Today, I will be writing about low self-esteem, and how to deal with it as an INFP. I’m having a bad hair day for no reason. Not sure if it’s because the weather sucks, or because I’ve been feeling bloated and physically uncomfortable for the last three days. It doesn’t matter, really. I am giving myself the right to do nothing and feel a little miserable tonight.
It’s friday afternoon. If I were like most people, I would already be heading to a party. But true INFP as I am, I am throwing a lonely pity party to myself and letting myself drown in a pool of melancholy instead. How pathetic, most extroverts would say.
You know, the reason why I go hermit in such moments is that I don’t feel comfortable sharing this kind of thoughts with just anyone. Most people instantly want to deny my feelings and cheer me up at all costs. Think positive. Keep smiling. Stop moaning.
Experiencing authentic emotions with full awareness is not allowed, apparently.
When my Dad died, I had no idea about self-compassion. Knowing what I know now, today, I would have coped differently, but then, to avoid the feeling of hopelessness and the emotional pain, I numbed myself with exercise and a shitload of Very Important Tasks to complete. I didn’t give myself the right or the time to feel the sadness and grieve. Instead, I dealt with a ton of skeletons falling out of the closet, learned a new profession to take over his business, and did everything to bury the feeling of hopelessness.
I thought I was being brave. I even remember myself saying: I don’t want anyone pity me. I want them to admire me, and I will work my ass off to achieve it.
Oh boy, how wrong I was!
I thought that if only I could succeed in my narcissistic pursuit of beauty and wealth, I would be happy. I dressed for success and forced myself to wear high heels and make-up. I let my inferior Te organize myself and my business, I manhandled my comfort zone over and over again, only to realize that what I had defined as success was never meant to be. The sad truth is that I never managed to make enough money in my insurance company to pay myself a salary. That’s a failure for sure.
Needless to say, my self-esteem, an ephemeral by-product of having achieved a body I had always dreamed of and the pride of a new entrepreneur, didn’t last long. Now that I think of it, those conditions were just ideal for my depression to come to light.
INFP, Low Self-Esteem & Depression
The sense of one’s worthlessness AKA low self-esteem is believed to be one of depression causes, scientists report. I would say it makes perfect sense to me. Low self-esteem is the reason why people develop negative thought habits and take things personally. Neutral situations often get interpreted in such a way that they ruin your mood completely and only damage your self-esteem even further. But there is also another side of the coin. Once depressed, it’s not surprising that your negative thought patterns affect your self-esteem, too. It’s like a snowball rolling down the slope.
I’ll be completely honest with you (it’s easier because we probably will never meet anyway, so your judgment doesn’t bother me): deep down in my heart, I am terribly insecure.
Where did my self-esteem issues originate? I believe it is a combination of my personality and my upbringing by loving but imperfect parents. INFPs are notorious for having low self-esteem, and it’s hard not to harm them in the process of socialization.
As a kid, I was excessively praised for my achievements. I was told I was exceptional and gifted. Since I had been promoted to the 2nd grade after two months in the 1st grade, my parents had a reason to believe I was above average. Pretty cool childhood, huh? Nevertheless, what it did to me was make me believe that my worth equals my achievements, that I am worthy of love as long as I am succeeding and scoring the best marks. Even though I was never punished if I didn’t get all A’s, the fear of failure and the shame of not being as good as they thought haunted me for the at every stage of my education.
Even today, there’s still a little girl within me who never feels competent enough at anything she’s doing, or good enough to be an important person in someone’s life. She hates being in the spotlight because it entails being judged. She can hardly believe someone may like her just for being herself. She’s gotten to a point where even when she’s praised, she doesn’t acually believe she is any good. This miserable praise junkie needs something different than self-esteem and confidence.
As a perfectionist in recovery, I cannot stress how dangerous it is to have a self-esteem is that based on achievements or performance. It works only until you fail. Sooner or later, you will. Paradoxically, the moment we need our self-esteem most, it becomes unavailable.
How is self-compassion different from self-esteem, and why is it better?
Having compassion for yourself is pretty much like having compassion for anyone else: it’s about acknowledging someone’s sufferring and feeling moved by it. To be compassionate is to offer kindness and understanding to the sufferring person without judgment, with full awareness that being less than perfect is a human thing. After all, we are all imperfect human beings.
So self-compassion is when you comfort yourself the way you would comfort a good friend of yours.
But how many of us, instead of showing ourselves compassion when we fail, engage in self-flagellation and shaming in order to motivate ourselves to improve? WHy is it so difficult to give ourselves a warm, compassionate hug, validated our feelings of frustration and moved on?
Self-esteem, on the other hand, is about oneselves perceived self-image and requires comparison with others. It’s about feeling good (or above average) at what we think is important in life. There is no doubt that low self-esteem leads to anxiety and depression, but surprisingly, a self-esteem that is too high is no good either. Those who have had to deal with a true narcissist and their inflated ego know what I mean.
