Self-Esteem and the Power of NLP Presuppositions

by Terry Bragg


Dr. Nathaniel Branden, author of How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, calls self-esteem the single most powerful force in our existence. NLP provides powerful ways to improve self-esteem and maintain a healthy self-image.

What is self-esteem? The 1990 California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility defined self-esteem as appreciating my own self-importance and having the character to be accountable for myself and to act responsibly toward others.

Self-esteem has three elements: appreciation, accountability, and responsibility. In my book, 31 Days to High Self-Esteem, I show how to use powerful NLP techniques to achieve each element. The presuppositions of NLP provide a foundation for creating high self-esteem.


Appreciating Ourselves

The first element is appreciating ourselves, our importance, and our self-worth. Two NLP presuppositions apply here:

1. We already have all the resources we need.

2. There is no failure, there is only feedback.

Too often we focus only on our failures instead of recognizing and acknowledging our successes. A common symptom is the Imposter Syndrome where we feel inadequate or incompetent and worry that someone will discover our incompetence.

According to the presuppositions of NLP, there is no failure and we already have the internal resources we need to be successful. With these presuppositions, it becomes a matter of discovering the right way to achieve what we want to achieve.

Two important internal resources are our ability to learn and our ability to adapt. With learning capability and flexibility we have the capacity to maintain high self-esteem. Adaptability helps us cope with changes that we cannot control.

NLP is powerful because it focuses on the positive. It focuses on what we want instead of what we don’t want.



The second element of self-esteem is accountability. People with high self-esteem take responsibility for their lives and for the situations they find themselves in. People with low self-esteem become victims of circumstances. Accountability is a critical element in personal empowerment.

The NLP principle that applies here is if what we are doing isn=t working, do something else. When something doesn=t work in our society, we typically try to correct the situation by doing more of it, or doing it faster, or doing it harder. When the real issue is that we need to do something different.

NLP begins with the assumption that change is possible and that change can occur quickly. If we don=t like the situation we are in, we have the responsibility to do something to change that situation. The easiest way to change our situation is to change ourselves. NLP gives us the way to do that.


Acting responsibly Toward Others

The third element of self-esteem is acting responsibly toward others. This is a critical element because this distinguishes self-esteem from an ego trip. People with high self-esteem treat others with respect and dignity. People with low self-esteem often treat others poorly. When we have high self-esteem, we do not need to put others down to feel important.

A key principle is to understand the positive intentions of the other person. The assumption is that there is a positive intention behind our behavior. This does not mean that the outcome of the behavior is positive. It means we intend our actions to get us something we perceive as a positive benefit. Although we may dislike what the other person does, we can appreciate their positive intention. This single assumption has the power to transform relationships. The assumption of positive intentions allows us to separate the person from their behaviorCwe can approve of the person though we disapprove of their behavior.


Modeling Success

NLP also assumes that we can learn by modeling successful people. By doing what successful people do, we also will be successful. First, we model the behavior we want to have. Next, we chunk down a complex behavior into bite-size pieces so we can learn and apply that behavior. This allows us to break down self-esteem into components and specific behaviors that are learnable and doable. Chunking down gives us the option of improving self-esteem with a step-by-step program.

The power of chunking down to change our behavior and our lives is immense. For example, Cathy is an eighteen-year-old high school senior with a learning disability. She is in special education classes. Because she had difficulty learning, Cathy went through most of her life with low self-esteem. After being given a copy of 31 Days to High Self-Esteem, she started practicing and applying the techniques and principles. After a week of applying the techniques to improve her self-image, a class bully told Cathy that he would not go out with someone like her because she was ugly. Statements like this usually devastated Cathy because she took them personally and they reinforced her low self-image. Instead of feeling bad about herself, Cathy told the boy that she wouldn’t want to go out with him either. This response astonished both Cathy’s teacher who overheard the conversation and her mother when the teacher related the incident to her.

Recently Cathy wrote me the following letter:

“First of all I need to thank my stepmom for buying this book and for making me read it. I was not real sure that I would be happy doing as I was told, but as it turns out I am so glad that I was handed this book and told to read it, because it has changed my entire outlook. I am somebody and I really like who I am. I also have found out that others like who I am too. I am not worthless, stupid or ugly. Mr. Bragg, thank you for being so instrumental in the changes I have made because of your book I now have some friends and I have a much better handle on who I am.

Not only do I have friends my own age but my stepmom and I are good friends now and I will always attribute that friendship to the things that I have learned from reading this book.”

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Cathy, Age 18

Cathy formed a study group with several of her friends to practice the techniques for building high self-esteem. This support group will reinforce her experience and allow her to help others improve their self-esteem. Cathy improved her self-image by chunking down complex, interrelated behaviors into single actions that she could take one at a time.

The power of NLP is in its presuppositions. The presuppositions empower us to improve our self-esteem by appreciating ourselves, by taking responsibility for our lives, and for acting responsibly toward others.

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