A participant writes,
I have a question: How can I best help a loved one who has great difficulty because she has low self esteem, is highly self critical, and extremely sensitive to perceived criticism or disrespect by others towards her? As you said, I should act in ways that help her feel better about herself and not worse and I should be careful to not use harsh speech with her. But she has many conflicts that don’t originate with me, but with bosses, coworkers, friends, and so forth. She suffers a lot, and has created problems for herself. Now I try to listen deeply when she is upset, and show her love and understanding. That helps her feel better, until the next incident. She comes to me for sympathy, not advice. But should I also try to suggest to her (when she’s not agitated) that there’s a different way to perceive and respond to such events? Should I try to pass on one or two simple ideas that I’ve gleaned from the teachings? It’s possible that she will react negatively. Thank you for the advice. A lotus for you.
People with low self-esteem and extreme sensitivity to criticism are ironically often caught up in a very egoistic state of being. Whether we react strongly to approval or disapproval it all circles around this precious ‘I’ that cannot be touched. Your friend seems to be trapped within her own self-concern and the need to protect herself.
Does she feel that she can’t function without approval so that any disagreement is seen as a rejection? So then she reacts angrily? It seems likely that such intense feelings come from some deep hurt inside – otherwise she would not need to react so extremely. This really needs to be looked at and investigated. Perhaps she should consult a sympathetic analyst.
Meanwhile of course you can suggest ways for her to deal more skillfully with her problem, but it sounds as though she might need someone whom she trusts to work with her in overcoming this psychological disability. She needs to be able to look clearly and discover where these negative habitual reactions originated. We have all learned bad emotional habits at some time in the past and now need to start reprogramming ourselves.
Jetsunma continues, addressing the entire group,
All of us come to this birth with a general backlog of unresolved conflicts and of habits both good and bad. This is called samsara. One of our tasks in this lifetime is to start clearing up the muddle and getting things functioning more smoothly. So we have to see the problem clearly and then set about putting it right. As Buddhaghosa states, ‘All the world is entangled in a tangle. Who can succeed in untangling this tangle?’ Practicing the Dharma is the way to untie the knots and release us from our bondage. But this takes time – with lots of patience and perseverance.
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