We often think of self-esteem as something you are either born with or without. Ayurveda, the East Indian system of medicine, teaches that self-esteem is more than an inner sense of grace. Self-esteem is crafted in relationship. Do we know this to be true? Yes. In a 1987 book, The Truly Disadvantaged, sociologist William Wilson reported that moving individuals from poor, urban neighborhoods to neighborhoods were 90% of the individuals lived above the poverty line vastly improved the participant’s sense of self-worth and happiness. Despite what we know about self-esteem, it is rarely discussed as a product of being in community.
Luckily, Ayurveda, has a lot to say about how we can help each other cultivate self-esteem. That’s right: you are instrumental to the emotional well being of those around you! You have a pivotal part to play in encouraging the net worth of happiness and contentment in your community. You may not be able to do much for your own self-esteem, but you can definitely help those around you! To do this Ayurveda outlines three primary ways in which the different constitutions (doshas) experience self-esteem. Understanding these constitutions helps us to reflect back to each other our strengths.
Pitta people are intelligent, excellent workers, and exceptionally organized. Their productivity is envied by many, but few see that this productivity is driven by a desire to be recognized by others. When pitta individuals experience low self esteem it often manifests as anger. They begin by critiquing outside people (the government, people at their jobs), but they ultimately blame themselves – descending into self-doubt and self-loathing. Outsiders may wonder how someone so accomplished can feel so blue. We can support our pitta friends by recognizing their contributions. They achieve so much it seems like why should we point out yet another success? Simply because it makes pitta people very, very happy.
Vata people are creative and engaged. They thrive on being involved in multiple projects at once. They have fresh insights into many different topics – from the arts, to politics and economics. Indeed, they have so many fantastic ideas that they will not be able to complete all of their projects. When vata individuals feel low self-esteem it is usually related to not accomplishing as much as they would like; they quickly become anxious and fearful that they will never achieve their dreams. We can encourage our creative vata friends by pointing out that inspiring others is in itself a fantastic contributing that they are uniquely positioned to share! Vata people often fail to understand how much they contribute to the world around them simply by sharing their ideas. We can help by pointing out how they help us to see things in new and unexpected ways.
Kaphas people are stable and filled with compassion, love and care towards others. Kapha people are slow to change. They are the stable members of every family and community. When kapha individuals have low self-esteem they become depressed and turn to cookies, candy and chocolate. They may feel out of place in the fast paced world of vatas and the competitive edge of the pittas. What they really wonder is: who will love them? We can encourage our kapha friends by slowing down, sitting by their side and pointing out their many wonderful qualities. Kaphas don’t need to achieve (like pittas) or create (like vatas), they need to love. We are all made more wonderful by slowing down and embracing their compassion.
Take an opportunity this week to reflect on how you can support positive self-esteem for those around you! It feels great to support each other and goes a long way to helping us build the community, recognition and support that we often crave. My teacher, Swami Satchidananda, once said “The biggest mistake people make on the spiritual path is thinking they can do it alone.” Sangha, or community, is how each of us reaches our potential.