What Is The Difference Between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion

It’s common for me to hear how much a client “dislikes” himself or has an overall lower regard for himself than he does for others. It seems developing healthy self-esteem and self-respect requires balance. If a child is inundated with ways to assert his own self-regard, he’s also at risk of total self-absorption. It’s tricky. We don’t want to model self-deprecation but we don’t want to advocate aggrandizing, either.

My approach has always been one of self-compassion. Compassion is, at its core, a bridge builder. It’s a leveler. Esteem, on the other hand, doesn’t unify as much as it does promote. Our culture is full of dangling carrots that keep us caught up in the race for self promotion; think of the millions of people who will wait in line for a celebrity to autograph a copy of their most recent book, or the packed stores on Black Friday or the fashion trends that keep us in credit card debt. Attaching deeply to such symbols is motivated by status. We want status and belonging and we find it by promoting ourselves or “treating” ourselves as marketers have expertly coined. Self-esteem fits well into this equation which is why it’s such an easy concept to swallow for so many Americans. It’s easy for us to believe that solutions lie in endorsement of our own image.

Compassion, on the other hand, encourages a gentler, reflective approach. It doesn’t necessarily endorse or promote, but it can be quite healing. Think of a compassionate person that you know: someone who listens well, cares deeply and seems invested in you non-judgmentally. If you needed comfort or direction, this is the kind of person who is easy to approach. More than improving our self-image, dressing up our resume or getting a new hobby, what if we talked to and viewed ourselves as a kind, gentle and unassuming friend, would?

There’s a quote I’ve seen circling around the Internet recently, it says, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” Plato actually said it so it’s age-old wisdom. What if we addressed our own, internal battles this way, with kindness? What if we addressed our inner critic or our guilty conscience or our worry with compassion? These are the things that drag down our “image” so to speak, aren’t they? Isn’t it the worry and the guilt that the healthy self-esteem is supposed to address? If we saw these things instead as pieces of ourselves that need to be made to feel safe, cared for and heard, what might happen? In the same way that your non-judgmental and compassionate friend listens well, you, in turn can listen well to yourself. Compassion gives us the freedom to express ourselves: so write it out, draw it out, sing it out, talk it out… express what it is that haunts you about yourself before you go tending to your outward image.

You’ll find yourself less threatened by yourself. There will be less need to cover, hurry and promote and more need to listen, care and understand. The reflective path is always the deeper, wiser one. Self-compassion helps us get there.

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