Building self-esteem after an affair becomes a primary challenge.

building self esteem after an affair

By Doug

Our open discussion yesterday centered around the topic of self-esteem.  There were some very heart-felt responses in the comment section from both the cheating spouse and the victim of marital affairs.  We also received many emails along the same lines. 

It became very apparent that not only do the victims take a massive blow to their self-esteem as a result of the affair, but the cheater does as well.

I venture to guess that many cheaters had self-esteem issues that were prevalent before the affair, which may have contributed to them having an affair in the first place.  Building self-esteem after an affair for both parties involved becomes a primary challenge.

I thought about this and wondered if that was the case with me, and the reason for my affair.  Did I have a low self-esteem? No way.  Now I’ve always considered myself to be a confident person, at least that is how I always portrayed myself around people both socially and in a business setting.  But was (am) I really?

The whole self-esteem subject, I must admit, is somewhat confusing to me.  Just what exactly is it?  Is confidence the same as having high self-esteem, or just a component?  How does ego fit into this whole self-esteem  thing?  Does having guilt as a result of my emotional affair affect my self-esteem?  Building self-esteem is tough to do, right?

These questions bothered me, so I did a little research on the subject and after a while of searching I discovered Nathaniel Branden, PhD. who is a therapist, writer and expert on self esteem issues.  Much of what he offered in his program, “The Psychology of High Self-Esteem” helped to clarify this for me—and hopefully will for you as well.

Rebuilding Self Esteem – Don’t Lose Your Self Concept

Self-Esteem Defined

The first thing I discovered is that perhaps I’m not as dumb as I thought I was because apparently there exists a gray area when it comes to understanding the meaning of self-esteem.

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Branden suggests that self-esteem has two essential components:

Self-efficacy: Confidence in the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Self-efficacy leads to a sense of control over one’s life.

Self-respect: Experience oneself as deserving of happiness, achievement and love. Self-respect makes possible a sense of community with others. Self-esteem is a self-reinforcing characteristic.

This makes sense to me as I can really see how an affair can attack both components in a huge way for both the cheating spouse and the victim — albeit in different ways.  For instance, rejection can tear down the self-esteem of the victim, where perhaps guilt will work on the self-esteem of the cheating spouse.

In my own case, I believe I am strong in the self-efficacy component and somewhat weak in the self-respect area.  I am certainly confident in my ability to cope with life’s challenges as our life has been filled with challenges on many different fronts over the course of many years.

But did I feel myself as deserving of happiness, achievement and love?  Off the top of my head, I would say “Sure!”  But perhaps subconsciously I didn’t really believe that.  Did all the problems we had in our marriage, business and life make me feel at fault and therefore unworthy of being happy and loved by Linda?  Which in turn made me more vulnerable to an affair?  Wow! This is getting all too psychological for me! It’s amazing how all this makes you look within.

I’m starting to get nervous as I envision myself soon lying on a therapist’s couch talking about my childhood and my relationship with my father, or something like that, and living a life of daily anti-depressant consumption.

Branden however, sums it up well:

“When we have confidence in our ability to think and act effectively, we can persevere when faced with difficult challenges. Result: We succeed more often than we fail. We form more nourishing relationships. We expect more of life and of ourselves.

If we lack confidence, we give up easily, fail more often and aspire to less. Result: We get less of what we want.”

And he adds…

“Self-esteem has to do with what I think of me, not what anyone else thinks of me.”

Great.  So how does one go about building self-esteem, or in our case, re-building it? Can one do it by oneself, or is months on a therapist’s couch the only possible way?

Recovering Your Self-Esteem After an Affair Is Within Your Power

Building Self-Esteem After an Affair

Branden says that building self-esteem is not a quick or easy process and that it can’t be done directly. Rather, self-esteem is a “consequence of following fundamental internal practices that require an ongoing commitment to self-examination.”

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He also suggests that many self-help gurus would make you believe that chanting affirmations  will help, but actually this method is ineffective, or at best of marginal value, in raising self-esteem. “Telling yourself you’re capable and lovable accomplishes little if you are operating irresponsibly in key areas of your life.”

