Move Away Self-Esteem; Make Way For Self-Compassion

August 02, 2015

By: Anna Agoncillo and Ooi Huan Jie
 Image Credits: Juliana Coutinho via Flickr with CC License
I am strong. I am capable. I can do anything. Repeat.

These are the positive statements that people often tell themselves to alter their attitude for the better. But, does it truly improve everyone's Self-Esteem? Some findings showed otherwise. In 2009, a study called: "Positive self-statements: Power for some, Peril for others" showed that positive statements helped people with high esteem to feel good. However, it worsens the feelings of individuals with low Self-Esteem.

This is because there was a discrepancy between expectation and reality as individuals with low Self-Esteem declare positive statements to themselves. A mental stress can be felt. The mental stress or discomfort caused by inconsistent thoughts, attitudes, or beliefs is called Cognitive Dissonance. Thus, focusing on positive self-sentiments to boost one's Self-Esteem alone may not be enough. 

Self-Esteem, the general evaluation of one's performance that is often compared to others, may decrease if you perceive others to be superior or more capable than yourself. In other words, your Self-Esteem depends on whom you are comparing yourself with. Furthermore, it is relatively unstable due to interplaying circumstances.

With this in mind, is there a more advantageous way to view ourselves positively other than boosting our Self-Esteem with positive self-sentiments? In 2003, Dr. Kristin Neff introduced a Psychological concept named "Self-Compassion". Although, Self-Esteem is seemingly similar to Self-Compassion but there are some differences. Self-Compassion has three different components:

a. Self-kindness- where one is being kind and understanding to himself or herself despite failure or difficulties. 

b. Common Humanity- where an individual perceives experience as something that is shared. They see that they are going through an experience with others and it is not just an isolated personal event. 

c. Mindfulness- where one does not focus or over-identify with the difficult experiences.

A person with Self-Compassion feels good about oneself because of the personal kindness, mercifulness, and sympathy he or she has. Adding to this positive disposition is that a Self-Compassionate individual believes that he or she is a part of humanity rather than being in competition with others. This view makes it easier for them to accept their failures or difficult experiences regardless of how their peers perform.

To illustrate the dynamics of Self-Compassion and Failure, here is a real-life example:

Upon failing an exam, students with low self-compassion tend to blame, judge, and criticize themselves as their perceived shortcoming overwhelms them. They are probably ruminating on thoughts such as "How could I be so stupid!" or "I am such a failure." 

On the other hand, how would students with high Self-Compassion deal with their bad academic performance?

Well, they soothe themselves by thoughts of: “It is okay I failed this time, I accept this. Failure is an opportunity for everyone to be better. Now, how can I improve from this?” 

Individuals with high self-compassion recognize failure as unavoidable and normal human experience. This is attuned to their emotions and beliefs. The reason high Self-Compassionate individuals improve themselves is not because of their "weakness" in feelings but, they care about themselves and genuinely want to learn.

 Image Credits: Dar'ya Sip via Flickr with CC License
Simply, instead of beating yourself up or showering yourself with positive sentiments all the time, try to be kinder to yourself. You deserve it! :)

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