Kindred Spirits Can Save Your Life, Even If You Never Actually Meet Them

Kindred Spirits Can Save Your Life, Even If You Never Actually Meet Them

If low self-esteem had a Constitution, its First Amendment would be: I hate myself.

Its Second Amendment would be: Everyone hates me.

Illogically, maddeningly, this Second Amendment haunts even the most intraverted among us: Not that the Second Amendment of Low Self-Esteem causes intraversion, but rather that naturally born loners who are unlucky enough to start loathing themselves often fall under the tragic enchantment of thinking themselves universally loathed—believing it so deeply as to turn their lives into aim-to-please performances.

But the truth is this: Everyone on Earth—even the creepiest murderer—is liked by some, disliked by some and unknown by most. Disliking ourselves doesn't mean everyone else dislikes us, as we realize when we are hugged, handed flowers or asked out to lunch.

We with low self-esteem tend to magnify the everyone-hates-me myth by focusing on our worst interpersonal encounters, replaying mentally every remembered snarl, snub and slur. But we have the power to minimize and even melt this myth.

A great way to do this is by seeking and finding kindred spirits. It's not easy: For example, I happen to live in a town where, for many reasons, you'd think nearly everyone would be my best pal. Yet I walk its streets feeling like a Martian, porcupine or ghost.

Once you identify your kindred spirits, you needn't love them. You needn't even meet them. Just knowing they exist, knowing—with an empathy that out-shouts our cruel inner critics—that certain living creatures (or even fictional characters) share our likes and dislikes and respond to the same stimuli with the same joy or misery as we would, means more to our self-esteem than ten thousand I-am-beautiful affirmations ever could.

Waiting in a drugstore for a prescription to be filled one day last week, having not slept the night before, I sat observing a rack displaying colorful gauze scarves. One spotted scarf in particular caught my eye.

Pausing beside the rack, a passing shopper lifted the scarf I'd been admiring and draped it around her neck.

"This is a cool scarf," she said aloud, presumably to me.

"I know," I said, as if we'd been friends for years. "That's a really cool scarf."

"It's a great price, too," the woman went on. "I gave a scarf like this to my mother-in-law, but she didn't appreciate it. You know what I mean?"

"Yes," I said. "I know exactly what you mean."

She laughed, holding the scarf up to the light.

"Look at these colors!"

"They match your sunglasses," I said.

Now, few dialogues could be more trivial. Yet bonding ever so fleetingly with this stranger—with whom passersby might assume I shared nothing in common—meant a lot to me. Sure, maybe she addresses strangers constantly. And sure, we'll never move in together. But for that moment I was not a repulsive, unapproachable freak.

Other kindred spirits I've encountered recently: a cocker spaniel that gazed up at me with paranormal, heart-shattering intensity as I patted him while his owner, a stranger, stood by holding the leash. And a homeless man who approached me on the beach asking me to share a smoke at his campsite. I declined, but the rapture with which he watched the surf told me: Appearances aside, this rough-skinned soul loves the sea exactly as I do: supremely, more than most people do, more than anything.

I was grateful to accept this fact. Assembling more and more like it, I'm repealing the Second Amendment of Low Self-Esteem.

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