Thursday, September 22, 2011

Self-Compassion versus Self-Esteem

Dr. Kristen Neff recently published a book about self-compassion, which is her research specialty as a psychologist. Self-esteem, which is promoted in many schools throughout the United States, is comparison-based and fear-based. It emphasizes that we need to be better than others to be valued. It assumes that we need to be smarter, more attractive, more successful that others, a thinking pattern that can foster anxiety and depression if we don't believe we're good enough or narcissism and selfishness if we assume we're better than others.

Self-compassion is love-based, an acceptance and appreciation for ourselves just the way we, divine children of God, are. When we have self-compassion, we treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we would treat a dear friend. We seek to love ourselves as unconditionally as God loves us. Sharon Salzberg says, "Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilence, compassion,and understanding within that are simply part of being alive."

Dr. Neff explains that self-compassion has three components:

Self-kindness. When we are gentle and patient with ourselves, we accept the fact that we won't always have the life experiences we would choose and we won't always be perfect in every situation. This simple but profound change in our thinking patterns can enhance our inner peace.

Common humanity. When we realize that all people suffer and experience sorrow and difficulties at times, we discover that we are not alone. We are consequently less judgmental of our personal mistakes and find it easier to forgive ourselves and others when we or they are less than perfect.

Mindfulness. When we are mindful, we recognize our negative emotions, feel them, and then allow ourselves to release them so that they are neither suppressed or exaggerated. As we become aware of the verbal chatter we listen to in our minds, we can also notice the physical results of our thinking. For example, fearful thinking may produce tension in our necks, backs, or shoulders. When we allow ourselves to process our fears, we can then work on releasing the tension in our bodies and minds through meditation and mindfulness.

Dr. Neff's book is a ground-breaking work in self-compassion, which is an important component of peace. She writes, "Self-compassion has the power to....transmute suffering into joy. By changing the way we relate to our own imperfection and pain, we can actually change our experience of living. Try as we may, we can't control life so that it is exactly as we want it to...yet when we wrap our suffering in the cocoon of compassion, something new emerges. Some wonderful, exquisite, beautiful."

&copy Carol Brown

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