Feel in need of an ego boost? Forget it! Cultivating self-compassion is far more powerful than self-esteem and here is why.
Having high self-esteem is a great thing right? At least that’s what most of us believe. It is also what a lot of us aspire to. However, what we fail to recognise is that high self-esteem leads to many negative qualities such as: narcissism, perfectionism, pride, over-inflated ego, difficulty to receive constructive criticism, the desire to always feel special and accepted, depression… and the list goes on.
The problem is that it’s tough up there on that pedestal and there is always going to be someone better than us. Be it that they are smarter, better looking, wittier, more seductive, they will be there. Fact is we can only be above average at some things, some of the time, and self-esteem is really about us believing we are completely above average all of the time. When we have this belief about ourselves, we become a rat on a treadmill, constantly seeking validation of our own strengths and abilities. We become brittle – hard and easily breakable! We can’t always be special and above average in everything all of the time. Why put ourselves through this when in actual fact we are all fragile and imperfect and doesn’t that make the world a better place?
Well there is another way – self-compassion!
We need to:
Stop self damning – judging, evaluating and rating ourselves globally
Stop turning healthy desires and wishes into destructive musts.
Treat ourselves with kindness, self caring and compassion
How do we do this?
By accepting ourselves completely with a non judgemental, open heart, and treating ourselves with the very same caring, kindness, and compassion that we would offer to a friend, or even a stranger! We can’t grow if we don’t recognise our own flaws.
Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion is not a relentless pursuit. It is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives. This helps us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. The nurturing quality of self-compassion also allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in tough times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we become more able to consider what is right about life along with what is wrong. Like this we become more able to orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.
In the words of Albert Ellis “Living and enjoying, not rating yourself is the essence of living” Self-esteem makes you constantly dependent on the approval of others. We know this is negative. Start cultivating self- compassion right now with these easy steps below.
1. Think of a situation in your life that is difficult and is causing you stress.
2. Call the situation to mind and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
3. Now say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.”
This acknowledgment is a form of mindfulness—of simply noticing what is going on for you emotionally in the present moment, without judging that experience as good or bad. You can also say to yourself, “This hurts,” or, “This is stress.” Use whatever statement feels most natural to you.
4. Next, say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life.”
This is a recognition of your common humanity with others—that all people have trying experiences, and these experiences give you something in common with the rest of humanity rather than mark you as abnormal or deficient. Other options for this statement include “Other people feel this way,” “I’m not alone,” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
5. Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch on your chest, and say, “May I be kind to myself.”
This is a way to express self-kindness. You can also consider whether there is another specific phrase that would speak to you in that particular situation. Some examples: “May I give myself the compassion that I need,” “May I accept myself as I am,” “May I learn to accept myself as I am,” “May I forgive myself,” “May I be strong,” and “May I be patient.”
This practice can be used any time of day or night. If you practice it in moments of relative calm, it might become easier for you to experience the three parts of self-compassion—mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness—when you need them most.
Why should you try it?
Difficult situations become even harder when we beat ourselves up over them, interpreting them as a sign that we’re less capable or worthy than other people. In fact, we often judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others, especially when we make a mistake or feel stressed out. That makes us feel isolated, unhappy, and even more stressed; it may even make us try to feel better about ourselves by denigrating other people.
Rather than harsh self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. According to psychologist Kristin Neff, this “self-compassion” has three main components: mindfulness, a feeling of common humanity, and self-kindness. This exercise walks you through all three of those components when you’re going through a stressful experience. Research suggests that people who treat themselves with compassion rather than criticism in difficult times experience greater physical and mental health.
Why it works
The three elements in this practice—mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness—all play important roles in increasing self-compassion. Mindfulness allows people to step back and recognize that they are experiencing suffering, without judging that suffering as something bad that they should try to avoid; sometimes people fail to notice when they are in pain, or deny that they are suffering because it brings up feelings of weakness or defeat. Common humanity reminds people of their connection with other people—all of whom suffer at some point in their lives—and eases feelings of loneliness and isolation. Self-kindness is an active expression of caring toward the self that can help people clarify their intentions for how they want to treat themselves.
Going through these steps in response to a stressful experiences can help people replace their self-critical voice with a more compassionate one, one that comforts and reassures rather than berating them for shortcomings. That makes it easier to work through stress and reach a place of calm, acceptance, and happiness.
To sum up: Recognise that it is okay to fall on your face. Accept yourself and realise the world is full of unique talents… and you are one of them!
Featured photo credit: Kai Chan Vong via farm9.staticflickr.com