We are constantly told that to be successful and happy we must think highly of ourselves, fake it till we make it, think positively, dream bigger, and work harder to achieve it. Otherwise, we will end up as average, and there’s nothing worse than being average in the Western culture. I don’t have to tell you how sick I am of this motivational bullshit, do I?
The moment I write it, thousands of self-proclaimed self-esteem and confidence coaches furiously leave their comfort zones to clapperclaw my poor INFP self. That’s understandable. If people embraced self-compassion instead of chasing self-esteem, they would be all out of business.
So this is the conclusion I have drawn from one of the most inspiring books I have read recently: Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, written by Dr. Kristin Neff.
7 Reasons Why You Should Choose Self-Compassion Over Self-Esteem
#1. Self-compassion is a cure for shame.
Shame is a universal emotion and a powerful driving force behind our behaviors, and it is always a very unpleasant one. Brené Brown, an internationally reknown shame researcher defines it as
the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion is available to us whenever we fail, underperform, or face a challenging situation. You don’t have to be special, above average, or outperform anyone in anything to deserve self-compassion. You are worthy.
I’ve never been into those positive affirmations that are supposed to transform one’s life by denying reality. INFPs can smell bullshit from a distance. But telling yourself that it is human to err and validating your difficult emotions feels different. When you don’t resist your difficult emotions, they fade away.
#2. Self-compassion is THE way to let go of perfectionism.
When your self-worth is based on your achievements and failure is a disaster, life becomes terribly stressful. No wonder that „perfectionists are at much greater risk for eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other psychological problems”, Dr. Neff points.
Because self-compassion stresses the quality of being worthy and lovable as a human in spite of our shortcomings, practicing it is the best way to let go of perfectionism and live a happier, healthier life. Becasue research shows that self-compassionate people are actually healthier.
#3. Self-compassion allows human connection.
While self-esteem is based on comparison with other folks and requires us to consider ourselves above average, self-compassion is about acknowledging your difficult emotions and accepting them as universal to mankind. You don’t have to own a bigger house, a better car, or get a raise to fell better about yourself. Simply knowing that you are no different from others, that everyone experience difficult emotions and struggle sometimes no matter their financial status, makes you feel more connected and less lonely.
#4. Self-compassionate people don’t fear failure.
Failures are frustrating as hell, but they’re an inherent part of apprenticeship. In the last 4 years of my life, I’ve failed more times than I can count. It is always painful to fail. Some people fear that self-compassion is the same as self-indulging, but that’s not true at all. Being kind to yourself when you fail and suffer from disappointment is the best you can do. On the long term, self-compassion is a much better motivator than self-criticism because the driving force behind your actions is love, not fear.
#5. Self-compassion prevents compassion fatigue.
If you’re member of one of the caring professions, which is the case of many INFPs, chances are that, if you don’t take care of yourself the right way, you may develop a compassion fatigue and eventually, burn out. To put it simply, caring too much for others without caring for yourself may be very harmful to one’s mental health. Self-compassion allows us to recharge our emotional batteries when they get depleted.
#6. Self-compassion improves our relationships and enables us to create more authentic and meaningful friendships.
When we let go of our perfectionism and embrace who we are, it’s much easier to acknowledge our mistakes. We don’t need to project our blame on others to feel better about ourselves anymore. We can be more authentic because we don’t risk as much, and have the courage to be vulnerable. We find it easier to forgive and move on, because everyone fails sometimes. We feel more accepted by our partners becasue we accept ourselves.
And the best is that it works both ways. Being self-compassionete, we also become more understanding and less jugdmental of others, so they begin to feel drawn to us by an invisible force. In such conditions, mutual trust can flourish and develop into something really beautiful, be it friendship or romantic relationship.
#7. Self-compassion guarantees better sex.
Okay, if this argument doesn’t convince you to be self-compassionate, nothing else will 😉 As Dr. Neff states, “self-compassion can help us develop a healthier, more authentic way of relating to sex”. This is because through the practice of self-compassionwe can learn to love ourselves the way we are and express our sexuality freely, as well as let go of social judgment of what is acceptable.
Do we necessarily have to choose between self-compassion and self-esteem? Not really. The good news is that you can still have the cake and eat it. In her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Dr. Neff says high self-esteem (of a healthy kind) is a product, rather than a cause, of self-compassionate behavior. Thus, by being kind to yourself, in the long term, you hit two birds with one stone.
So next time you feel upset and emotionally disstressed, don’t just keep calm and carry on. Instead, notice those feelings without judging yourself for them. Life gets pretty hard sometimes and everyone struggles in one way or another. Remember to approach yourself with the compassion you deserve as a human.
May you be peaceful and free from sufferring.
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