I read an interesting article the other day on why we should forget about teaching and focusing on self-esteem and start focusing more on self-compassion and self-kindness. At first, I didn’t really understand, but after reading carefully I really loved the message, and I think this shift in thinking can go a long way in a world today so focused on what others think about us or the pictures we take and post.
The concept of self-esteem has been around for a while, right? The definition of self-esteem is confidence in one’s own worth, and I think right there is where it can go really wrong. How one defines their own worth tends to be dictated about external cues and influence. For example, you post a picture of yourself on Instagram and get 3 likes. Only 3 people liked my picture? Why? What’s wrong with me? People don’t like me. Do I look ugly? These negative external influences create a false impression of who we really are and makes us feel like we have to be something else to build up our “value”. So maybe we do that, maybe we alter our image, wear more makeup, dress in different ways, say and act certain ways, and now we get 100 likes on the new photo. Now you get excited and feel great, your brain rewards that feeling, and then our brain begins setting up circuitry to reward you for that feeling. And in doing so, you have rewarded behaviors that others deem to be valuable but are far from what your true value actually is. Imagine this happening from an early age, say 7 or 8. By the time that child is a young adult, they will be so far from their true self and have no idea what their actual value and worth truly is.
In comes the concept of self-compassion. Self-compassion relies on the premise that life is not perfect by any stretch and neither are you or any other human. So, rather than try to alter and mold yourself into being something others perceive to be of value, you accept and love yourself for who you are, good or bad, makeup or none, pimples or clear skin, big nose or small, gray hair or not, two chins or one, etc…. The example I read in this article was great. They use the example of a good friend who comes to you for support in their time of despair and grief over something stressful in their life. When that friend comes to you and starts telling you about their struggles, would you kick them while they are down, tell them to suck it up, tell them they are right to feel that way and that they have some serious issues they need to work on? I hope not. You would listen, and love them, and support them for who they are. You would tell them all the reasons why they are special and such a great friend. You would be kind and compassionate.
So why would we be any different to ourselves? If we are feeling down or de-valued, be compassionate and kind to yourself. Treat yourself like a good friend would. Remind yourself of all the great things and attributes you have, all of your strengths, all of your true value. By doing this, you build up your own self-worth that is not reliant on what anyone else thinks or says. This way, whether it’s 3 likes or 100, you know who you are, and what you bring to this world.
So, to all the parents out there, let’s try to teach this to our kids. It’s not about what others think, say, or how many comments and likes a post gets, or how beautiful they look on camera. But rather, it’s about loving yourself, knowing who you are, all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, and treating yourself like your parents and best friends would.