Self-Esteem vs. Self-Compassion
In the 1990s in the U.S., the self-esteem movement was in full swing. The idea was to teach children that they were special, important, good. Unfortunately, much of self-esteem is based in a comparative, evaluative worldview. Statistically, most of us are average! If cultivating positive self-esteem is contingent on being better than the person next to us, that can really be a setup for not only feelings of failure, but also of competitiveness, jealousy, and disconnection.
What should we focus on instead? More recently, self-compassion has emerged as a healthier, more sustainable target for personal development. Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (2015), has defined self-compassion as the following:
"[B]eing open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience."
Many people are afraid of being self-compassionate, due to the belief that being hard on oneself is the only way to progress, grow, or "be good." Sometimes that strategy can work for a while, but it usually ends up with us being stuck, frozen, or collapsed! In contrast, those with more self-compassion are better able to take risks and grow from them, because the stakes aren't so high; they know that when mistakes inevitably happen, they will be able to forgive themselves.
If you've been feeling plateaued in your growth or sense of self-worth, it may be worth it to give self-compassion a try!