Q: I was taught that good self-esteem is important but I find it hard to not slip into self-criticism mode.
A: For many years now we have focused on making sure everyone worked towards great self-esteem, but now we realize that praise not grounded in reality does not have staying power in real life. Issues such as the inability to accept criticism or correction, a feeling of always being right and the constant self comparison to others, makes it very difficult to sustain a positive self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.
Compassion is the ability to feel for another person, to have empathy and to have a desire to alleviate the suffering of others. Instead of self-esteem, research shows that self-compassion is a healthier way of relating to oneself and does not have the negative side effects that you spoke of. Self-compassion involves treating ourselves kindly and with compassion, as we would a good friend. Rather than noting our failings and being judgmental, we recognize our imperfections and accept them with kindness. We teach our children to love themselves and be kind to others in spite of differences or perceived inadequacies. This approach reduces both, bullying and self-harm because hatred and denigration is replaced with kindness and compassion. When using self-compassion we learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with pain and uncomfortable emotions. This is a far more honest approach and takes far less effort to sustain. Criticism, whether of oneself or of others, never improves an individual’s self-concept or self-esteem. Learning to replace condemnation with compassion is a skill, which will leave you feeling more motivated and will cultivate kindness and understanding for yourself and others. If you find yourself frequently using negative self-talk and undermining yourself with criticism, learn how to be kind to yourself and become your own best friend.