Self Compassion: The True Secret To Self Confidence

We’ve all been led to believe self-confidence is the answer to everything.

You know the feeling -- if only I was more self-confident I would have asked for that raise. If only I was a little more self-assured, I would have asked that guy out, rocked that bikini or gone on that trip by myself.

How many of us are yearning to travel and see more of the world, but think to ourselves, “I can’t. I don’t have the confidence to go it alone.”

It turns out  self-confidence is NOT the “be all end all” we thought it was. In fact, research shows it's the cause of a lot of problems. Do I hear a hallelujah?

Thanks to Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and her 2011 book Self-Compassion (and writer Eric Barker's review of her work), everything we thought we knew about self-esteem has been turned upside down. The missing component in our lives isn’t more self-esteem, we’re all actually in need of more self-compassion.


So what's wrong with Self-Esteem?

There are a few problems with it. First, it’s dependent upon other people, fickle and not always around for us when we need it the most. In her book Kristin explains:

Self-esteem is contingent on success. We basically like ourselves and we judge ourselves positively when we succeed and when we do well. But the second we fail and make a mistake, our self-esteem goes out the window and we do not judge ourselves positively.

More than that, maintaining self-esteem all the time is impossible... unless we're delusional. Why? Because self-esteem, as it's usually defined, is comparative. We have to be doing better than someone else to feel empowered ourselves.

And as much as we’d love it to be true, not everyone can be above average. As Kristin says:

The problem with self-esteem is it tends to be comparative in nature. Basically, if I have high self-esteem I have to feel special and above average. That basic need to be better than others is based on a logical impossibility. There’s no way everybody can be above average at the same time. We’re losing before we’re even out of the gate.

Ok, so if self-confidence and self-esteem don’t work. What does?


Enter Self-Compassion

Here’s where we get to stop pretending we’re all so awesome, and instead, focus on forgiving ourselves when we’re not. Kristin says:

Self-compassion is not about a judgment or evaluation of self-worth; it’s not about deciding whether or not we’re a good or bad person; it’s just about treating oneself kindly. Treating oneself like one would treat a good friend, with warmth and care and understanding. When self-esteem deserts us, which is when we fail and we make a mistake, self-compassion steps in. Self-compassion recognises that it’s natural and normal to fail and to make mistakes, and that we’re worthy of kindness even though we’ve done something we regret or didn’t perform as well as we wanted to.

The greatest thing about self-compassion is that you can always forgive yourself:

That’s the most important difference: it’s not contingent, it’s not comparative. You can have self-compassion even when you’ve failed miserably. It doesn’t depend on being better than other people. It just depends on being an imperfect human being, which is great, because it is pretty easy to be an imperfect human being.

Kristin's research also shows something that you'll probably intuitively agree with: you're often far harder on yourself than others. Think about it for a second. How often are you very nice to friends but very hard on yourself? If you’re anything like me, it’s pretty often. 

And if you do happen to be one of those mean girls, there are always people you encounter who will fight back. But if you beat yourself up, whose job is it to defend you? Exactly. Yours is the only voice inside your head. Self-compassion wins.

So how do we do it? Luckily, it's easier than you might think.


Use The Golden Rule... but only in reverse

The Golden Rule says treat others as you wish to be treated. Let's reverse that for second: treat yourself the kind way you often treat others.

Want to be more self-compassionate? Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend who was having problems. Kristin explains it this way:

One easy way to be self-compassionate is just ask yourself “What if I had a very close friend who was experiencing the exact same thing that I am experiencing now?” The idea is you use that same quality of warmth, support, encouragement, tenderness, and understanding with yourself that you more typically show to other people.

So that solo sojourn you want to experience? Sometimes the biggest adventures start with making one small decision -- that you have your own back and you can do this.

As Kristin says in her book: Who is the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness? You.

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