I have been interested in noetics lately and came across this website by Dr. Kristen Neff at UT Austin. Self-esteem and self-compassion are invariably linked as well as misunderstood. It seems that for the last 20 years, we have been so anxious to make our children and those around us feel “special” that we’ve lost the true meaning of self-esteem. Dr. Neff states:
Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. While there is little doubt that low self-esteem is problematic and often leads to depression and lack of motivation, trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic. In modern Western culture, self-esteem is often based on how much we are different from others, how much we stand out or are special. It is not okay to be average, we have to feel above average to feel good about ourselves. This means that attempts to raise self-esteem may result in narcissistic, self-absorbed behavior, or lead us to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. We also tend to get angry and aggressive towards those who have said or done anything that potentially makes us feel bad about ourselves. The need for high self-esteem may encourage us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we can’t see ourselves clearly and accurately. Finally, our self-esteem is often contingent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances.
I’m guilty of that behavior, I’ll admit it. What I also learned is that self-compassion is a much needed and over looked necessity for positive self esteem. Again, Dr. Neff relates:
In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden. Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available – especially when you fall flat on your face! Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.
I, like many of you, have been through an emotional maelstrom for over 6 years. I’ve not let it drown me, though I have had to have emotional CPR at times. We all need to be a little easier on ourselves in some areas, and a little harder on ourselves in others. We also need to learn how to handle constructive criticism and teach our children to do so as well. Are you self-compassionate? Take Dr. Neff’s Test to see.