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The Best Trait: Self-Compassion


The Best Trait: Self-CompassionAre you hard on yourself? Overly critical of yourself? Do you get angry with yourself for your mistakes or shortcomings?

Do you find it easier to give compassion and forgiveness to others than to yourself?

If so, you’re not alone. Many people find that it’s much easier to give others a break for their faults than to give themselves one. And while empathy and compassion for others are honorable qualities, by not offering yourself compassion, you are missing out on a huge component to your own happiness and well-being.

If the term self-compassion strikes you as self-indulgent or weak, I can assure you it is anything but. Read on!

Is self-compassion the same as self-esteem?

Not at all. But self-compassion will have all the benefits of positive self-esteem, without the downsides.

Allow me to explain with a brief history lesson.

In 1969, a psychologist named Nathaniel Branden wrote a book called The Psychology of Self-Esteem. He argued that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person. The book swept the nation and changed the mindset of parents, teachers, and coaches everywhere.

The goal for many became a search for whatever would bring them positive self-esteem.

The unintended result, however, was a generation of people with overinflated egos, superiority complexes, and a tilt toward narcissism.

This recent article from Forbes and this one from CNN describe the downfall of the self-esteem movement and how it has affected American kids.

The Differences between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff pioneered the self-compassion movement, so I’ll use her words:

Although self-compassion may seem similar to self-esteem, they are different in many ways. 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.

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.


Three Elements of Self-Compassion

The Best Trait: Self-Compassion
Adopt a mantra like this; something that will help you get through the tough times with self-compassion.

Self-Compassion can be broken up into three elements:

1. Self-Kindness

Making mistakes and encountering suffering are inevitable parts of life as a human. Rather than ignoring your pain or criticizing yourself for it, you are kind, warm, and gentle toward yourself when you suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.

2. Common Humanity

Suffering and feelings of inadequacy are common to the shared human experience. Everyone experiences them – nothing you are going through is unique, so you do not have to go through it alone.

3. Mindfulness

Take a balanced approach to your emotions, so that you neither suppress them nor exaggerate them. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness and acknowledgement of your emotions, which you can learn more about here.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

The payoffs of living a life of self-compassion are tremendous:

  • reduces depression and anxiety
  • improves productivity
  • helps mitigate the emotional effects of negative life events
  • increases feelings of security and safety
  • decreases negativity and self-criticism
  • improves mood
  • improves life satisfaction
  • improves feelings of social connectedness

Click here for a more in-depth analysis of the benefits of self-compassion.

Forget about trying to have a high self-esteem and start practicing self-compassion today. I am confident you’ll experience tremendous positive changes in your life: emotionally, physically, relationally, socially, professionally, spiritually, and more!