Over the last 30+ years we have been obsessed with trying to raise self-esteem, and for the most part these attempts have failed. In part, this “problem with self-esteem” is driven from a Western perspective which tends to view ourselves as defective or “in need of improvement.” We take on an endless search to prove our worth, comparing ourselves against others. Our tendency is to encounter life via our personal narrative: experience is identified as belonging to me, mine, or I. This propensity causes us to take things personally, protect and defend our sense of self or “ego”—assumptions of what we believe to be true—and feel separate and alone.
From a Buddhist psychology viewpoint, we are already whole and complete just as we are. This attitude concedes there is no fixed or solid self, rather there is no self: self is an unfolding process—an ever-fluctuating flow of experience. Experience does not refer back to self; it doesn’t “belong” to anyone. When perceiving yourself as already whole, you are able to embrace all parts of yourself without distinction. Your inherent goodness rises to the surface. The boundary between “self and other” dissolves and there’s a sense of connection to a larger whole. “From a Buddhist perspective, self-esteem can be defined as self without definition” (Marotta, 2013, 3)
Rather than being externally focused by seeking conditional acceptance to gain others approval, mindful self-esteem emerges from cultivating qualities of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Looking at self-esteem from this model serves as an antidote to the “problem of self-esteem.”