The self- esteem movement is about 30 years old now – and back when it became all the rage it was embraced whole heartedly by schools, counsellors, and even governments because it was supposed to be the answer to all the problems in society. If we could just teach the kids how great they were, it was thought, we’ll have a happier, healthier (mentally) society.
It’s become a truism – everyone accepts that you have to have high self-esteem if you are to be happy and healthy. We have to think positively of ourselves at all costs! The quest to raise everyone’s self-esteem though has backfired – big time.
It sounds good… but, because high self-esteem usually requires feeling special and above average it tends to come at a high price. Being average is just not acceptable any more – everyone has to be above average… and as it’s not really possible for everyone on the planet to be above average at the same time, a way around this is to socially compare ourselves in a way that continually tries to build ourselves up and puts others down.
One of the most insidious consequences of the self-esteem movement over the last couple of decades is the narcissism epidemic. Yes… that’s what I said… narcissism epidemic- we know that narcissism is far more common now that it was before the self-esteem movement and studies have shown that around 65% of students on university campuses score higher in narcissism than previous generations. We can probably assume that means that we have more narcissists out in the world beyond university campuses too!
The thing is – that even if you do have high self-esteem, all it takes is for you to blow a work project, put on some weight or not get invited to a party everyone else got invited to, and your self-esteem flies out the window!! Our self-worth is dependent on our latest success or failure. And we don’t want low self-esteem either. So, what’s the alternative?? I think you knew I was going to say self-compassion.
You’re right! Self-compassion is not based on positive self-evaluations of ourselves. Rather, it’s a way of relating to ourselves. It involves being caring and supportive to ourselves when we fail, feel inadequate or struggle in life – extending the same feelings of compassion to ourselves that we typically extend to others. People are compassionate to themselves because they’re human beings who suffer, not because they’re special and above average. Unlike self-esteem then, self-compassion emphasises interconnection rather than separateness. It also offers more emotional stability – no more emotional roller coaster rides – it’s always there for you – when you’re on top of the world and when you fall flat on your face.
So… would you rather have high self-esteem or self-compassion? A roller coaster ride? Or stability? Hmmm… I choose self-compassion!
Have a wonderful self-compassionate week!