Self-esteem has been a major buzz-word for decades. We focus on the positive traits and achievements of our children to show them they are valuable, so they can have a healthy level of self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, I think it’s important for people to recognize the good in themselves. But what about the things inside us we don’t like so much? Self-esteem can focus so much on the positive, it completely ignores, or even denies the existence of, the negative. Mistakes, failures, bad thoughts or choices, these are certainly a part of us all. Can I still feel good about myself when these shadow traits rear their heads? Maybe not.
Self-esteem is a fragile thing. It takes a hit when we discover we aren’t the best, or we do something we regret. Mistakes can make us doubt any positive thoughts we had about ourselves and our abilities. But if, instead, we accept ourselves as we are, we can weather the ups and downs of life knowing we are ok. According to the yoga tradition, we are all perfect at our core, just as we are. We don’t have to be fully enlightened to learn from that belief. I can live my life realizing that good things and bad will come and go, but I accept myself regardless of my circumstances. I will still feel pain or loss, but I know that beneath that I am still ok. Aside from a lifetime of meditation and introspection, how can we work towards self-acceptance?
It starts with allowing all aspects of ourselves to be present. Don’t deny feelings or emotions thought of as “bad” and don’t cling to those that are “good.” Everything is welcome, without judgement. Also we have to give ourselves a break. Ok, a lot of breaks. We work toward viewing our choices with compassion and forgiving ourselves liberally. After all, we really are doing the very best that we can in every situation. Try repeating that to yourself the next time you make a mistake. I find that regret and guilt weaken substantially in the face of such understanding.
A funny thing happens when I become more self-accepting. I feel better about myself, but I also become more compassionate toward others. I recognize other people are doing their best with what they’ve been given, and I remember that I can’t possibly know what challenges they’re facing. Imagine a world where we all truly believe that of others. Empathy and forgiveness instead of judgement and hate, and the recognition of other human beings trying to live their best life possible. It starts with acceptance of ourselves.