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That’s OK Man I Got No Self-Esteem

By Billy | July 15, 2011

I recently read an article that introduced a revolutionary new term to me. It is called self-compassion. This isn’t a magical new combination of letters for many people. The idea of self compassion isn’t difficult to understand at all. What was so new for me was what the article paired self-compassion up with, and that was self-esteem. I think I vaguely remember the article talking about self-esteem being a newly recognized idea in the last couple of decades and that self-esteem has been a heavy focus by child psychologists and pushed into the general groupthought of how to raise children correctly.

I have done a lot of pondering about self-compassion and comparing it to self-esteem and find the compassionate path far superior to the esteem path. Let’s look at just the very notion of what self esteem is. If you don’t know what the words mean, you know that self-esteem has to do with how you feel about yourself. You know that you can have high self esteem and low self esteem. You know that when someone praises you, your self esteem usually goes up and when someone criticizes you harshly, your self esteem usually goes down. What we don’t always think about, but is true nonetheless, both when focusing on the linguistic aspect of the term “self esteem” and the practical and real-world feelings associated with self esteem, is that self esteem is comparative. Nothing can be esteemed if it is singular. Our Universe, for example, cannot have an esteemed value because it is absolute. There is nothing outside the Universe, and therefore it cannot be esteemed above another Universe, nor can it be inferior to another Universe. Personal esteem comes only from comparison.

Sadly, it seems to me more difficult to compare how ‘good’ one Universe is to another. I imagine a second universe would have to be so differently constructed that the goodness or badness could not be accurately compared. (Furthermore, since a Universe is a complete unit, it has both Good and Evil constantly play their little game with each other. A scale with infinity to the power of infinity on both sides stays balanced. Thus, I don’t think one could compare two Universes because they are both just a Thing. [Further furthermore, if there were two Universes, there’d probably be a 3rd and a 4th and a 5th and an infinite array of more out “there” wherever there is, until we realized that “there” is the Universe, and we were just talking about universes with a lowercase ‘u,’ but all this is beside the point. Sort of])

Shouldn’t people be just as difficult to compare as a Universe is? Do you know a single person who is finitely complex? I don’t. In order to create an esteem scale, we need to first finitize people to units — tiny calculatable equations that determine their score. The equations, the value of the answers, and the implications of where you fall on the scale are all determined by your culture. Since people are different, it is a mathematical necessity that the majority of people in any given culture are unhappy with themselves if they use the self-esteem method to determine happiness. Looking past the fact that virtually nobody fits the “ideal” person that culture establishes as the meter stick to whom we should all compare and rate ourselves, there is still the problem that you can not use any sort of meter stick to measure a person! Which planet is better, I ask you, Jupiter or Saturn? “Saturn, because it’s got the rings!” “No, ‘Jupiter because it’s so big and has a more interesting topography!’” Who is right? Nobody. You can’t say Saturn or Jupiter are better, they just are. Someone has to determine that rings are good or bad, size equates to value, perpetual red tornados are worth extra points, etc., and if they actually believe they have the absolute ‘correct’ answer, they’re probably tricking themselves into being right or good at something because they constantly compare themselves to someone they see as better and don’t value themselves appropriately.

Which is better, Greek or Russian? Hm. Who is better, a Greek or a Russian? Should I feel bad because I can’t speak Russian? I hear it’s pretty hard… If I chose to lower my esteem level because I can’t speak a more difficult language, I’m choosing to value the ability to speak Russian higher than the ability to speak English, and then I’m choosing to momentarily ignore every other aspect of my personhood, like the fact that I can speak tidbits and big chunks of a wide array of languages, or that I feel comfortable speaking, writing, and constructing in my native language, which is a feat I feel very good about and comfortability is something high on my personal scale of “goodness.” Thus, I allow myself to lower my “esteem value,” then once I’ve lowered to the next run, I turn back on my idealism that speaks rhetoric about valuing people equally. (I don’t know if this is autobiographical or hypothetical… Wait. Autobiographical should have a better contrasting word than hypothetical… Hypothegraphical? Fudge.)

So. I’m pretty much done bashing self-esteem for now. (It’s funny that I’ve spent my whole post explaining why comparing things is worse than not comparing things. Get it?) If you want to base your self worth on the opinions of people who don’t know you, comparing yourself to myth, arbitrarily chosen values, and the blind chances that you had to be given skill, talent, or the “good” features (like being tall, having white skin, or whatever other uselessly arbitrary thing The Man has decided is good) to make you, therefore, good, you may. One more thought. If you’re the fastest runner in the world, then you’re tied for second as “the best at running second fastest.” (3rd fastest runner might also be “the second best at running second fastest.”) No matter what way you look at it, you will always be behind. It’s an impossible endeavor because the number of spots your competing for grows forever.

I’m choosin’ to ignore self esteem and value myself for the sake that I deserve it.

