One of the more remarkable aspects of Western culture is that in general people do not like themselves. When asked about this, the Dalai Lama was totally dumbfounded. He couldn’t understand how that could be. In his Tibetan culture such a problem is unheard of.
So why do westerners suffer from such low self-esteem. One explanation appears to be the competitive nature of our culture. We are taught to strive to be the best; that is to compete to be better than everyone else. This starts early with parents urging infants to attain developmental milestones earlier and earlier. The famed Swiss Developmental Psychologist, Jean Piaget, when asked how we could increase the speed with which children attain different levels of cognitive development, responded that he called this the American question. Nowhere else in the world was he asked that question, yet it was asked frequently in America.
This stress on competing continues throughout childhood with tests and grades in school, with athletic competitions, and even with social approval, desiring to be the most liked. The American obsession with winning is obvious in sports at all levels. Where in other cultures the notion of a tie is perfectly acceptable, in America a tie is seen as shameful. There must be a winner. So, we devise schemes to break all ties and determine a winner, to determine who’s best.
So we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and since there can only one best, virtually everyone falls short. So, we constantly criticize ourselves for not being the smartest, the swiftest, the strongest, the most liked, the most handsome or beautiful. If there wasn’t something wrong with us, then we would be the best. As a result we become focused and obsessed with our flaws.
Today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Self-esteem: A Systematic Review”
suggests that mindfulness may be helpful in counteracting this American disease of low self-esteem. How can simple mindfulness practices do this?
Mindfulness practice changes our focus to the present moment, making us more aware and accepting of what is. In the present moment, everyone is equal. Comparisons involve memories of our’ vs. others’ accomplishments. If our minds are focused in the present moment these comparisons can’t occur. Mindfulness promotes experiencing and accepting ourselves as we are, which is a direct antidote to seeing ourselves in comparison to others and as we wish to be. Finally mindfulness allows us to view the negative emotions generated by low self-esteem and understand their origin and disconcordance with reality.
So, practice mindfulness and feel good about yourself and your life.