Updated: Sep 3
Self-esteem is the way we evaluate our self, either positively or negatively. It's there for us when everything is going well (we've got a cute new boyfriend/girlfriend, we get a job, we pass a test, etc). The problem with self-esteem is it fails us when things go wrong (when that boyfriend breaks up with us, when we lose a job, when we fail a test). Self-esteem is a roller-coaster and does not provide a viable long-term solution.
On the other hand, self-compassion is a way of relating to our self. It's a stable, steady alternative. It's about developing a positive relationship with yourself, treating yourself with kindness and supporting yourself in times of struggle.
3 Key Components of Self-Compassion
Kristen identifies 3 main components of self-compassion:
Self-kindness is learning to treat yourself with the same
measure of kindness, grace, and compassion that you would extend to your best friend. If a close friend comes to you and shares a struggle (whether that be a mistake she has made, or a hurt that she has experienced), we would likely respond with love. "I'm sorry you're hurting. You're amazing, I believe in you. You can do this." And you'd genuinely believe it. Do we provide ourselves that same support, love, and encouragement?
The opposite would be self-criticism, or tearing ourselves down. These shaming phrases are debilitating and stop us from reaching our true potential.
2) Common Humanity
We're all in this together. The *one* thing that we have in common with every other person in this world is imperfection. Common humanity connects us with the people around us. "I know I'm not alone in my struggles. It's okay to be human."
The opposite of common humanity would be isolation: "I'm the only one. Nobody understands. Nobody makes these mistakes or feels this pain."
Mindfulness as it relates to self-compassion is an acknowledgement and acceptance of something as it is, rather than dismissing it or magnifying it.
It's okay to acknowledge your weaknesses, but in the context of all of your strengths, abilities, and talents. It's okay to acknowledge our struggles, but we see them in context with all of the positive things in our life.
A Quick Self-Compassion Exercise
Think about a time that a close friend of yours was struggling or in pain. Picture in your mind what you would say to them. Write down a few phrases that you might say to them, words of encouragement or support that you'd offer them. Now think of a time when you were recently suffering. Write down what you said to yourself in that moment. Look at the similarities and differences between those two responses. If there's a difference, notice it and get curious about why that might be. Use this information as a starting point for you to provide yourself a little bit more loving self-compassion the next time that you are hurting.
We're big believers in self-compassion being a healing tool for you to use in your life.
You might be concerned that this doesn't come naturally to you, and maybe it feels strange to try to incorporate it into your inner dialogue. If that's the case, be patient and trust the process. You have likely been using more critical self-talk for years, maybe even to the point that negativity has become automatic for you. Give it time and be willing to retrain your brain. Over time, your automatic thoughts will become more self-compassionate.
If you feel that you need more individualized help, you can always reach out to our therapists to provide a more personalized experience. As always, don't hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions!
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.