Shame, "Self-Esteem", and Buddhism

Been thinking a lot about how most of us, when we were kids, didn’t have a lot of compunction about playing with other kids, meeting new people we liked and such. Maybe when we were very little we might have been “shy”, but in this case I think we’re talking about caution, fearfulness, as opposed to lack of a sense of self esteem.

When I was a kid, it was easy for me to go down the street and ask about a kid there I thought was my age that I could play with, to try new things… I think because we’re actually born with a sense of self esteem or self worth, and that sense of worth gets taken away. That sense of our value, how we are connected to others, self esteem or self worth, gets replaced by shame- feeling “less than”, insufficient, unlovable, broken and defective as human beings.

This sense of self esteem is diminished or removed a lot of ways. Verbal abuse- actually being shamed by others, made fun of, called names, diminished for mistakes or lack of knowledge of a thing, literally being told one is somehow bad, not going to amount to anything, being compared against others, being yelled at or threatened.

Physical abuse. The predominant message a person gets when struck by another person out of anger, an effort to discipline, etc. is that they are somehow flawed. Being treated gently shows someone their worth. It takes effort… attention, patience, softness- the opposite of which takes little effort. Of course, this is often coupled with verbal abuse, sometimes sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse. When this happens to someone, they often get the message that this is their only value, their only utility as a person. It’s also extremely common, in order for the abuser to be able to continue the act, that they diminish the victim as a person. Taking away their power, their human-ness, their self worth, makes it easier to continue violating them. The act itself literally causes shame- it instills something in the person that they have to hide, something that makes them feel less human, separates them from others.

The media. There’s a lot of images in our society, a lot of messages that we get about our worth. Television, magazines, movies, other people, all bombard us with a message about what we “need” to do, have, look like. We are given the sense that unless we’re attached to some product, some lifestyle, some particular achievement, we are somehow not successful. This is not simply a message about how far we’ve gone in life, it’s a message about our being-ness, our human-ness.

We do a lot of work to “get” self esteem- take care of ourselves physically, our appearance, do esteemable acts, visualization, affirmations and etc. Those of us that have done these things often haven’t been able to maintain our self worth despite such efforts. These ideas help us feel better in the moment, but long term, we often still experience a deep sense of shame.

Some have said that a central idea in Buddhism is that at the center of each human being is the fear we don’t exist. This lends itself to the idea that we are constantly reaching outside of ourselves for things, naming and labeling them, attaching ourselves to them, trying to obtain them. In doing so, being attached to a thing (person, etc), we can fear less that we don’t exist. So we go about our lives in a way that diminishes our personhood, our being-ness, our selves being “enough” simply as we are.

The answer to this is not simply adding things to our lives, behaviors, personhood. Shame, low self worth and etc is something we have to give away. We have had experiences that diminished our self esteem- abuse, abandonment, exposure or humiliation, being diminished or demeaned verbally- those are the things that make us feel less of ourselves. Until we find a way to “let go” of those feelings, to give them away, to make space for our self esteem, we will be unable to experience it no matter how many “creative visualizations”, affirmations and etc. that we do.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Petar Sardelich MFT/PT/MAC
    May 24, 2010 @ 05:59:16

    The idea of "detatchment" has been helpful to a lot of people. Is a central idea in Al-Anon, Co-Da, and etc of course. Thanks much for mentioning it.

    Reply

  2. BOC
    May 22, 2010 @ 16:41:28

    Interesting idea of "letting go" of feelings..I also like the idea of consciously stepping outside of or detaching from them, allowing oneself to actually choose not to drop into "low self worth". I guess the key is to be able to recognize it and know you have a choice. Thanks for your great insight.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Flickr Photos

DSM IV TR

Sadie first day home

Stranger Hand

More Photos

Available Tuesday through Saturday

626-676-0541
Hours vary, depending on the day.
%d bloggers like this: