is being at ease with our conscience. This means when we do harm, make mistakes or allow fear to dominate our actions we will use this as an opportunity to examine our life and make changes rather than defend against it. It is this act of examination and transformation that is the basis of living consciously. We experience success through this process and develop pride in ourself.

When we live consciously we see others experience as legitimate and strive to understand them and empathize. This may mean that we have to face that part of us that hurt them for our own gain. We can not always know that we have done harm without feedback about how we have impacted others. There may be a struggle in accepting ourself because we have to admit our imperfections which can be very uncomfortable. To know that we are jealous, malicious, contemptuous, mean, vengeful, neglectful or even indifferent can shake our concept of who we are. It is this struggle that changes the illusion of perfection as the only way to be worthy. The irony is that those aspects of ourself that we are ashamed of and have let us down can not be transformed without acceptance.

Lets take the example of being honest. The vast majority of people hold this value as important in relationships and to their sense of self. The practice of being honest is another matter. We lie for all sorts of reasons, mostly because we are afraid of the response we would get if we were honest. I don’t know how often I have heard ‘ I didn’t tell you because of just how you are reacting!’ The person who lie’s then blames the other person for their actions. So, living unconsciously to protect themselves from their own behaviour. In this scenario the person who lies not only is doing nothing to change and transform to live in line with their values, but they allow others responses to control their choices. In addition to being caught up in the unconscious cycle they experience themselves as weak and ineffective.

Living consciously means choosing to be honest and weather the storm of reactions. The storm always passes and you are left with the pride that comes from telling the truth. Living unconsciously averts the storm and feels better in the short term but you are then left with living the lie.

So I encourage you to live consciously, You will develop a better relationship with yourself and improve your self esteem.

Author's Bio: 

Delyse works as a psychotherapist in Vancouver BC. She has a private practice and has over 25 years experience in the counselling field. You can visit her website at