I can hardly think of anyone who walks through my private practice door, whether that be for relationship problems, anxiety, depression or any life challenge, who at the core, does not struggle in some way with low self-esteem, self-worth, self-love. The never feeling good enough syndrome.
Gaining steam in the 60s, the self-esteem movement has been driven by the premise that bolstering one’s self-esteem leads to greater mental health, motivation, and success. And in certain ways it does. But there's a limit to what high self-esteem can bring a person because as we see with definitions of self-esteem, they are based on one’s thoughts, perceptions, and emotions related to one’s performance and behavior. This standard means you would need to perform and behave at a perfectly awesome level all the time to feel good about yourself. Sounds like a set up for a false and fleeting sense of self-worth waiting for a crash.
In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations and is gaining momentum in the self-improvement circuit. Self-compassion has recently been found to improve emotional resilience, stability, well being and success, over and above self-esteem enhancement. Regardless of your mistakes, shortcomings or difficulties you face, when you are self-compassionate, you treat yourself with kindness. You neither judge yourself harshly nor feel the need to protect your ego by defensively overemphasizing your amazing qualities. Your ego is essentially out of the picture. You can be honest and real with yourself with what you need to transform or improve while maintaining a sense of security with who you are. Self-compassion is based on the underlying principle that we do not need to be exceptional to be worthy of comfort or kindness, that we are not isolated from one another but rather part of a common humanity joined by our shared pains and joys along the journey of life.
TIPS FOR A SELF-COMPASSIONATE LIFE
- Strive Toward Betterment Not Perfection! Perfectionism is a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Born from the black holes of insecurity, expecting perfection is ego-driven and lethal to self-love, happiness and peace of mind. Perfectionism is a cognitive trap that unrealistically sets us up to miss the purpose of life - which is to grow and transform, to share, to be better - not perfect. It’s important to note that you don’t have to be hard on yourself to succeed. Research findings suggest that somewhat paradoxically, taking an accepting approach to personal failure may make people more motivated to improve themselves. As long as self-compassion is accompanied by a true desire for self-betterment, and willingness to take responsibility for your own behavior, you are more likely to reach your goals with a kind, accepting attitude towards your ups and downs.
- Be A Friend To Yourself. Make a conscious effort to adopt an Accepting Attitude of Lovingkindness toward yourself. Talk to yourself like you would a dear friend. Some find it helpful to journal, self-talk kindnesses out loud. Look out for the traps of self-downing, guilt and shame, and self-judgment. Replace them with kindness, compassion, understanding, and permission to choose what makes you happy. Self-love and kindness provide the best remedy to change your story of guilt and shame. This inner friendship overflows into being a better friend in your marriage, with your family, and community.
- Embrace Your Pain. Rather than running away, turn toward your feelings. This way, you can provide self-care and soothing. Be mindful and present when going through difficulty. Listen to your emotions because they are trying to guide you, awaken you to something that needs changing, within yourself and around you. Our natural tendency is to run from what hurts, to fix it ASAP. Yet as counterintuitive and difficult as it may be, we benefit greatly to resist the urge to rush the process and get rid of our pain. Our life challenges provide a bridge for new energy and blessings to enter our life. When we can be loving and self-soothing, this helps us to take advantage of the opportunity to grow, open our hearts and find greater inner peace along the way.
- Stay Away From "Should". Instead, ask yourself, "What is my truth?" Don't worry if it's right or wrong - you will receive feedback to guide you. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. It's very difficult to quiet the noise of others around you, from your own fear of failure or being rejected, to listen within to the quiet voice of your own soul. Deepening our relationship within awakens life's greatest gifts.
- Appreciate Your Inherent Worth. How you perform is not a measure of your worth. Everybody makes mistakes and has something they don’t like about themselves physically. Self-worth means recognizing your essence: I am greater than all of the external things I measure myself by. It is a deep knowing that I am of value and lovable, that I belong and am necessary to this life.
- Get Outside Yourself. When we put so much of our energy into our concerns about our self: Am I good enough? Will they like me? Am I smart enough, or pretty enough? — these worries close our hearts off from compassion within and around us. Not only does a preoccupation within oneself paradoxically lead us to not feel good about ourselves, we also feel isolated and not connected to humanity. The only way to break free of that trap is to get outside ourselves. Sharing is the ultimate way to make us feel good about ourselves. Our essence, the gift of ourselves that we can share, is far more important than anything physical.