We are told by society to live large. My generation especially. Self-esteem and self-confidence being taught in schools as two of the most important characteristics to a successful life. But imagine for a moment that our most extraordinary points in life happen when we feel small. When we realize we are outnumbered by the stars, overshadowed by a mountain, or out shined by the sun. Have you ever noticed that some of the best moments in life are when you realize that there is a big wide world out there and your problems are probably insignificant? How liberating that feels!
We are all small, together making up a greater whole. To be human is to be insignificant and imperfect. But irrationally we feel something inside of us is abnormal if/when we are overshadowed, or get rejected, or fail. We have to reach the stars, conquer that mountain, and lasso the sun. But we can't do it all. Outwardly we are supposed to be confident, but inside we feel small. And if no one is admitting to having these flaws, then we are left feeling abnormal and separate from everyone else. It becomes so much worse feeling isolated and alone in your suffering when that is precisely what connects you to everyone else.
What happens when we all have to be above average? When we all have to win and find the spotlight? Narcissism. A current epidemic in our culture. When everyone has to be above average, we begin to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. We need to feel stronger, more powerful, more attractive, and more intelligent to stay confident. We categorise people and put them in boxes to stay afloat. "At least I'm better off then them..." So at a young age we learn to put each other down to feel good about ourselves and maintain a certain level of self-esteem. Because that's what's important, right?
Maybe what we need is just more compassion. Compassion not only for each other but for ourselves. Self-compassion has been associated with the benefits of self-esteem, without the pitfalls of narcissism. Dr. Kristin Neff argues that what we need is not more self-esteem but instead self-compassion; a way of acknowledging ourselves, exactly as we are, and embracing it. Yes, this means accepting that you are not the best, your way of thinking is not always right, you are not entitled an award for participating, and undermining someone else will not make you look better.
But the most important piece to this acceptance is self-kindness. Quit the judgement. As I said before, to be human is to be imperfect. We all struggle with our flaws and seek validation. That is what connects us all.
Consider how you treat yourself on a bad day: What have you said to yourself that you wouldn't say to someone else, even someone you really didn't like? It is amazing how many of us have inner dialogues that, if said out loud, would make anyone else think "Wow, you're downright mean". Research shows that self-criticism undermines our body's ability to deal with stress. We become the attacker and the attacked. We simply cannot function under these circumstances. But studies have shown that when you catch yourself in the act of self-criticism and instead turn it into compassion, the body begins to release feel good hormones, aiding the brain to return to optimal function.
The inner monologue you have with yourself reflects onto every relationship you have in your life. Dr. Neff promotes treating yourself like you would treat a good friend; seeing them for all their short-comings but still treating them with kindness, encouragement, understanding, patience, and gentleness. And remember that it's OK to be humbled and feel small, because that's what it is to be human.