Self-Compassion Is Better Than Self-Esteem

Humans have a tendency to think about life too narrowly. 

What We Think Is True (Obvious)

  • Want to be more productive and reach your goals? Get motivated.
  • Want to get a better job? Go to college.
  • Want to feel better about yourself and be happier? Increase your self-esteem.

What’s Actually True (Less Obvious)

  • Want to be more productive and reach your goals? Use a better strategy like Mini Habits.
  • Want to get a better job? Improve your skillset, work for yourself, work your way up, OR go to college. (College is not the only answer!)
  • Want to feel better about yourself and be happier? Practice self-compassion.

The 3 Big Problems With Self-Esteem Pursuit

Don’t get me wrong, here. A baseline amount of self-esteem is, of course, healthy. Self-esteem means “self respect” and “belief in your abilities.” Good things!

Here’s the distinction: to have self-esteem naturally and to try to increase it are two different things. This is what can happen when you pursue it. 

  1. Frailty. When you pursue self-esteem, it’s like building a glass house. It may look good, but a glass house of self-esteem can easily be shattered by the rocks of reality at any time. No matter how carefully you construct the story of your greatness, there will be recurring evidence of your shortcomings (failure).
  2. Narcissism. Trying hard to build yourself up is a slippery slope; it can make you become obsessed with yourself (narcissism). Narcissism is one of the most repulsive traits to others because it makes other people feel less valuable. Nobody likes to be put down, whether it’s explicit or implied. Narcissism can feel good for a time, but it’s unhealthy and kills relationships.
  3. Exhaustion. It’s tiring to have to have to remind yourself of how great you are. In order to keep the train going, you have to maintain it constantly. It’s not the best use of your energy! 

We should all have some self-esteem, but when you pursue self-esteem, you run into the problems above. So the problem isn’t with self-esteem itself, it’s with the stories people tell themselves in attempt to increase it. There’s another way to go about this!

Self-compassion is an intriguing flipside to the self-esteem equation. Instead of saying, “I’m great” repeatedly until they believe it, a self-compassionate person will seek to understand what it means to be human.

Self-Esteem Vs. Self-Compassion: The Difference is in Understanding

Self-esteem pursuit attempts to mask failures with a fresh coat of I’m Awesome Paint™. Because failure doesn’t match the stories one must tell themselves to boost self-esteem, it must be eradicated, but since that’s impossible, it’s simply ignored, covered up, or denied. 

Self-compassion pursuit attempts to understand personal failures (large and small) in the context of one’s humanity. It recognizes that it’s okay to make mistakes and be imperfect and that it doesn’t lower one’s value. When you “get it,” it’s the feeling of a joyride in a convertible on a warm, breezy summer day in the hilly countryside while listening to your favorite music. It’s freedom. Freedom from unnecessary pressure. Freedom from unrealistic expectations. Freedom to be Clark Kent sometimes instead of Superman.

I love it when ideas like this seamlessly connect to things we already know. And what do we know about human relationships?

The #1 most important thing in any relationship is understanding. If there is no understanding between two people, the relationship crumbles. Understanding is the basis of a relationship. Common interests are so often the binding first-attraction for romantic and platonic relationships because there is automatic and instant understanding when you both like the same thing(s). 

Lack of understanding, however, is why people of different political parties fight incessantly. If you don’t understand someone, it’s very difficult to even respect them. Understanding means I get where you’re coming from, and even if it’s not ideal from my perspective, I don’t fault you for it.

And with this in mind, think about this… do you try to understand yourself?

How’s Your Relationship With… You?

You relate not only to others, but to yourself. How do you think about your actions and non-actions, successes and failures? Are you the harsh critic or the understanding and supportive friend?

My highest rated book is How to Be an Imperfectionist. It’s been read by fewer people than Mini Habits, but based the emails I get from readers, it might have an even bigger impact on those who read it because it helps them to accept and understand their imperfections. This is the base skill for enjoying life. Like mutual understanding is the basis of a healthy relationship, self-understanding is the basis for a healthy and happy mind.

In his book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, author Eric Barker says, 

“Research shows increasing self-compassion has all the benefits of self-esteem—but without the downsides. You can feel good and perform well while not turning into a jerk or being unable to improve. Unlike self-confidence, self-compassion doesn’t lead to delusion. In fact, one study, “Self-Compassion and Reactions to Unpleasant Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly,” showed that people high in the trait had increased clarity. They saw themselves and the world more accurately but didn’t judge themselves as harshly when they failed.”

The best way to feel better about yourself is simple—be a friend to yourself. This will result in plenty of natural self-esteem because by being compassionate towards yourself about failures and mistakes, you’ll be removing the single biggest detriment to self-esteem. In addition, with a clearer mind not hindered by exaggerated stories of self-worth or crippling emotions from failure, you’ll be able to see all of the good things you have and contribute to the world.

If you are interested in practicing self-compassion, read How to Be an Imperfectionist. It’s thorough and actionable with 22 specialized mini habits.

(photo by taufuuu)

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