A funny thing had been happening to me a while back. I was being really mean to myself, thinking I wasn’t worth too much and that I didn’t deserve too much goodness in my life. I couldn’t help, even then, to note the irony of placing so much value in the internal words of someone who I believed wasn’t worth listening to. Imagine every time someone insulted you, they became less credible, but you believed them more every time. That’s what was happening. Anyway, I was trapped in the esteem cycle. I had chosen where I’d place my values, decided that they were infinitely unattainable, decided I should strive for them and use the discouragement as motivation to try harder, then when I collapsed and died, I could look back and think, “look at all that important crap my negative motivation had accomplished.” It became a virtue to never be satisfied. (I made living in dukkha a martyr status, it seems)

Well, when I started being compassionate, things started turning around. At first, it was because something in me screamed for justice. Everyone deserves it, and I know that. I tried to rationalize why I deserved justice using philosophy and religion and utilitarianism and monkey wrenches and nihilism. I tried everything. Right now I believe that I deserve justice because I do. I also believe that I deserve it because I’ve chosen to deserve it. I believe I’d deserve it if I didn’t choose it, but especially because I do. (read my post about Doublethink if you don’t understand why I don’t care about fallacy anymore)

So. Compassion came as an intuitive burst a first. It took a whole lot of tears and scars and screaming and therapy and exercises and experiments, but eventually I started to make a habit of self-compassionate thinking. Only I didn’t know it at the time. There’s something to me about having a name for a thing. If I find a heavy piece of metal in the yard and it happens to be perfect for breaking things apart, I feel pretty cool about it. But when someone names it an axe or a hammer or whatever it is, I now am not just playing, I’m working. I’m participating in a legacy that’s gone on for as long as the idea of hammering stuff has gone on. I was always participating in the hammering legacy, but now I know it. There is power in language. (I imagine most people who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder and people who have been confused about the way the way they express the sexuality might find a particular resonance with the powerful (good and bad) that comes with a label or a name for a ‘thing.’) In the book of Genesis, God giving Adam the power to name things is synonymous with God giving Adam dominion over them.

So. Compassion is an important thing. I think it’s important to know that this self-care is actually self-compassion, because compassion is such a natural and recognizable thing — compassion for others, that is. When dealing with children who are too young to comprehend self-esteem, we treat them with only compassion. You don’t think of one baby as cooler or cuter or better than another, you just treat them with goodness and love, and when they throw up, shit, and piss on you just as you realize the diaper you just took off was completely clean, you don’t compare them to anyone else and you don’t get angry (for long), you just love them. After a child toddles around for 4 seconds and falls down, you don’t consider how your status of “walker” is highly esteemed over the child’s status of “hardly a walker.” You pick them up and love them.

I’m just thinking of some of the things the voice of compassion I talk to every night in my journal displays:

Compassion is not blind to failure, it just doesn’t really worry about it.

Compassion isn’t anxious to get something done; compassion has time.

Compassion is gracious. (the Hebrew word for grace is hannah, and it comes with the idea to blot out a sin as if it never happened. When you have been granted grace, you are a new person; completely free from your past failures. Nobody can ever re-breathe their previous breathe; we are something new every moment)

Compassion is joyful at success, and understanding with failure.

Compassion knows instinctively what to do to help calm a situation down.

Compassion is firm in its belief that you not only deserve getting a better, but are capable of producing a better life.

So. After having started to write those out, I realized that they sound an awful lot like a lot of Hallmark Cards (Is it also a bible verse?) about Love. Patient, Kind, yadda yadda.

No seriously. I think that’s great. When I think of my day at its close, I open myself up to compassion. This allows me to truly celebrate my triumphs, not as domination over anyone, but as one rejoices in the triumph of a child taking their first steps. Imagine if you had been raised to be excited for winning a track race with the same type of excitement (for yourself) as your parents had for you when you took your first steps. Imagine if you had an infinite supply of the encouragement the same quality as that which you got when you pointed to random things from the stroller and said the English word associated with it.  Imagine if the same compassion and understanding that you gave to other people were suddenly appropriate to give to yourself?

Rather, imagine you were as mean to your friends as you were to yourself. Imagine you had a lunch date with a friend, but forgot to go because you were playing First Person Tetris and got distracted. Now imagine that whatever (most likely not actually verbal) metal word lashings you gave yourself for forgetting, you also had to give to your friend whom you didn’t know had also forgotten. Even if your friend forgot and you didn’t, you’d still be very nice about it, most likely. “No problem, don’t worry. I got some time to think!” But if you forgot, you would worry, and you would make it a problem. Why does everyone in the world but you deserve your compassion?

So there. Think about it for a while. I think you should consciously try to cultivate a sense of self-compassion. I think it’s better, and in the end, it actually makes me more productive and capable of doing things, because I have so much more energy now that I don’t put so much energy into worrying.

Also, people who like themselves are seen as way cooler than people who don’t, so you should do it for that reason. Also, Jupiter is better than Saturn because of the spot.




Topics: Philosophy, This is my life | Comments Off on That’s OK Man I Got No Self-Esteem

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