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Self-compassion vs. Self-esteem

June 4th, 2013

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A few weeks ago, a friend recommended a book about Self-compassion, so I started to look into this subject and realized that most people, including myself, do not practice Self-compassion very well. However, we live in a culture where Self-esteem is an obsession, so I wanted to look into the differences between these two.


I have always tried to be a better person, a better student, a better daughter, a better wife, a better mother, a better professional, etc. the list goes on and on. I always try to be better, and although there is nothing wrong with trying to be better, I feel like it is a constant source of self-inflicted pressure in my life.

I believe that many people go through the same pattern of trying to always be better in order to feel accepted and loved, yet, somewhere along the way they forget to love themselves, and often become their worst judges.

As a mother, I want to make sure my kids have a great sense of self-esteem, and this goes in line with the tendency of the culture I live in, where kids are made to feel special in school, as a way to build a strong self-esteem. However the way people get their self-esteem is not always very healthy and it can backfire, as we may believe that unless we are "better than others" we are not good enough, and that creates another set of problems. So, it dawned on me that building Self-compassion in kids is much MUCH more important than building Self-esteem.

I would like to quote Dr. Kristin Neff, who is an expert on Self-compassion, because I think she puts it really nicely:

"The relentless search for high self-esteem has become a virtual religion; and a tyrannical one at that. Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special and above average to feel good about ourselves, but we can't all be above average at the same time. There is always someone richer, more attractive, or successful than we are. And even when we do manage to feel self-esteem for one golden moment, we can't hold on to it. Our sense of self-worth bounces around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure. Fortunately, there is an alternative to self-esteem that many psychologists believe is a better and more effective path to happiness: self-compassion."

If we build our self-esteem by being "special," above average, or better than others (smarter, cuter, richer, etc.), we will always feel like we need to be more than others in order to love ourselves, and the danger of this behavior is that we may want to put others down in order to feel better, and our self-esteem will always depend on the circumstances and the people around us. Self-compassion on the other hand, does not depend on others nor on the circumstances of our life, it is about accepting ourselves fully, loving ourselves unconditionally and finding comfort in spite of our mistakes and failures.

It is important to grow, to learn, and to become better, but we can only truly do this if we are able to accept ourselves fully, and that means loving ourselves through our ups and downs, our failures and successes, our mistakes and achievements. Self-acceptance is more important and should precede self-improvement. If we try to always improve without truly accepting ourselves, we will often be critical and judge our mistakes, shortcomings and failures.

When a good friend comes to us for comfort because they have made a huge mistake or have failed terribly at something, we will most likely show them love, compassion and give them the comfort they need. However, if we are the ones that made a huge mistake or failed terribly, we will most likely (silently or openly) criticize ourselves, judge ourselves, even hate ourselves sometimes. It is certainly easier to show compassion to someone else than it is to show it to ourselves, but it is really important that we do.

Here below are some cool resources I found on the topic of Self-compassion:

So, remember to forgive yourself first and love yourself unconditionally.
And when you love yourself for real, by practicing true self-compassion, your self-esteem is likely to be healthy anyway, so you get the best of both: self-compassion and self-esteem.

Have a good week!


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