Meditation and mindfulness are critical elements in overcoming low self esteem and generating true self confidence. If we rely on external things for self confidence we will never develop real self belief. As long as we need the praise or approval of others to feel good about ourself our situation will always be fragile. While we depend on our professional status, our wealth, sucess, looks or popularity for how we feel about ourselves, we walk the edge of a cliff. A puff of wind could blow us off. There is no stabliity.
Real confidence can only come from within. It only arises in the light of real self knowledge. To discover more in these areas we need the introspection that arises with the practice of meditation and mindfulness.
When Tibetan Buddhist monks and high Lamas first started teaching in the West last century, they were shocked at the intensity of low self esteem amongst the people of first world nations.
Among the Tibetan refugee communities in India that they were familiar with, there was little evidence of this problem. Suicide was unheard of. Despite real physical, mental and emotional hardship, as a whole, Tibetans both young and old remained relatively happy, peaceful and optimistic.
Why is there such great suffering being caught up in low self esteem.
The enormous suffering of low self esteem is of great concern. People’s sense of self worth can in some cases descend to a form of self loathing.
Because their inner talk is extremely critical their sense of self can turn into a form of self hatred and often even leads to self harm.
Feeling they don’t really like themselves such people easily project negatively onto others. Conversely they may at times project the qualities they would like to have onto others and, by elevating them, reinforce a sense of inferiority.
As a result of this feeling of inferiority many will seek out someone else to take care of them. They want someone to lead them, or will simply feed off someone else’s goodness and qualities.
We see this in dysfunctional spiritual communities. Here it may be expressed as ‘I am worthless, my guru is great, and only he knows what is right for me. Hence I should never risk using and exercising my own wisdom, but only do what my guru wishes.’
In all cases a lack of self worth leads to a lack of self reliance and a desperate need for someone to follow or to be your rescuer. Low self worth always leads to some form of neurotic over compensation.
How our sense of self arises as the story of our karma
Fundamentally our sense of self, our sense of who we are, arises from karma, from the sum of our previous actions: what we have done, said and thought.
Because the ripening of karma occurs at a level of awareness that is sub-conscious, we have little or no control of our sense of self at the beginning of our spiritual practice.
The conditioning of our previous actions and the responses those actions have provoked in others have determined the person that we have become.
If we have become a person of low self worth, we will tend to look outside ourselves to find things to boost us. We may look for the praise of parents, siblings, friends or co-workers. Later we may look for the approval of society as a whole by rising to a position of status.
Also we may attempt to boost ourselves by the scale of our achievements or by our accumulation of wealth. We may seek to distinguish ourselves through our creativity, or go to extremes to be unusual and special.
It is not that there is anything wrong with these activities in themselves. But it is when we use them as a means to compensate for an underlying sense of inadequacy that our approach to them becomes neurotic and unbalanced. This produces no happiness or benefit.
None of this helps to overcome the underlying sense of inadequacy or low self worth, but actually reinforces it. We create a cycle. Low self worth leads to a compensating activity. The need for compensation merely reinforces low self worth. That low self worth triggers more compensating activity, and so it goes.
As long as we look to other people or other things to compensate for low self esteem we simply prolong the problem. We seek recognition from others instead of learning to truly know and appreciate ourselves.
How meditation is the key ingredient in overcoming low self esteem.
Overcoming low self esteem will not be accomplished by building yourself up. Nor will it be found by promoting a new and exciting self image and selling that to those around you. This pretend self confidence is a house of cards which falls at the first criticism of someone not buying into your story. Your story is based on how you want to be rather than on how you really are.
First we much get in touch with who (and how) we really are. The best means for this is the introspection of meditation. But more, the ability to let go, relax and maintain an easy acceptance is needed. This is the exact effect of the practices of mindfulness and meditation.
The secret to real self confidence is genuine self knowledge. It comes from knowing yourself as you are and accepting yourself as you are right now.
True knowledge of self sees both your qualities and your faults.
In truth, anyone has both qualities and faults and that is the case for each of us. An honest assessment of ones faults and an ability to accept them is tremendously liberating.
Many people with low self esteem think that their faults are simply the worst. They imagine that no one else could possibly be as bad as them. People become so ashamed of having these faults that they are barely able to acknowledge them.
However, acknowledging them is the first step to self acceptance and self acceptance is the first step to self confidence.
Why accepting ones’ faults lays the groundwork for self confidence
I can tell you from many years of counselling people in their spiritual life, that I have had countless people barely able to mention, even to a monk they trust as confessor, the depths of their ‘depravity.’ On hearing what they have to say, I am sometimes barely able to contain myself from laughing because the fault seems so mild and trivial to me.
The point in mentioning this is that faults that we often find difficult to accept within ourselves can in most other peoples eyes be seen as nothing much to worry about. It is simply the dynamic of low self esteem which blows these things out of all proportion. Low self esteem drives us into what is almost a competition to be the worst.
Instead of obsessing about your own shortcomings it is liberating to simply acknowledge them, accept them, and then move onto a path emphasising the positives. The negative actions of the past lose their potency to cause us problems if we simply regret them and move on to something positive, ideally the path to enlightenment.
Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves with others
From accepting yourself as you are you are then able to appreciate yourself exactly as you are. You are aware of your faults and have a means to overcome them in time through your practice of meditation. Able to appreciate your qualities and strengths you work to develop them. You realize that everyone has a mix of good and bad, faults and qualities and in this you are equal to everyone and they to you.
It is only when you compare your particular pile of qualities and faults to someone else that you start to get confused. If you imagine your faults to be so much worse, then you feel inferiority. If your critical mind imagine others faults to be worse than yours then you feel superiority. Both are false attitudes and symptomatic of low self esteem.
This sort of comparison is useless. Each of us are unique beings. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses. We can learn from our weaknesses and produce a great benefit from our strengths. All are equal in this. So as well as accepting our faults, we must also give time and thought to acknowledging our strengths. We can enjoy simply apprecitating our gifts and qualities. This is particularly satisfying if we find that no one else seems able to recognise them. We realise theirs to be simply an act of omission. If we have been honest and fair in our self assessment, the opinion of others no longer matters.
How the simple fact of relaxation in meditation dissolves low self esteem.
As you truly relax in meditation you easily let go of the need to hold on to superiority or inferiority. You settle into yourself as you are and feel at ease. In meditation you accept your faults knowing that you are moving away from them. You enjoy your qualities knowing that you will continue to develop them. Able at last to stop comparing you can rest easily in an effortless confidence, a confidence that comes from within, not from external endorsement.
This confidence is naturally arising. It is simply there when you come to an easy state of acceptance and acknowledgement, a true self knowing. It is not manufactured so it can never be destroyed. Self confidence is with you always.