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Excerpted from Self-Esteem by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning. Copyright © 2000 by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning. Excerpted by permission of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"An attempt to understand is the first step toward a compassionate relationship to yourself and others."

  Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning,
, Part 2


An attempt to understand is the first step toward a compassionate relationship to yourself and others. Understanding something important about yourself or a loved one can totally change your feelings and attitudes. Consider the case of Sean, a brick mason who finally realized why he overate in the evenings. One day he had a particularly hard job. After working until dark, he realized that he still had a full day's work left for the next day, when he was supposed to start yet another job. He drove home with one eye on the temperature gauge because his car had been overheating and he couldn't afford to get it fixed. He felt exhausted, anxious, and defeated. He thought about stopping at the liquor store and getting some nuts, some corn chips, and some dip to snack on before dinner.

As he pictured himself ensconced in front of the TV with his snacks piled on the arms of the chair, he began to feel better. But the critic had also started kicking him for his "junk food binges." At this point Sean did some thing different. He asked him self why the thought of food made him feel better. Then he had an insight: he overate in the evenings to escape his feelings of pressure and inadequacy during the day. While snacking, he felt comforted and safe.

This sudden understanding was Sean's first step toward a more compassionate view of himself. He understood his overeating as a response to unbearable pressures, rather than an expression of gluttony or weakness.

Not all understanding comes so easy. Sometimes it comes as the result of a plodding, sustained effort to figure things out. Your decision to buy and read this book is an example of a conscious, step-by-step approach to understanding.

Understanding the nature of your problems doesn't mean that you have to come up with solutions to them. It merely means that you have figured out how you operate -- what you are likely to do in a given situation and why you probably do it. It means you have some sense of how you came to be the person you are.

Understanding others is mostly a matter of listening to them instead of listening to your own self-talk about them. Instead of saying to yourself, "What a blabber mouth! Will she ever shut up?" you listen as your mother tells you about her trip to the doctor. You ask her questions about her symptoms and the tests she had to take. You gently probe for the feelings underneath the facts. Gradually you realize that she is not just complaining about the nurse and the receptionist. She is worried about getting older, about death. You are able to empathize and offer some sympathy, instead of your usual impatience. This makes her feel better and you feel better about yourself.

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