Updated: Aug 12, 2021
It is so common, may be even more nowadays with the culture of less effort and less caring about our own inner states to look for villains, to reclaim attention, to demand acceptance …and here we found another toxic cycle that we fall almost every time.
The attention you need, the acceptance your desperately look for…is within you.
When we are children we are more prone to demand that kind of attention, because we need it more in the whole extent of the word, however ..as we grow older we should be more aware that when we lost our own attention to what we feel and we demand that attention from others, we are really transferring feelings from the past, when we felt displaced from our parents or neglected or many times we relate the neediness to some past event where we had a bullying or denigrating experience.
What kind of circumstances or people are the ones that trigger our internal needing behavior? If we give ourselves a broader and clearer picture of the kind of circumstances or people that trigger us to feel neglected or to activate the anxiety to demand attention then we’ll be on the path to solve the issue with a clear mind.
Here is where the concept of self-esteem has a key component in the way we are encourage to treat ourselves..
The idea that people need high self-esteem in order to be psychologically healthy is almost a truism in Western developmental psychology. Parents are told that one of their most important tasks is to nurture their children’s self-esteem. Teachers are encouraged to give all their students gold stars so that each can feel proud and special. Psychologists worry about the dangerous drop in self-esteem experienced by adolescents as they transition out of childhood and try to find ways to give teens a self-esteem boost. The assumption that high self-esteem is synonymous with well- being applies throughout the lifespan (1).
Yes, it is true that high self-esteem is associated with less depression and anxiety, as well as with greater happiness and life satisfaction. However, there are also some dark sides to high self- esteem. For instance, high self-esteem is strongly correlated with narcissism(1).
Self-esteem is also associated with the better-than- average effect, the need to feel superior to others just to feel okay about oneself. Re- search shows that most people think they are funnier, more logical, more popular, better looking, nicer, more trustworthy, wiser and more intelligent than others. To be average is unacceptable in Western society, so pretty much everyone walks around wearing rose-colored glasses (at least when they are looking in the mirror). This comparative dynamic, however, the tendency to puff ourselves up and put others down, creates interpersonal distance and separation that undermines connectedness (1).
So many of us have been taught that feeling inferior is wrong and the balance then goes to the other side …then feeling “superior” is right? With that in mind many parents or caregivers create a society of selfishness that ironically creates the sentiment of feeling alone, why? Well many of us also saw or suffered from bullying at some point in our lives either from the same members of family or from friends and we identify the “bully” as the popular, as the powerful, but also as the one that needed to prove something to feel that he or she was worthy.
When we go deeper into the bullying culture and we see these kind of “characters/personages” and I name them like that because that is the facade they show, we can clearly see that this kind of people are the ones that feel more pain inside and are also the ones that have a greater lack of attention from they parents and family so they look for it in other places and the “easiest way of doing that is to put someone or many down.
In addition to hide their own pain, they start creating a “fake” way and environment of feeling popular just based on their strength to put people down, or their amazing capacity to humiliate others by picking their “defects or weird traits” these behavior leads to create a lonely place in society which separates the popular person from others and places them in such a “high place” that they found themselves trapped into a much toxic isolation pattern.
There is another way of positively relating to oneself that does not involve self- evaluations or social comparisons but, rather, involves compassion. During the past decade has seen an increasing interchange of ideas between Buddhism and Western psychology, especially in terms of how mindfulness relates to mental health (1).
Drawing on the writings of Buddhist scholars, I have defined self-compassion as having three main components: (a) self-kindness versus self-judgment, (b) a sense of common humanity versus isolation, and (c) mindfulness versus overidentification. These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental (1).
Reflecting on the approach that Buddhist principles brings to the West cultures we can acknowledge that the pillar to create a healthier self-esteem should always start with the patience, the attention, the care and the love that you cultivate towards yourself. We can all relate to this concept and see it as one superb ground stone to build from there a capacity to start feeling better with our own self and stop demanding love or attention from the outside world. This shall not be confused with the fact that we don’t need anyone and start developing a solitaire lifestyle.
Having the ability to treat yourself with love, with attention and care about you, instead gives you a stronger fullness within you that allows you to take the second component in action .. You start creating a sense of common ground with others, a sentiment of sharing, of being part of a community but from a different point of view. You start building resilience from serving others more than sucking emotions, attention or feelings from others.
Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects one’s own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that greater perspective is taken towards personal shortcomings and difficulties (1).
We are now in common ground, we are now equal, we are now humans, we are now on the same ship and we all navigate to pretty much the same difficulties and “handicaps” because we are all part or product of many of the same beliefs. That opens up a huge sensation of brotherhood that allows you to relate, to care and to spark feelings of love for others.
When we are able to see the other as equal, to see in others deeper and allow to enter the real person behind the mask or armor built to fit …then we can see also that our pain ..is their pain, our joy ..is their joy, our freedom ..is their freedom, our happiness ..is their happiness. If we were just a little bit more curious about this chain reaction that can be produced inside each of us we could really see a huge positive and healing energy as well that we share and we can make it grow, expand and teach to others paying it forward and building momentum into a society that could be more compassionate, more caring and loving of others in spite of their background, their social status, their nationality or ethnicity, their religion…we would all build what we were meant to create here on earth…in my own particular opinion.. we were brought here to create a community of human beings that could relate, take care of each other, love each other and enjoy the one home that we all share and improve it instead of being stubborn to suck all the life from it.
