Prior to publishing my eBook, Peace of Mind for Custody and Divorce, I had my former internship adviser read it and offer me her thoughts. One of the notes she had written was “Self-compassion is the new self-esteem”. That statement really resonated with me, both personally and professionally. Cultivating self-esteem is one of those things that appears to be much easier said than done. I have seen this struggle to some extent or another in myself and in every single one of my clients. We are all more hard on ourselves than we are on others, and much harder than we need to be as well.
I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is by far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
It’s unfortunate that we may often feel that we are alone in our troubles when we certainly are not. If someone as strong and courageous as Gandhi is subject to the same human struggles with himself, then it must follow that cultivating a healthy relationship with ourselves is just not that simple. While its tricky to pin-down and foster self-esteem, by its very nature, self-compassion is far more easily attained. Both are worthy goals, and each is fundamental to the other. What I’ve consistently noticed though is that if compassion for self and others can be firmly established, then improvement in self-esteem isn’t far behind.
The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines self-esteem as the following:
A person’s overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self.
They define self-compassion as the following:
Extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness: Self-compassion entails being warm towards oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring them or hurting oneself with self-criticism.
Common humanity: Self-compassion also involves recognizing that suffering and personal failure is part of the shared human experience.
Mindfulness: Negative thoughts and emotions are observed with openness, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which individuals observe their thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.
Neff, K. D. (2003a). “The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion”. Self and Identity 2 (3): 223–250.
One factor that plays a particularly prominent role is how we assume that others have it easier than us in a variety of ways. We assume they’re more confident, successful, happy, etcetera. We also often assume that if others knew what was going on with us inside, they would judge us and look down on us, rather than view us with compassion. Although I wouldn’t say that any one person or group has the market cornered on human suffering, I also wouldn’t say that any one person or group has the market cornered on human perfection either. In countless ways we are all more alike than different. We are all very human, and we all possess human strengths and weaknesses.
But how does the average person, not normally privy to the internal workings of the minds of others, gain contact with this idea to the extent that they can benefit from it? Certainly you can take a casual or conscious look around to see what your neighbors and fellow human beings are up to. However, casual observation only offers us a view of behavior and possibly the less subtle aspects of motivating factors. This is really just like looking at the tip of an iceberg though.
To quickly and easily gain an understanding of what it means to be human, and a good look into the workings of the human mind, I will sometimes suggest that my clients read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. I realize that this might come as a surprise, but if you have had the pleasure of completing the Harry Potter series, or even watching the movies, you will know what I mean when I say that J.K. Rowling understands humanity. In The Casual Vacancy, Rowling demonstrates a gift for compassion that is really extraordinary. The characters are spread out on a continuum that ranges from psychopath to altruist. The story is written in such a way that the reader will inevitably empathize with at least one, if not several characters, thereby facilitating self-acceptance and compassion towards oneself. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to improve on their self-acceptance, self-esteem, and compassion towards themselves and others.