This piece originally appeared in Free From Harm on March 2, 2105
Self-esteem allows us to enjoy our lives more through better psychological health, personal achievements and relationships. We can’t purchase self-esteem and it’s not an on-off switch. Nor is it a gift we can receive from someone else.
After becoming vegan, I noticed a strength in how I felt about myself that I hadn’t ever experienced before.
As a psychotherapist, I am interested in understanding: Could there be a connection between self-esteem and choosing to live in a way that values all life?
To answer this question, I turned to the work of Nathaniel Branden, an expert on self-esteem. He believed that self-esteem is an on-going consequence of choices we make.
He analyzed six practices that increase self-esteem. Let’s look at each of these practices and how they relate to being vegan.
1. The Practice of Living Consciously
Living consciously means making choices based on both our inner world (needs, wants, emotions) and outer world. It means acting on what we see and know.
Vegans live consciously because they are acutely aware of the reality of society’s treatment of nonhuman animals and, based on their conviction of compassion and justice, choose not to participate in this system of oppression.
2. The Practice of Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance means to be on your own side; to value yourself, treat yourself with respect and stand up for your right to exist.
Being vegan in a not-yet vegan world means that vegans have to continually advocate for themselves. Whether with friends, family, or in a restaurant, vegans stand up for their choice to respect the inherent worth of all living beings. Also, being around other vegans and a tribe that we belong to helps promote an increase in self-acceptance and self-esteem.
Self-acceptance is also recognizing that we make choices. For example, if I don’t accept that I am living unconsciously, I can’t start to live more consciously.
Most vegans, at some point, were not vegan, unless they were raised vegan from birth, and accepted the reality of their participation in a system that was morally repugnant to them. By doing so, it opened the door to embracing veganism.
3. The Practice of Self-Responsibility
These statements reflect the practice of self-responsibility: “I take responsibility for my life and well-being.” “I am responsible for raising my self-esteem.” “If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.”
Vegans take responsibility for their choices and the impact their choices have on other animals. Vegans choose to do everything they possibly can not to contribute to violence towards animals in the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the products they buy, and the entertainment they support.
4. The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
Self-assertiveness is to live authentically. People who practice self-assertiveness stand up for themselves. They feel free to be who they are and treat themselves with respect in interactions with others. They don’t feel like they have to be someone they are not in order to be liked.
Vegans have the courage to speak and act from their innermost convictions and feelings that other animals are not here for human use. They do this in the face of cultural norms that promote the idea that humans can do whatever they want to helpless nonhumans, that might-makes-right. In addition, vegans don’t put themselves above nonhuman animals in order to feel comfortable in their own skin. As Nathaniel Branden writes, “It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”
5. The Practice of Living Purposefully
Living purposefully means being productive, not just in regards to work, but in regards to any sphere of our life in which we want to accomplish something. To attain our goals we have to cultivate self-discipline.
Living a vegan life is inherently living purposefully. Vegans include all animals in their moral considerations and strive to live compassionately, often as part of a social justice movement for animals.
6. The Practice of Personal Integrity
We are living with integrity when our behavior is in sync with our values. When ideals and practice match, we have integrity.
Most of us do not want animals, human or nonhuman, to be harmed. Vegans put that value into practice. Vegans gain an internal strength by behaving in ways that fit with respecting life in all its forms.
We can see that being vegan increases the practice of these six foundational blocks.
So, can becoming vegan increase your self-esteem? I say “Yes!"