By Suma Varughese
Our primary relationship is with ourselves. When we love ourselves fully and unconditionally, we throw open the channels between ourselves and the universe to give and receive love. Growing up is such a hard thing to do that it is little wonder that many of us emerge into adulthood considerably disheveled, self-esteem askew, confidence dented and faith in life battered. We are unsure and diffident about our abilities, our qualities and characteristics and our place in the world. Of all the tragedies that can assail a person in his adventure through life (and they are legion!), there is little as poignant as being unable to love and value oneself. Considering we keep 24/7 company with ourselves, it is deeply painful to put up with someone we don’t get along with. Someone whose motives and actions are suspect, who we are convinced will goof up, who we cannot trust to get us safely through life. The sense of being a divided self, one part at war with the other, is so deeply painful that it is at the root of most neuroses and psychoses. The journey to developing sound self-esteem is a long and difficult journey. For seekers, it is a crucial aspect of the path, because it is only acceptance and basic trust in ourselves that frees us from the plethora of emotional and psychological needs that we seek to fulfill externally. Writes Nathaniel Branden, in his comprehensive book, The Six Pillars of Self-esteem, ‘Healthy self-esteem correlates with rationality, realism, intuitiveness, creativity, independence, flexibility, ability to manage change, willingness to admit (and correct) mistakes, benevolence, and co-operativeness.’ Brandon divided self-esteem into two components: one is self-efficacy, which is confidence in one’s ability to live life effectively, orienting one towards self-trust and self-reliance. The other is self-respect, which is a sense of being worthy of happiness, success and the good things of life. In order to develop self-esteem, he highlights six practices. These are the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposeful living, and personal integrity. The six pillars are interconnected for each impacts the others and a person growing in self-love will improve in all six aspects congruently. How do we start on this journey towards self-esteem? It requires us to become aware first of all, that we lack it. Most of us are so disconnected from ourselves that we do not even know that many of our attitudes and behavioural patterns, like being shy and self-effacing, or displaying a need to control, actually stem from a discomfort with who we are. The next step is to shine the torch of awareness on all the false identities that we have created to compensate for the inner dissonance. Many of us identify ourselves with our social status, money, designation and other external embellishments. Only someone with sound self-esteem can display himself to the world without this protective armor. Even as we become aware of the hollowness of these identities, we begin the task of bringing to light our true Self, our true identity. We do this through affirmations and creative visualization. We learn to withstand the discomfort of feeling naked and vulnerable as we shed the labels, and gradually, the true Self begins to surface. This task calls for long and patient excavation, but there is no option but to keep trudging, for we cannot get to the Holy Grail of enlightenment without developing perfect self-esteem. As we move through the often perilous territory of creating self-esteem, there is one milestone that we will reach when we near the end. This is the awareness that there is no happiness in the outside world. True and lasting happiness is to be found only within, in one’s own self. Once we arrive at this insight, the movement towards self-esteem is hastened. We let go of the futility of looking for happiness externally and tune into the inner self. And there we discover the source of all love and acceptance. Loving ourselves means to be there for ourselves. It means refraining from attacking ourselves when we make a mistake or fail at something. It means nurturing and nourishing ourselves through bad times; indeed, it requires us to put our arms around ourselves and rock ourselves to comfort. We need to speak tender loving words to ourselves at times when we are bereft and in despair. We need to feel as solicitous towards ourselves as we are towards our loved ones. Loving ourselves means taking good care of ourselves. It means being careful crossing the street for we are worthy of life. It means taking good care of our health, for we deserve to be healthy. When you love yourself you do not run away from the uncomfortable moments in your life. You do not allow the drift of thoughts to distract you from experiencing whatever it is you are going through. It means rejection of no aspect of yourself, no matter how unpleasant the sensation. When you love yourself, you know that you are worthy of happiness, of success, of abundance and love. You deserve to have the best of friends and family. You deserve to have good things coming to you. You deserve all the luck you can get. I have a friend who used to own many expensive clothes that he would never wear because he did not feel he deserved them. Another friend has a king’s ransom in jewelery safely tucked away in a vault because she feels guilty wearing it. When you love yourself, you support and strengthen yourself through all the vicissitudes of life. No matter what you undergo, you are there for yourself, your own rah-rah team, your own cheerleader. It does not matter if you have no support from the outside; as long as you are there for yourself, you are plenty. Loving ourselves is really the supreme love affair of our lives. There is no substitute for it. As long as our love for ourselves is deficient, we will stint the love we have for others. The more we learn to love ourselves, the deeper the relationship gets. This is one love affair where you do not have to fear that your feelings are not reciprocated; one love affair where there is perfect harmony and amity. We will soon find that in this marvelous relationship with ourselves, we lose every bit of our need for the outside world. We no longer pine to be loved because we love ourselves. We no longer draw upon the emotional strength of others to keep ourselves going, because we have ourselves. We are our own best friends. Our own soulmates. We are our own alpha and omega.
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