We’ve been taught from a young age the importance of maintaining high self-esteem. We’re constantly reminded of how much better our lives could be if we were just a little more “confident”. We live in a society where having high self-esteem is the be all and end all.
However, researchers and psychologists are starting to question the role that self-esteem really plays in our lives. They are finding evidence proving that self-compassion is a better alternative to self-esteem. While they may sound similar, the differences between the two are actually like night and day.
What is self-esteem and what does it look like?
By definition, self-esteem means having “an inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself.” The definition itself is problematic. Yes, self-esteem allows us to feel good about ourselves, but at what cost? Self-esteem requires us to evaluate ourselves in a positive light because we’ve done something to make us stand out. Self-esteem has its roots in comparison. We compare our work to the work of others in order to feel superior or above average; as if “average” is the worst thing a human could be. In order to see ourselves in a positive light, we tend to see others in a negative one.
Self-esteem is all performance-based, so when we don’t meet the high standards that we’ve set for ourselves, we feel like a failure, and our self-esteem plummets. While there is nothing inherently wrong with having high self-esteem, what’s problematic is the manner in which we seek to obtain it. If we need to look at ourselves in a falsified light or look down on others, we create a societal narcissism. So how do we feel good about ourselves without putting other people down? That’s where self-compassion comes into play…
What is self-compassion and what does it look like?
Instead of deriving from self-criticism or evaluation, self-compassion allows us to view ourselves as we would see our best friend. Like the people we love most in this world, we too, are human. Life will not always go our way, and like all humans, we will most certainly mess up. But when these times come, instead of beating ourselves up for it, we need to extend compassion over ourselves. Self-compassion lacks the judgment that self-esteem relies on and allows us to honor our feelings.
As an example, let’s say you were turned down for a job you wanted. Somebody seeking validation through self-esteem will be especially harsh on himself or herself for not getting the job. They’ll beat themselves up and may even question how they didn’t get the job when in reality it wasn’t something they were very qualified for in the first place. Somebody with self-compassion, however, will allow himself or herself to feel sad or disappointed without judging themselves for not getting the position. They’ll see the situation in a clearer light instead of in an overly self-critical fashion. Unlike a person relying solely on self-esteem, somebody with self-compassion does not allow their self-worth to change based on whether or not they got the job offer.
Self-compassion encourages us to extend kindness and understanding to ourselves as we would a friend. This allows us to love ourselves during times we feel on top of the world as well as during times when we think we’ve hit rock bottom.
As mentioned previously, there is nothing wrong with the act of having high self-esteem; in fact, low self-esteem is actually very problematic. But we need to reevaluate our definition of self-esteem and what we do to achieve it.
For a healthier and more balanced inner perspective, we may do well to start extending consistent self-compassion rather than hyper-focusing on highly changeable performance-based views of ourselves. Beginning a mindful self-compassion practice requires acquiring new skills, dedication to changing your thoughts and self-talk, and practicing self-compassion on a daily basis. A great place to start is in our Mindful Self-Compassion Group that runs every quarter. For more information and to sign up, visit us here.