Mindfulness, the third component of self-compassion, involves being aware of one’s present moment experience in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor ruminates on disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life (1).
Analyzing the third component stated by Buddhist teachings we can see pretty much the “one trait” that distinguish us from other mammals which is consciousness, awareness, detaching from our “self” to become an observer in the now, a concept introduced with a previous article “How Do You Let Go...Your Past?” (2).
The observer paradigm becomes again one of paramount importance to allow you to see yourself in your most profound and clear manner, as well as giving you the power to detect the toxicity, the cycling thoughts, the dragging emotions, which in the end lead you to start creating those biochemical states also discussed previously that just anchor ourselves to the ground and lead us to feel anxious, depressed or develop a mask, a personality trait that allows us to move in life with a “fake” persona that in the end is just swallowing emotions, feelings and constructing a snow ball of chemical toxicity inside their own body which eventually will turn out to be a disease.
When we allow ourselves to become compassionate with our own emotions, feelings and pain through the paradigm of becoming the observer of our lives, when we are present in the moments we live in it gets easier to relate our experiences with everyone else’s and create a stronger feeling of compassion for others, we develop more empathy, less criticism and finally we are able to let go the rumination process.
With self-compassion, however, one is emotionally supportive toward both the self and others when hardship or human imperfection is confronted. While most people report being kinder to others than themselves, self-compassionate individuals report being equally kind to themselves and others (3).
When viewed through the lens of self-compassion, both the self and others are equally worthy of consideration and care. A growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is associated with personal well-being (3).
Research suggests that self-compassion is a robust predictor of psychological health. Higher levels of self-compassion have been associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, maladaptive perfectionism, thought suppression, fear of failure, and egocentrism. Self-compassion has also been linked to positive states such greater life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, personal initiative, perceived competence, happiness, secure attachment and social connectedness (3).
Many research evidence suggests and proves that self-compassion that involves of course self-acceptance helps you deal in a more resilient and skillful way through life challenges such as being satisfied with your life which allows you to stop wanting in a desperate way to obtain something just to enjoy it for a few minutes or in the best case hours.
As mentioned above helps you with emotional intelligence, initiative and competence which will help you to develop core skills in your job and have a stronger face for failure, even to learn from it as you will be able to see yourself from the eyes of the observer identifying the circumstances, people or environment that made you fall for the “wrong” path which is pretty much what many of us would love to develop in such a competitive world and full of shiny shortcuts.
Finally self-compassion will allow you to generate more moments of happiness, secure attachment which I would translate as independence from people, situations or objects, and more social connectedness all these three skills or states will aid your way to interact in a healthier way with others in any environment you are, they will create a strong sense of fulfillment that won’t direct you towards looking for your “half” to complement you or to fill you, instead you will have a sense of wholeness that more than predispose you to fill something from someone, will allow you to share what you already have and generated for yourself by accepting yourself with your all the traits, opportunity areas or “defects” that you might have (4).
One recent study of adult heterosexual couples found that self-compassionate individuals were described by their partners as being more emotionally connected, accepting and autonomy-supporting while being less detached, controlling, and aggressive.
Individuals who scored high in self-compassion tended to have more compassionate goals in close relationships (as assessed by self-reports and partner reports), meaning that they tended to provide social support and encourage interpersonal trust with partners. Self-compassion may also play an important role in the ability to effectively balance the needs of self and other in relationships (3).
This last piece of research pinpoints our last discussion towards treating and accepting yourself first before you can have more fulfilled and satisfactory interpersonal relationships and it allows to highlight the fact that if we start to develop this compassion towards our own self we will be able to recognize others emotions, feelings, reactions, attitudes and even “irrational behaviors” without compromising our own safety but maintaining and empathic feeling towards and attitude of serving, helping and being able to really put in “others shoes”.
To summarize and conclude this reflection on how to treat ourselves better, we can say that there are three key pillars to develop a strong self-compassion:
A sense of common humanity (brotherhood),
Mindfulness, becoming “the observer” of your life.
These components of self-compassion will guide you towards finding your true joy for life as it is, as it is presented to you, giving you a sense of fulfillment without being based on something external.
They will structure and mold a stronger emotional intelligence, allowing you to feel more confident and competent to face any challenge or endeavor and even helping you detach from the final end result in addition to detect your past mistakes and learn from failure without that drastic judgement that we usually have for ourselves.
And finally they will help you develop more satisfactory interpersonal relationships without being needy or attaching your happiness towards someone, giving you also more confidence to accept others as they are and understanding their differences and relating towards their own pain, emotional conflicts with an empathic healthy attitude.
Neff, Kristin D. "The role of self-compassion in development: A healthier way to relate to oneself." Human development 52, no. 4 (2009): 211.
Ortega D. “How Do You Let Go...Your Past?”. https://www.gen-es.mx/bloggenesmx. July 09th, 2019.
Yarnell, L. M., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion, Interpersonal Conflict Resolutions, and Well-being. Self and Identity, 12(2), 146–159.
Ortega D. “How Do You Become Whole?”. https://www.gen-es.mx/bloggenesmx. July 16th, 2019.