Self-esteem is a difficult nut to crack. Even the most confident people in the world can lack self-esteem. Because that feeling is so hard to hold onto, a professor is trying to get people to throw the concept out and usher in a new one: self-compassion.
Why? Because Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, thinks you can benefit if you treat yourself like a best friend.
The problem with self-esteem
Bad news. That whole self-esteem movement? It may have created a generation of narcissists.
“[B]ecause of this emphasis on self-esteem, we actually got a generation of narcissists,” Neff told the Atlantic in an interview. “I think it’s generally out there in the culture, but maybe especially among parents and educators.”
Neff explains that self-esteem counseling can cause people to feel like they are special or better than others. While having self-esteem itself isn’t bad, the problems come when a person gets their esteem from tearing down others. “When you take it too seriously, you become a narcissist,” Neff adds.
“The problem is we're constantly comparing ourselves to others. We try to puff ourselves up," she says. "We have what's called self-enhancement bias, where we see ourselves as better in almost any culturally valued trait. There's a large body of research showing that bullying is largely caused by the quest for high self-esteem—the process of feeling special and better-than.”
The benefits of self-compassion
Would you ever look at the reflection of your best friend and say, “you are a fat, ugly, pig!” No, you would not. And that’s why self-compassion works.
“One component is self-kindness, which is in a way the most obvious,” Neff says. “But it also entails a recognition of common humanity—in other words, the understanding that all people are imperfect, and all people have imperfect lives.”
So, when you fail you don’t feel sorry for yourself, you think, “well, I’ll do better next time.” It’s this simple switch that allows people to stay mindful, and, let’s face it, rational and recognize their own self-worth.
"The self-worth that comes from being kind to yourself is much more stable than that which comes from judging yourself positively," Neff adds.
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