What do you see when you look at yourself? what do you say When you talk to yourself?
When you look at yourself, what is the first thing you notice and emphasize? When you talk to yourself, what do you usually say in your internal dialogues?
Surely, it's the things you wish were different about yourself, the ones you reject, condemn, and get angry about whenever you remember them – "what's not enough, what's excessive, what you push away and detest". Is this how you treat yourself? It's how we treat ourselves... it might seem irrational, but unfortunately, it's the reality for many people who have formed the habit of criticizing and mistreating themselves.
Is this how you treat yourself? Unfortunately it is the reality of many people who have formed the habit of criticizing and mistreating themselves.
In the West, we've learned a harsh and demanding way to view ourselves... Playing with this word, I'd say that more than "appreciating" ourselves, we often find ourselves belittling ourselves. Fighting with parts of us, highlighting the negatives just as much as we underestimate the positives. We desperately seek acceptance from outside, when we've been the first ones to reject ourselves, sometimes more obviously, other times in subtle, "intelligent", and silent ways.
When the outside mistreats us, when the affection we long for doesn't come, it's good to ask: What kind of treatment are we giving ourselves? The external world is simply a visible manifestation of internal processes of devaluation.
What kind of treatment are we giving ourselves? The external world is simply a visible manifestation of internal processes of devaluation.
How do we learn to mistreat ourselves?
Many times, the upbringing environment hasn't favored a kind view of oneself. Whether because the negatives were always highlighted, insistence on what could have been done better, or the good was never enough. Errors were punished and successes were taken for granted. In other cases, we leave our childhood feeling content with who we are, only to encounter a culture that shows us what we "could" become and aren't. When the gap between the ideal and who we truly are is too wide... dissatisfaction takes place, corroding the self-love we have. We learn to want to be different from a very young age.
In my professional practice, during the initial interviews, I see how trained people are to list without hesitation or pause... an endless list of personal flaws and things they would like to change. And when faced with the unexpected question: What about yourself are you proud of and would leave unchanged? What are your gifts and talents? They open their eyes with a surprisingly puzzled expression, signalling that they've never asked themselves these questions... Quite a paradox, isn't it?
This imprint can also be seen in interpersonal relationships. Someone can easily state and declare what they don't like about their partner. In these cases, words seem to shoot out like bullets, reciting from memory the never-ending verse of venerating mistakes... but when asked: What do you love about that person? What makes you keep choosing them today? Silence and a perplexed look. Yes! It's a question we should ask ourselves regularly, and it deserves as much if not more attention than the previous one!
Loving is hard, and so is loving ourselves when the negatives are highlighted and promoted while the positives fade and are forgotten.
I'm not trying to "soften" the intolerable aspects of others or encourage acceptance that leans more towards resignation than kindness to oneself. It's very healthy to want to better oneself. I believe a well-lived life is one where you leave the world better than when you arrived and improving ourselves is the way. However, we can choose to be either loyal allies or cruel enemies to ourselves in our pursuit of self-improvement.
A metaphor will help to illustrate this. Imagine a little boy making his first drawings. Not many will keep drawing and try to embellish the first stroke they didn't like. Usually frustrated by their clumsiness, they crumple up the paper, throw it aside and ask for a new one... Sometimes this is what we try to do with ourselves... crumple it up and throw it away! But life is neither disposable nor obtained as easily as a blank sheet of paper. When we realize that, we have no choice but to smooth out the wrinkle, smooth the paper, and continue with the strokes, trying to improve what has been done. Suddenly, we realize that the line that seemed to ruin the drawing has been transformed into a beautiful mountain, enhancing the landscape we thought was ruined. In the same way, we can learn to love and improve with kindness and tolerance for what we once hated.
I'm talking about this: avoiding denting ourselves, stopping the pretence of being pure and faultless and loving ourselves in our imperfection and incompleteness. And from there, working on what's possible, stopping the search for the impossible, not waiting to love ourselves until we're different, not wasting time struggling with life and being angry at the world, demanding a blank page, and sometimes even wanting an entire notebook!
The Art of Completing What's Missing
By contemplating who we are and honouring what we've been until now, we can strive to improve and enrich ourselves. It's about abandoning the suspicious gaze with which we view our virtues and the critical examination with which we judge our flaws. There's nothing wrong with ourselves, no defects, nothing to correct. There are only parts that are "less mature" that we need to nurture so that they can grow and mature in their expression. If these traits exist, it's because, at some point, we needed to develop them (for protection, defence, helplessness, fear). To eradicate them is to amputate parts of ourselves and commit partial suicide of our interior. Instead, it's about updating and directing them toward more constructive purposes.
There's nothing wrong with ourselves, no defects, nothing to correct. There are only parts that are "less mature" that we need to nurture
In the East, Buddhist psychology speaks of Maitri (in Sanskrit). This term, largely unknown in the West, refers to developing the habit of "treating oneself kindly." Unconditional affection towards the person we are. In the West, however, "we put too many conditions on loving ourselves": If we achieve this, if we have that, if we change this... only "under those conditions" can a sort of "borrowed" affection emerge... as it will be subject to the conditions and valuations we make of ourselves at a given moment. It will last as long as the taste of the achievement and the grace of our virtue extend. At the slightest stumble, we condemn ourselves harshly and withdraw affection.
We put too many conditions on loving ourselves": If we achieve this, if we have that, if we change this... only "under those conditions" can a sort of "borrowed" affection emerge...
Maitri, on the other hand, invites us to develop a kind and compassionate outlook – not self-condescending, but patient and tolerant of our own rhythms and limitations. Maitri involves accompanying oneself in the process and the art of becoming a better person without forcing oneself to be someone different from who one is.
Maitri involves accompanying oneself in the process and the art of becoming a better person without forcing oneself to be someone different from who one is.
In the journey of trying to better ourselves daily, it's better to stop insisting on changing what we don't like. "What you resist persists," says the wise Carl Gustav Jung. Being obsessed with being different from who we are only reinforces what we want to avoid. Just as darkness turns into light, a defect is balanced by virtue. For example, if we don't like being so rigid, we'll try to be flexible when the opportunity arises instead of getting angry at that trait and attacking it. If we recognize that we're too pessimistic, it's good to make an effort to highlight something positive about a situation before the automatic negative response that would come easily. If we acknowledge that we're inconsistent, we should strive to finish what we start to sow perseverance.
In this way, "knowing ourselves" deeply allows us to recognize and accept all our traits and complement and integrate the trait that balances and compensates for what is.