Thursday, 8 September 2016

Nathaniel Branden on “How Ayn Rand Affected His Self-Esteem”

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Nathaniel Branden

In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden has twice discussed his association with the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. He has analyzed his relationship with her purely from the point of view of psychotherapy.

His intention, it seems, is to show how his self-esteem was affected because of his failures to acknowledge reality and communicate his views clearly to Ayn Rand.

In my view, the references to Ayn Rand in the book are an unnecessary distraction. For making a case for his ideas on self-esteem, he did not have to present a chronicle of the reasons for which his relationship with Rand went downhill.

The first reference to Ayn Rand is in the chapter, “The Practice of Self-Responsibility.” Here’s the excerpt:
In my twenties I formed an intense relationship with novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. Over the course of eighteen years, our relationship passed through almost every form imaginable: from student and teacher to friends and colleagues to lovers and partners—and, ultimately, to adversaries. The story of this relationship is the dramatic centerpiece of Judgement Day. In the beginning and for some years, the relationship was nurturing, inspiring, valuable in many ways; I learned and grew enormously. But eventually it became constricting, toxic, destructive—a barrier to my further intellectual and psychological development.  
I did not take the initiative and propose that our relationship be redefined and reconstituted on a different basis. I told myself that I did not want to cause pain. I waited for her to see what I saw. I looked to her rationality and wisdom to reach the decision that would be right for both of us. In effect, I was relating to an abstraction, the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, rather than to the concrete woman in front of me. I did not confront the fact that her agenda was very different from mine and that she was totally absorbed in her own needs. I delayed facing the fact that nothing would change unless I made it change. And because I delayed, I caused suffering and humiliation to us both. I avoided a responsibility that was mine to take. No matter what explanations I gave myself, there was no way for my self-esteem to remain unaffected. Only when I began to take the initiative did I begin the process of regaining what I had lost.  
We often see this pattern in marriages. One partner sees before the other that the relationship is finished. But he or she does not want to be “the bad guy,” the one to end things. So instead manipulation begins, to lead the other to make the first move. It is cruel, degrading, lacking in dignity, and hurtful to both people. It is self-demeaning and self-diminishing.  
To the extent that I evade responsibility, I inflict wounds on my self-esteem. In accepting responsibility, I build self-esteem. 
In the chapter, “The Practice of Self-Assertiveness,” he makes the second reference to Ayn Rand:
I have already mentioned the relationship that I began with Ayn Rand a month before my twentieth birthday and that came to an explosive parting of ways eighteen years later. Among the many benefits that I received from her in the early years, one was an experience of profound visibility. I felt understood and appreciated by her to an extent that was without precedent. What made her response so important was the high esteem in which I held her; I admired her enormously.  
Only gradually did I realize that she did not tolerate disagreement well. Not among intimates. She did not require full agreement among acquaintances, but with anyone who wanted to be truly close, enormous enthusiasm was expected for every deed and utterance. I did not notice the steps by which I learned to censor negative reactions to some of her behavior—when, for example, I found her self-congratulatory remarks excessive or her lack of empathy disquieting or her pontificating unworthy of her. I did not give her the kind of corrective feedback everyone needs from time to time; in its absence we can become too insulated from reality, as she said.  
In the later years, after the break, I often reflected on why I did not speak up more often—I who was (at least relatively) freer with her than anyone else in our circle. The simple truth was, I valued her esteem too much to place it in jeopardy. I had, in effect, become addicted to it. It seems to me in retrospect that she had a genius for inspiring just such addictions by the subtlety, artistry, and astonishing insightfulness with which she could make people feel better understood and appreciated than they had ever felt before. I do not deny personal responsibility; no one can be seduced without consent. In exchange for the intoxicating gratification of being treated as a demigod by the person I valued above all others and whose good opinion I treasured above all others, I leashed my self-assertiveness in ways that over time were damaging to my self-regard.  
In the end, I learned an invaluable lesson. I learned that surrenders of this kind do not work; they merely postpone confrontations that are inevitable and necessary. I learned that the temptation to self-betrayal can sometimes be worst with those about whom we care the most. I learned that no amount of admiration for another human being can justify sacrificing one’s judgement. 


Bob Cat said...

Interesting observations. I always thought Rand's theory that feelings should be entirely determined by one's intellectual beliefs was dubious. Things like art, music, even physical pleasures like sports, food and even sex cannot be made entirely rational. They are part of our biological apparatus, evolved prior to the intellectual faculty gaining dominance. When man became rational, he did not suddenly abandon his pre-rational inheritance as an animal.

Kyrel Zantonavitch said...