The self examination process that Branden preaches is called the “Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” :

Living consciously: Paying attention to information and feedback about needs and goals… facing facts that might be uncomfortable or threatening… refusing to wander through life in a self-induced mental fog.

Self-acceptance: Being willing to experience whatever we truly think, feel or do, even if we don’t always like it… facing our mistakes and learning from them.

Self-responsibility: Establishing a sense of control over our lives by realizing we are responsible for our choices and actions at every level… the achievement of our goals…our happiness… our values.

Self-assertiveness: The willingness to express appropriately our thoughts, values and feelings… to stand up for ourselves… to speak and act from our deepest convictions.

Living purposefully: Setting goals and working to achieve them, rather than living at the mercy of chance and outside forces… developing self-discipline.

Integrity: The integration of our behavior with our ideals, convictions, standards and beliefs… acting in congruence with what we believe is right. Most of us are taught from an early age to pay far more attention to signals coming from other people than from within.

We are encouraged to ignore our own needs and wants and to concentrate on living up to others’ expectations. (Does this sound familiar?)

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Self-esteem requires us to listen to and respect our own sensations, insights, intuition and perspective.

I must say that this research has been a learning experience for me in many ways.  I also believe that after the affair I have learned something new about myself and Linda virtually every day.  In the long run, that has to be a good thing for our marriage and for me and Linda as individuals.  Developing a healthy self-esteem will be a challenge for both of us—perhaps a life-long challenge.  You never know, I might still end up on that therapist’s couch one day!

Click the link to learn more about Nathaniel Branden’s building self-esteem program: “The Psychology of High Self-Esteem.”

You also might want to check out Joe Rubino.  He is internationally acclaimed and is considered a top expert in the field of self-esteem and personal reinvention.  Here is a link to a free recording called “7 Steps to Soaring Self-Esteem”  The sign up form is at the top of the page.


    11 replies to "Building Self-Esteem After an Affair"

    • CeeG

      I know that as a FWH, six months post EA d-day, still fight an almost paralyzing battle with self-esteem / shame / assertiveness moving forward. Sometimes weeks will go by with things relatively ‘normal’, then something (???) triggers that pit in my stomach and just plain feeling nasty inside. No drive, etc. It usually occurs at times of high stress, exhaustion, or when life keeps my wife and I from spending much time together. That feels really wrong very quickly. We can both function apart (that was part of the problem before), but now it is very apparent very quickly when there is any distance being created.

      Just this week I have been just hit again and again with feeling inadequate, scummy, and with thoughts of ‘maybe she would be better off without me’ kinds of things. Passing thoughts, but just enough to take me down a notch. And these are times when I feel the least like saying to her, “I need…”. I don’t feel I should ask for anything. I mean I hurt her… badly.

      Then…I realize that I have to accept forgivness once again and move on and not dwell there. And it does eventually pass, but I hate the oscillations back and forth emotionally. I try to be a rational logical person, and this stuff just makes no sense.

      • Linda

        CeeG, Thanks for your comment, it is comforting to know that the wayward spouse has the same feelings as the betrayed spouse. I can really relate to the part about quickly being aware that you and your spouse are drifting apart. I am very aware of this feeling when it occurs, and become uneasy and try to do everything to make sure we connect. It is funny that before the EA Doug and I were so busy that we didn’t put much thought into connecting, now I make it a high priority. I never want to be in that kind of relationship again. Linda

    • Kim Leatherdale

      You are not alone in not knowing what healthy self esteem truly is. Dr. Branden’s work is good, but it only scratches the surface. What it misses out on is the problem of high self-esteem (the opposite of low self esteem.) Thinking you are better than others or that somehow the rules don’t apply to you are signs of this high self esteem (or entitlement.) Actions like having an affair, raging, acting out, being passive aggressive, or self-righteous preaching are all behaviors showing a sense of this entitlement. It is hard to not go from feeling low self esteem to entitlement; the real work is to land in an even centered place of humble worth.
      Thanks for the thoughtful post.

      • Doug

        Thank you Kim for the informative post. I can see the importance of obtaining a healthy balance between high and low self-esteem.

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