Self-esteem is a concept virtually everyone is familiar with. Since childhood, we’ve been taught that having high self-esteem is something to strive towards. We’re told to believe in what we can do, and anything will be possible with the right “can do” attitude.
As we begin navigating the world and forming relationships and connections, those lessons seem to hold up. People who appear to have high self-esteem seem to be the ones doing the best, particularly when viewed through the lens of social media. They all seem to experience constant success in their ventures and lead the lives we all wish we could.
So, we head to the self-help aisles to pick up one of the thousands of books offering quick-fix solutions. Many obsessively pursue high self-esteem without stopping to analyze what the chase is doing to their lives. The pursuit of high self-esteem is often likened to a roller coaster. Because no matter how successful or accomplished you become, there’s always someone else out there who’s prettier, smarter, or more successful than you. And that’s without also considering the other negative correlations and side effects of self-esteem.
Thankfully, there’s a new focus emerging. Self-compassion is often confused with self-esteem, but the two concepts are actually quite different.
What is self-compassion?
Where self-esteem is often built up based on a judgment of worth or an evaluation of ourselves, self-compassion is viewing and accepting yourself with clarity and honesty.
It doesn’t ask you to be more than others. Self-compassion teaches us that we don’t always have to be living our best lives. It simply asks us to give ourselves the same kindness we would to others. Instead of attempting to avoid failures and mistakes in our lives (and risk lowering our self-esteem), self-compassion teaches us that we can learn from our failures and become more successful by embracing all of our experiences.
Self-compassion provides the same benefits of self-esteem but more sustainably and stably.
What’s so bad about self-esteem?
At its core, self-esteem isn’t inherently wrong. Focusing on or having confidence in what we can do or achieve is a good thing in smaller doses. Unfortunately, putting too much emphasis on self-esteem or devoting too much of one’s life to its pursuit can lead to many negative outcomes.
When we’ve spent too much time worrying over our self-esteem, we set ourselves up for future failures. Because something will always come along to knock us off our perch, sending us crashing down. For many, self-esteem is tied to their circumstances, and what’s happening to them is often out of their control.
Focusing too much on keeping our self-esteem high can lead to increased rates of:
- Self-righteous anger
And when our self-esteem is low, our quality of life suffers in many ways, like:
- Increased negative feelings
- Greater relationship problems
- Struggles with perfectionism
- Failure to maintain self-care
- Lowered resilience
- Fear of trying
Studies have shown that there seems to be a correlation between the rise of the self-esteem movement and greater levels of narcissism in society. Over the past two decades, levels of narcissism have increased by more than 65% in society.
What’s so good or different about self-compassion?
Self-compassion is independent of our circumstances. Whether you’ve done something to be proud of or not, you continue to view yourself as a human who deserves dignity and respect. You don’t try to suppress negative emotions but accept them and move forward.
When we stop trying to hide or minimize our flaws, we can actually make more improvements. That’s because we can face ourselves objectively, which helps us avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Research shows that self-compassion offers the benefits of self-esteem without the downsides. It’s beneficial to both our minds and bodies and those who focus on building their self-compassion:
- Experience better health
- Enjoy their lives more
- Deal with failures better
- Feel less anxiety and depression
- See an increase in their personal happiness
How can I get started developing more self-compassion?
Self-compassion doesn’t come naturally for many of us. We’re taught to be critical of ourselves and judgmental of our mistakes. Thankfully it is possible to unlearn a lifetime of bad habits.
The most significant gains in self-compassion will come when you work with a professional counselor or skilled therapist. They’ll have the outside objectivity to help correct and redirect your self-sabotaging tendencies. If you find yourself overly critical of yourself or having difficulty accepting yourself for who you are, consider seeing an individual therapy counselor.
But self-compassion is also something you develop on your own. Like any muscle, you will need to train it regularly and consistently using exercises. Try to apply the following tips to your daily life to shift yourself towards greater self-compassion.
Give yourself advice like you would to a friend
When a friend makes a mistake, we’re always quick to offer support and love. We’ll drop everything to help build them back up. But for some reason, we don’t offer ourselves the same benefits. The next time you make a mistake, try to show yourself the same support you would a friend going through the same situation.
Express more gratitude throughout your day
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have. Social media ensures we’re constantly bombarded with what everyone else has. This fixation has caused a massive rise in depression levels and lowered feelings of self-value for pretty much everyone (usually even the influencers themselves). But instead of focusing your energy on what you don’t have, take time to express gratitude for what you do have. You can say it out loud to yourself in the morning or start journaling regularly about what you’re grateful for.
You have to stop and gain awareness to gain the clarity you need to work on your self-compassion, And that starts with practicing mindfulness. Mindful meditation places you in the moment and equips us to accept the discomfort you feel about yourself.
Take care of your physical needs
Having self-compassion is complicated enough on its own. It’s almost impossible when you’re fatigued, burnt out, or hangry. Schedule time throughout your day to stop and check in with yourself. Don’t go from one thing to the next without stopping to see, “have I had enough water or do I need a snack before this gets started?”
Switch from focusing on self-esteem to self-compassion
Self-compassion might sound easy enough as a general concept. But for many of us, genuinely accepting ourselves for where we are is a foreign concept.
Many will experience rough patches when they first start out. So, you mustn’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right immediately. Give yourself time to learn this new skill. After all, most people have spent their entire lives working on their self-esteem, but self-compassion is something they’re only just now discovering.
If you feel like it’s impossible to silence your inner critic or don’t know how to get started, reach out to a professional individual therapist for support and guidance.
Life is too short to spend it judging yourself against others and fretting over every mistake. When you can practice self-compassion, you will experience a fuller and richer life.