Self Esteem and Self Compassion: The Difference Between A Fickle Friend And Everlasting Love

brave_vulnerability_compassionate_truth_pure_loveSelf esteem is self compassion’s fickle (very fickle) friend. It’s kind of like those get-rich-quick scams that seem super shiny. But, we all know what’s at the end of that road. Nothing.

Self esteem for the sake of boosting ourselves up does the same thing. It gives us a false foundation, crashing the minute someone says something we don’t like. Or is even just slightly critical.

Contingent self-worth--- when self esteem depends on success or failure, approval or disapproval---runs rampant in our culture.

We as a society are more and more depending on everyone else to tell us we are okay, good enough, smart enough, doing-it-right enough.

And that’s dangerous. Really dangerous.

As a recovering “pleaser,” I know about this all too well. It’s a tough act to play.

The more we place an overall sense of self worth on success in specific areas in life, the more miserable we feel when we fail in those areas.

The flip side though, is the better we do, the more addicted we become to the self-esteem “high” we feel when we are praised or approved.

This is dangerous too. We want more praise and more compliments.

Yet, as with drugs or alcohol, we literally build up a tolerance so it takes more...and more... of the positive thing we’re after, before we feel that “high” again.

This contingent self-worth can make us do funny things.

Like pursue a career or relationship because we get lots of outside praise and compliments. Initially, it gives a great self-esteem high---then something happens. The “happiness” vanishes, leaving a bottomed out feeling instead.


This is why we might give up on something---because we weren’t pursuing it from an honest, inner place---but rather from an externally approved place.

That’s a lot of power to give away, ya know?

We, as humans, show good qualities and sometimes we show bad qualities. Sometimes we are helpful. Other times we are harmful.

But we are not DEFINED by these behaviors.

We change---all of us. It’s part of the human experience. Our emotions are fleeting (in case you haven’t already noticed). Time, circumstance, mood, setting: it all affects us, making us feel very different at different times.

But we so easily forget. The emotion can become all consuming, making us feel as if this. is it.

Self-esteem for the sake of self-esteem---our very fickle friend---is actually no friend at all. So why do we keep pursuing it?

Because we want to be happy.

A very noble and worthy cause! Yet, there’s a better way.

Rather than defining our self worth using judgment and endless criticism---what if we were to define our self worth from our hearts?

I mean, the judgment and criticism just aren’t working. The foundation built on those fickle and harsh ideals cut us instead of contain us.

Isn’t that the definition of insanity---to keep doing the same thing over and over even if it’s not working?

We humans are funny creatures.

Self compassion isn’t a thought, label or judgment. It is a way of RELATING to the entire breadth of who we are---savory, unsavory, all of it. Yep, even that thing you never want anyone to ever know about because it’s so so shameful. Even that.

Self compassion allows us to feel reverence for the fact that all humans have strengths AND weaknesses. All of us. Even you and I.

It also gives us the ability to be mindful that our thoughts, like our emotions are fleeting. Even after the thought is over, the feeling gone, we are still who we are. Amazing!

Our mind will always try to convince us that IT is the only source of truth.

Fickle, fleeting thoughts.

But our truth lies in our hearts. Try it. Feel deep down inside, it’s there. You might not have an “exact” answer but you’ll probably feel a stirring.

Get inside your hut.

Inside your hut is where you can truly perceive interconnectedness. That we’re all just humans experiencing and breathing. You and me. All of us.

“Unlike self esteem, the good feelings of self compassion do not depend on being special and above average, or on meeting ideal goals. Instead, they come from caring about ourselves---fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are. Rather than pitting ourselves against other people in an endless comparison game, we embrace what we share with others and feel more connected and whole in the process.” ---Kristen Neff, Self Compassion

Healthy self esteem is often a result of practicing self compassion.

But working on self esteem alone will only continue the big ups and downs. The scrambling. The searching. The feelings of low self worth. Ultimately, it leaves us foundationless.

So why not try the alternative. Kindness. Caring about ourselves as fragile and imperfect, yet truly wonderful.

Let’s stop the harsh comparison, pitting ourselves against one another.

Let’s instead embrace what we share, feeling connected. And whole.

Let’s be kind.

To ourselves.

To each other.

We’re all on this very human journey together.