On Sense of Self/Psychology of Self-Esteem

Needless to say, Dr. Branden has done an extensive work on the topic of self esteem. And I highly recommend reading his work if you are interested in combining psychology with objectivism.

Rand has explained the importance for the individual to resist the temptation of pleasing others and living a life of “second hander”. The Fountainhead was the book which she used to explain the individual against the collective. I’ll begin this post by showing you a few of her quotes on second handers:

“From the beginning of history, the two antagonists have stood face to face: the creator and the second-hander. When the first creator invented the wheel, the first second-hander responded. He invented altruism.

The creator—denied, opposed, persecuted, exploited—went on, moved forward and carried all humanity along on his energy. The second-hander contributed nothing to the process except the impediments. The contest has another name: the individual against the collective.”- For the New Intellectual.

‘A [second-hander] is one who regards the consciousness of other men as superior to his own and to the facts of reality. It is to a [second-hander] that the moral appraisal of himself by others is a primary concern which supersedes truth, facts, reason, logic. The disapproval of others is so shatteringly terrifying to him that nothing can withstand its impact within his consciousness; thus he would deny the evidence of his own eyes and invalidate his own consciousness for the sake of any stray charlatan’s moral sanction. It is only a [second-hander] who could conceive of such absurdity as hoping to win an intellectual argument by hinting: “But people won’t like you!”‘- The Virtue of Selfishness.

“A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty. At the crossroads of the choice between “I know” and “They say,” he chose the authority of others, he chose to submit rather than to understand, to believe rather than to think. Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others. His surrender took the form of the feeling that he must hide his lack of understanding, that others possess some mysterious knowledge of which he alone is deprived, that reality is whatever they want it to be, through some means forever denied to him.” – Atlas Shrugged.

Needless to say, the primary trait of the second handers is the rejection of reason in favour of feelings. They would do anything to please another person for their own very selfish desires. The embodiment of second handers is Peter Keating from the Fountainhead, the man who cannot be and does not know it. He wasted his entire life pleasing everyone he knew: He became an architect to please his mother when his real gift was in painting, he sacrifice his soul mate in order to pursue his Boss’ daughter Dominique Francon, he discarded his integrity when he stole ideas from Roark, he failed to accomplish anything meaningful in his life other than to have his 5 minutes of glory. At the end, it was Roark was succeeded through his preservation of his ideal and integrity rather than the people pleasing tactic used by Keating.


Now returning to the psychology of self-esteem, we construct our sense of self not through others as what some sociologists would often tell you, but through our own reason. It’s quite existentialist actually to say that the reality exist a priori to the consciousness and that existence precedes essence. We make rational judgement in this irrational world. It is easy to get on the wrong track and think of our own self worth as being dependent upon the opinion of others. But think about this: If 7 billion of the people in this world think that you are ugly but only a very few amount of people think you are attractive, does that somehow alter how physically attractive you are?

No, it doesn’t. Our perceptions are completely independent, saying one person is ugly or beautiful does not in fact change any objective reality.

Dr. Branden has emphasized that adults suffering from low self-esteem are often caused by the ineffective parenting during their childhood. I encourage you to read more on this if you are interested in childhood psychology, but the important point is that having a positive sense of self is vital to a person’s life and it’s never to let to start develop one at any age.

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