High self-esteem is good, self-compassion even better

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I’ve noticed this more and more recently, especially in conversations with my colleagues and friends who are working their socks off to achieve an ambition, improve their lives, build their businesses and create a good life for their families – the habit of self-compassion has become buried in the pace and noise of hectic lives as we drive ourselves to have, be, do more.


We are in danger of living lives that are fraught with deadlines, self sabotaging judgement and perfectionism –  so busy trying hard to achieve goals, aspirations and ideal standards.  Some we have set for ourselves, some others have inadvertently set for us.


And when it gets hard and tiresome, it’s easy to compensate with self-medicating comforts that are fleetingly satisfying and not good for long-term wellbeing.


For some bizarre reason, we do like to beat ourselves up, the inner critic lying in wait for that one moment we fall short of our ideal selves.  Have you noticed that you’d never speak to a friend as harsh as you do to yourself when you mess up?


It does pay though to be aware of how hard you are being on yourself and to be mindful of and practice self-compassion.


There is good reason to do this.  The research coming out of the lab of self-compassion evangelist and Professor in Human Development, Dr. Kristin Neff, shows that there are mental health benefits to practicing self kindness.


Interestingly, she draws attention to the dangers of schools and businesses promoting the need for high self-esteem and not self-compassion.


Using candid language, Kristin believes that the self-esteem movement, who encourage self worth as an ultimate marker of psychological health, has driven rising levels of narcissism, ego defensive behaviours and bullying in schools in the USA.


Apparently, it’s not having high self-esteem that’s problematic but how you go about getting it.  These days it’s not ok to be average, we have to find ways to puff ourselves up, engage in constant social comparison and be better than the other man in order to feel good about ourselves.


Instead Kristin argues a quest for self-compassion is far healthier. Being less harsh at judging ourselves and others, cutting yourself some slack when you cock up or fall short of the high standards set for yourself. And defining what a good life is for you and not just using traditional measures.


I noticed this when I set up my own business.  I had been ‘taught’ measures of success.  Leaving the corporate pay check and status behind was hard but it made me re-evaluate my own definition of success.


Practicing self-compassion isn’t selfish.  Quite the contrary, the kinder you are to yourself, the more compassion you will have for others.  It’s hard to feel tired, frustrated, distracted, bombarded and at the same time be empathetic to those around you, open to social cues and, especially as a leader, set the tone for an inspirational, high energy, productive environment.


Being self-compassionate is best for you, best for those you love, wish to protect, nurture and lead.


How are you being compassionate to yourself?




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On February 12, 2015

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