What's in our backpack?
This article is for anyone who has struggled with loneliness or low self-esteem.
Where Are We?
Life is a series of problems. Both loneliness and low self-esteem or a depressed state of mind are two serious issues. In my experience, these things never really vanish; instead, they subside or are fought back with tools that we collect during our experience of life. I like to think of myself as having a bag of tools that I carry around. I am then able to apply these tactics when a particular problem arises. This bag, in my opinion, is never full and never complete. We can continually learn and grow by adding new, and or improved tools to this trove.
Now we can imagine that we all have these tool boxes for solving the problems of life. If this is the case, how do we find, create, or modify the contents of such a tool chest?
Because we are biological, psychological, social, and some would say spiritual beings, it is essential to be cognizant of all of these facets. The tools that we gather and or create are predicated on the knowledge which turns into wisdom when practiced. We can collect the necessary knowledge through direct or indirect experiences. Direct experience would be to see someone else apply a tactic successfully. Our mirror neurons allow us to learn what that person did simply by watching. An indirect experience would be through some communication method such as written or verbal language. This method would require some description of the approach and most likely a story to codify the moral(s).
The struggles that these tools address are both internal and external. The ones to approach first are on the inside. If our inner landscape is settled, then our outer world will be facile to navigate. It seems as though we should aim at a place where we have tools to move forthrightly toward our problems. This approach is the way to reduce our suffering, which is a more powerful motivator than attempting to gain pleasure. In other words, humans are inclined to try to minimize pain as compared to seek pleasure. This idea is critical to keep in mind as we choose tools to stay with us at all times.
So then, if we can gather and or create tools to facilitate our journey through life, how might some of those look? Here we will look at an example that has come up several times in my conversations with various people.
In general we have ups and downs in life. Some of us struggle with different things. Here we will focus on loneliness and or low self-esteem. It seems as though these are two significant issues facing people in society today. These topics are something that I have been challenged with as well. It’s taken me almost three decades to figure out how to combat these mind seeds that were planted at a very young age.
From where do loneliness and low self-esteem spring? Perhaps we have a dialogue in our head such as “what is wrong with me?” or “why doesn’t anyone want to be around me, or why doesn’t anyone value me?”
Being lonely seems to stem from desiring human connection and having that go unfulfilled. It has its origins in us not being connected with ourselves as we should be able to be okay being alone.
Low self-esteem, on the other hand, originates from not having faced and overcome things under our power. If we have been handed everything or helped our entire lives, we do not build confidence in knowing that we can aim at a problem and surmount that challenge ourselves. This notion means that we are not able to re-frame failure from painful experience to a learning opportunity.
To start to overcome these character traits, we must have some primer, a place to spark the fire that will eventually propel us out of such a rut.
In good times, it is important to count our blessings. This concept is to say, realize the positive reactions that we are getting from folks around us. In moments of weakness, these memories can act like photos or gems. If we store these in a metaphorical knapsack, then we can gain access to them at any time. We can think of it as having a bag of things that make us feel good about ourselves. In times of doubt, we can look at a photo or a gem that someone gave us as a reminder of our positive character trait(s). Keeping these items close as a reminder is of paramount importance as anyone who has struggled with loneliness or depression knows that we do not think about the tools that could liberate us when we are in a time of need.
Now if we go through our life and gather these uplifting memories and compliments, then we can add valuable tools to our chest. However, where do we turn when we have not done this, and no one is looking our way in a positive light - at least from our perspective?
This milestone marks a low point. However, it is darkest just before dawn, and it’s when we experience enough pain that we will move on. It is at such an all-time low that we must take responsibility for where we are. Sure, many things were out of our control on this race to the bottom. Now that we are bitter, cynical, and angry at the world, we have a choice. Carry that around and keep on using it to drive people away, or recognize it for what it is.
We all have strengths that we can focus on and cultivate. If we do that with single-pointedness of mind, or in other words with all of our focus and might, then someday the compliments will return. It is that point - when our positive character traits sprout again - for which we should prepare. We must work on our inner landscape to ensure the soil is fertile so that when the inspiring words of another fall upon it, we can nourish and grow our seed, our gift.
Once we have cultivated our inner landscape, it is time to focus outwardly. To shift from a perspective of bitterness, and cynicism to a more positive outlook, we can focus on the well being of others. If we can uplift someone else, then we both win. If we help another, we will feel good and so will the other person. It is easy for us to forget that life is not a zero-sum game.
We can take signals from the world and integrate them into a set of reminders to let ourselves know that we are valued and that we have prevailed in the face of adversity. These facets can be formed into tools and placed in our bag of tactics. When we need to surmount a challenge, whether it is internal or external, we can turn to this trove for the leverage that we need to overcome the many challenges that life will inevitably throw at us.