Have you found yourself in the company of an unruly young child (say, in the grocery store or SITTING NEXT TO YOU ON AN AIRPLANE), judging their caregiver’s parenting (or lack thereof)? Grumbling that the kid needs more discipline and imagining what a better job you would do? Well, let’s get one thing straight: An unruly child is generally not a sign of poor parenting, nor is it likely you would do a better job than the subject of your criticism (although I’m sure they’d be happy to let you have a go at it). However, there is ample research suggesting permissive parenting results in poor performance and behavioural regulation. Allowing your children to do anything without consequence, and telling them their failed assignment is “the best” does not instill intrinsic motivation or morale. Unfortunately, this is what many clients think self-compassion is, and are therefore understandably hesitant to become self-compassionate.
“I’ll fail my courses!”
“I’ll get fat!”
“My place will turn into a pigpen!”
No you wont, no you won’t, and no it won’t. Many people understandably confuse self compassion and self esteem, believing practising self-compassion is similar to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s–the “gold star for everyone” movement that taught children to believe they were above average (even when, statistically, not everyone could be) that’s resulted in the “Narcissism Epidemic” and what’s known as “Generation Me.“
Fear not. I’m not going to encourage you to give up all social niceties, skip work, or decide you’re beautiful no matter what. Rather, by practising self-compassion, we are treating ourselves more like an authoritative parent would–maintaining standards and expectations, while being nurturant and understanding.
Think you see the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion? Basically, self-esteem sends the unrealistic message that “You are perfect and better than everyone else;” whereas self-compassion says, “You are imperfect, like everyone else, and that’s OK.” Read more about it in this article by Kristin Neff. Make sense? And, because I’m in a defining mood, self-confidence is generally understood as the confidence one has in their traits and abilities. Naturally, self-confidence is not constant, and fluctuates based on circumstances and environment.
So, for those of you who think you need to “raise [your] self-esteem” and believe you are perfect, or for those of you who are concerned that being self-compassionate might turn you into a lazy narcissist, rest assured neither is the case. And, if you’re still not sold, try it out for a day–an hour, even. You can always go back to being an asshole to yourself instead :).