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Self-Compassion: The True Way to Self-Esteem

Today I want to share an article with you entitled: “Don’t Fall into the Self-Esteem Trap: Try a Little Self-Kindness” by Kristin Neff, PhD. Dr. Neff is the author of Self-Compassion and co-founder of the eight week Mindful Self-Compassion Training Program. In her article she speaks to the angst that many of us experience in modern life: No matter how hard we try, no matter how successful we are, no matter how good a parent, worker, or spouse we are, it’s never enough. We compare ourselves to others and, of course, always come out lesser-than. This pain has led to a movement called “The Self -Esteem movement” which includes self-help books and magazine articles promoting self-esteem – how to get it and how to keep it. It seems we need to have self-esteem in order to be happy and healthy.

Yet the need to continually evaluate ourselves positively comes at quite a cost, according to Dr. Neff. For example, to be highly thought of usually requires that we feel special and above average. If we put people down to feel superior, we create bedrock for the development of many social problems such as prejudice, social inequality, and bullying. And keeping self-esteem high is difficult, if not impossible, as our sense of esteem rises and falls in step with our latest success or failure.

So what is the answer to feeling good about ourselves without making it about self-esteem? The answer, Dr. Neff suggests, is “self-compassion”: a way of feeling good about ourselves and who we are that does not involve evaluating our goodness or our worth. Self-compassion is not based on positive evaluations of ourselves or of our behavior. Instead, it is a way of relating to who we are. It asks us to be caring and supportive to ourselves when we fail, feel inadequate, or struggle in life – extending the same feelings of compassion to ourselves that we would extend to others. Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion emphasizes interconnection rather than separateness. It also offers us more emotional stability because it is always there for us – no matter what.

The author offers these three components to self-kindness:

  1. Self-Kindness: We treat ourselves in the same way we would treat a beloved friend
  2. Common Humanity: Honors the fact that we all have pain, no matter who we are
  3. Mindfulness: To be self-compassionate means that we must be mindful – being aware of present moment experience in a clear and balanced way

In closing, Dr. Neff suggests three doorways in to self-compassion:

  1. You can give yourself kindness and understanding
  2. You can remind yourself that suffering is a part of the shared human experience
  3. You can be mindful of your thoughts and emotions in order to find greater peace and balance

Which doorway draws you or speaks to you? Sometimes you will find one door easier than another, depending on the circumstances and your feelings about what is going on. No matter the doorway, you will be in a state of loving presence, connected, and grounded. You will have discovered self-compassion and it could be life changing.

I have noticed my own regard toward myself changing since I have read Kristin Neff’s article on self-compassion. For me, it is a step-by-step process, a path, a journey. Yet with each step, I feel more accepting of myself – more forgiving and less demanding. And at times, I am able to be fulfilled with life just as it is and with myself, just as I am. I wonder what our world would be like if each of us implemented self-compassion both with ourselves and with others.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and responses. Please feel free to share!

Note: The article, “Don’t Fall into the Self-Esteem Trap: Try a Little Self-Kindness” by Kristin Neff, can be found in the December 2014 issue of Mindful magazine. Learn more about why self compassion trumps self esteem >>

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