First, a quick thank you to everyone that entered the goodie bag competition and shared their favourite mood-boosting tool. So many good ideas! I’ll contact the winners directly tmr and I’ll be doing more of these soon so watch this space :)
Right, onto today’s topic… self-esteem.
Not exactly a niche one – a cursory Google search serves up a cool 262 million results. Indeed, in our constant pursuit to ‘better’ ourselves, self-esteem often comes top of the pack. It’s mentioned more times than I can count in coaching sessions, and of course one can’t so much as glance at a women’s lifestyle magazine, website or Instagram feed without being offered up tips on how to get it, raise it and keep it.
(And yes, these media publications and social sites are very much part of the problem they suppose to solve – pushing unrealistic standards of beauty, expensive handbags and Instagrammable families/houses/holidays that make us feel inadequate if our lives don’t match up. They provide both problem and answer – it’s the smartest business model!)
Anyhow, all this means it’s pretty likely that self-esteem is something you think about… I would like to have higher self-esteem, or some variation of the like.
But I’d like to share with you the idea that the pursuit of high self-esteem isn’t actually a very good idea. In fact, it’s inherently futile – because the world we live in means it’s doomed to fail…
Modern life is challenging for self-worth. See above for all the (essentially unimportant) things that we are encouraged not only to want but to measure ourselves and our accomplishments against. Look, it’s all good to want a nice bag (something I’m partial to myself!), but when our sense of self-worth becomes completely tied up in how we look or what we own, it very quickly begins to come away at the seams. If we measure ourselves against that stuff, we will almost always come up short.
So, there’s that, Naomi Wolf-ish issue. But there’s also something unique about life in 2023, in which, thanks to social media, our culture has become so competitive and comparative that we need to feel special and above average just to feel half decent about ourselves. We all want to be ‘above average’, and yet it’s statistically impossible for us all to be so. But we try. And often we do this by comparing ourselves to others, so that – whether consciously or unconsciously – we puff ourselves up and put others down in order to feel superior, in order to raise our self-esteem.
But clearly, even though it’s rooted in our ancient brain’s understanding of societal hierarchies and survival and all that, it’s a terrible and unstable foundation to use. If your sense of self-worth is completely tied up in improving the self and being the ‘best’ version of you (and possibly, ‘better’ than others) it’s all too easy to move into a place of separation, isolation and – let’s call a spade a spade – narcissism. PLUS what happens when you don’t meet those standards for yourself?! Crushing disappointment, and some.
And then, let’s say you do nail ‘high’ self-esteem… How the hell do you hang onto it with life’s inevitable ebbs and flows? The last thing we want is for our sense of self-worth to be so unstable that it depends on any random success or failure to make or break how we feel about ourselves.
But of course we don’t want to feel miserable about ourselves either. So, let me offer up an alternative approach, one that’ll provide a more stable foundation to build a lasting sense of self-worth: self-compassion.
Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves full stop, and especially when life doesn’t go our way or we notice something about ourselves/our behaviour that we don’t like.
It acknowledges that the human condition is imperfect, and helps us to feel connected to others when we fail or suffer (rather than feeling separate or isolated).
It involves emotionally showing up for ourselves, and ensuring that instead of suppressing our pain (or making it into an exaggerated personal soap opera - DRAMA!) we can see ourselves and our situation a little more clearly.
To sum up the difference: Self-esteem refers to how we evaluate and value ourselves, and is often based on comparison with others. In contrast, self-compassion is a kindness-led method of relating to ourselves, which ignores positive judgements or opinions.
Ultimately self-compassion offers up far more more emotional stability because, regardless of what might be going on in your life, it’s always there for you. And it helps us to learn to feel good about ourselves not because we’re ‘special’, but because we’re human beings intrinsically worthy of respect.
4 Ways To Increase Your Self-Compassion & Self-Worth
1. Practice Self-Kindness. Quite obvious, this is all about talking to and treating yourself as you would someone you love (a close friend or family member for example).
How: Take a few minutes to say to yourself that you accept who you are. Think about how you can support yourself unconditionally, without putting limits on what you have or haven’t achieved/done. When you encounter negative self-talk, try to find ways to challenge your thoughts. And remember: the more you repeat something to yourself the more ‘true’ it becomes to you, so be nice to your mind.
2. Remind Yourself Of Your Common Humanity. The fact is that everyone experiences pain, no matter who they are. Appreciating this can help us let go of comparison – which is fairly poisonous to self-worth – and stop feelings of alienation and/or superiority.
How: All studies show that doing things for others – whether volunteering or a one-off simple act of kindness – has a positive impact on our own happiness and compassion levels. SO, forget you for a moment… what could you do to make someone else’s week better?
3. Try Mindfulness. To develop better self-compassion it helps to be aware of our experiences in a clear and balanced way. Also known as, mindfulness.
How: For a few minutes sit/walk and simply allow your thoughts, emotions, and sensations to arise. Focus your awareness on them but don’t try to control, resist or judge any part of your experience. Simply let yourself be.
4. Affirm Your Real Worth After A Failure. Failures can really knock our confidence, it’s at those times that you truly need to support yourself.
How: Choose a recent perceived failure and then make a list of your ‘good’ qualities that relate to the situation. Got rejected by a date? List things that make you a good relationship prospect/person (eg. being kind, loyal, emotionally intelligent etc). Failed to get a job/pitch? List tghings that make you good at what you do (strong work ethic, imaginative, creative etc).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this! Pop them in the comment box below
wow as always Lily! These 2 points really resonate with myself and I am sure so many others....
"the human condition is imperfect, and helps us to feel connected to others when we fail or suffer (rather than feeling separate or isolated)."
How often do I need to remind myself of this? It helps me to keep trying?
and then this
"doing things for others – whether volunteering or a one-off simple act of kindness – has a positive impact on our own happiness and compassion levels"
Yes! I find that even when I cannot do the best for myself, doing altruistic things for others helps me feel that at least I have some worth on earth?
Thank you for reaffirming the things that keep me going xxxx