Of course we all want to feel good about ourselves. A great avenue for this is self- compassion. Self-compassion makes it ok to be average and we can still feel good about ourselves when we fail or make a mistake, feel inadequate and are not at our best.
Self-esteem, unlike self-compassion, is not an internal state, but an assessment based mostly on other people’s feedback and judgements. Self-esteem, then, is not fixed, but goes up and down. In fact, the chase for self-esteem is always on. We are never good enough or good enough as we are.
The world renowned expert on self-compassion wisely advises us to “…stop chasing self-esteem and start developing self-compassion.
The downside of self-esteem
- It is based on comparing ourselves to others. For high self-esteem you have to see yourself as ‘special’ ‘better than’ or ‘above average’. Comparisons are also a recipe for envy and jealousy. It obviously fuels competition and disconnections with people.
- It breeds overconfidence. Add to this an existing phenomenon dubbed by psychologists as The Lake Wobegon effect. This is the human tendency to overestimate one’s achievements and capabilities in relation to others. In a fun fact, Lake Wobegon is in a fictional novel of a town where “”all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”. Research shows that most people feel they are nicer, wiser, friendlier, more popular, more intelligent and more trustworthy than others. AND most people also think they are are above average in the ability to view themselves objectively!
- High self-esteem requires success. Self-esteem, in turn, does a nose dive with failures and mistakes and the inevitable fall from feeling superior or better than.
- We can’t protect ourselves from life events that threaten self-esteem (events like mistakes, failures, rejection-you know, the stuff of life!)
What’s different about self-compassion?
Self-compassion isn’t based on an evaluation or judgement of ourselves. It is a way of relating to ourselves. It is also a perspective that starts from the truth that we all feel inadequate or imperfect at times.
From this understanding of our ‘humanness’, self-compassion is a healthy way to respond to these feelings of inadequacy and imperfection when they arise.
The upside of self-compassion
- It is not based on comparisons. In fact, we are all in the same boat as human beings. We feel compassion for ourselves because we are an (imperfect) human, and not because we are ‘better than’ someone else.
- Connections are fostered through the recognition of our humanness.
- Self-compassion provides more stable feelings of self-worth. Self-worth is not dependent upon comparisons, success, being ‘better than’ others.
The bottom line is that self-compassion offers us the benefit of greater happiness without the downside of self-esteem. Ready to try some self-compassion exercises?