Self esteem ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact if you have high self esteem you’re likely being a bit cruel to your self and maybe even putting down others, even just in your mind. It’s competitive and conditional by nature. And that has some real downsides. I talked about some of those downsides in my Radio Live piece this week. (Click here for a link to the audio.)
Recent studies have recorded a rapid rise in levels of narcissism in the heavily studied group of US College students (the easiest group for psychology departments to test of course.) Narcissism is the tendency to view oneself as superior, to feel entitled to success and material wealth, a relative lack of empathy and to be grandiose even arrogant. In it’s extreme form it is classified as a personality disorder. That also seems to be on the rise.
However self compassion is generating kind and positive feelings about your self that are not conditional on achievement. Self compassion is unconditional and as a result is actually more effective in lifting our mood and subjective self worth, but also seems to have a positive effect on motivation and effectiveness.
Kristen Neff, the researcher I quoted last week puts it like this:
“Research indicates that self-compassion offers the same benefits as self-esteem (less depression, greater happiness, etc.) without its downsides. In a large survey conducted with over 3000 people from various walks of life, for example, it was found self-compassion was associated with much more stable feelings of self-worth (assessed 12 different times over an 8 month period) than self-esteem. This may be related to the fact that self-compassion was also found to be less contingent on things like physical attractiveness or successful performances than self-esteem. Also, self-esteem had a strong association with narcissism while self-compassion had no association with narcissism.” (Click her for the full article.)
Business research has also shown that self compassion actually helps us achceive our goals:
“…it’s important to understand what self-compassion is not. While the spirit of self-compassion is to some degree captured in expressions like give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack, it is decidedly not the same thing as taking yourself off the hook or lowering the bar. You can be self-compassionate while still accepting responsibility for your performance. And you can be self-compassionate while striving for the most challenging goals — the difference lies not in where you want to end up, but in how you think about the ups and downs of your journey. As a matter of fact, if you are self-compassionate, new research suggests you are more likely to actually arrive at your destination.” (Click here for the full article.)
So forget self-esteem. If you want to feel better about yourself and kick ass: be kind to yourself. And don’t forget to meditate.