Feeling good about yourself becomes especially challenging within the context of Western culture. American mythology, which glorifies personal independence and the notion of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, places unrealistic pressure on individual achievement. When you succeed, these narratives tell you that your success is entirely your doing.
This perspective might come with a heady rush of self- satisfaction, but it also comes with a downside: Your failures are also all your fault, and you should’ve been able to do better. By placing failure solely on your shoulders, Western mindsets make self-esteem particularly difficult to achieve. Even if you can manage to convince yourself that you’re more special than everyone else, high self-esteem can nevertheless become a problematic rubric.
To believe that you’re better than the rest of the world, you probably need to engage in some amount of self-deceit. You might need to convince yourself that no one else in your office works as hard as you do, or you’re the only person in the family who can take care of your children. These narratives prevent you from seeing yourself and your life honestly.
For example, they might keep you from learning from your equally-skilled peers or from participating in a healthy co-parenting relationship. While feeling special offers a strong temptation, it ultimately prevents self-awareness and personal growth. The flip side of artificial self-esteem is extreme self-loathing. When inevitable mistakes and failures offer the cruel reminder that you’re not as perfect as you hoped, you might respond with disproportionate self-criticism.
The swell of unrealistic self-praise suddenly pops, and unbearable shame takes its place. A minor mistake at work causes you to believe that you’re a terrible employee, or a thoughtless remark convinces you that you’re the world’s worst parent. When you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, you’ll inevitably experience disappointment. However, truly feeling good about yourself doesn’t require the undying conviction that you’re superior to the rest of the world.
Instead, a healthy relationship with yourself naturally unfolds when you decide to stop judging and evaluating yourself altogether. If you can accept yourself exactly as you are and recognize that you possess an inherent value that’s independent of your achievements, beauty, and talent, then you’ll be able to have an authentically healthy relationship with yourself. This is self-compassion in action.
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