I love NPR, and yesterday as I was driving home I heard a discussion with an author about her new book. I haven’t bought it, or read the whole thing yet, but the first couple of pages that were free on Amazon were very interesting, as was the discussion on NPR.
They were talking about the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. In order to have self-esteem you need to see yourself as better than other people. It is a top dog mentality – a “second place is the first loser” view of the world. It is hard to maintain high self-esteem because you can’t always be better than everyone. There’s always someone smarter, or stronger, or more successful, or more attractive, or more creative, or at the very least younger than you. The author feels the goal to be perfect in every way, or at least better than your peers, has caused a lot of damage to our psyches.
One particularly nasty issue, caused by the need to think of oneself as better than others, is that it can cast everyone else in a negative light. To be in the wrong is to have failed. If I am wrong, then I am less than you are which makes me worthless. So in order to preserve my self-esteem I can’t be wrong, therefore any argument must be your fault. Rather lonely way to see the world.
Self-compassion is about accepting yourself as who you are. Treating yourself the way you would a good friend, not expecting constant perfection, nor relentlessly chastising yourself when you do make a mistake. I’ve been actively thinking about “self-compassion” for a little over a month now. Yoga Scott ended a practice with “Have compassion for yourself so you can have it for others.” And the thought really stuck. As a general outlook on life, I think I’ve been a subscriber to self-compassion for a while. I try not to compare myself to others (try being the important word). If I make a mistake I try to let it go. This is not to say that I should not try to fix the mistake, but you can’t fix anything if you can’t acknowledge there was a mistake in the first place.
One of my favorite sayings is “I may be wrong. I have been wrong before.” Life is so much easier if you are able to accept that you are human, and so might be wrong once in a while. The world doesn’t stop turning if I’ve made a mistake, and I don’t really think less of myself for it. If I view the world thinking “I might be wrong” then I am open to new ideas and new points of view rather than having to constantly defend myself.
I may not agree with anything else in the book, but I’m looking forward to reading it. It may help me understand myself, and how to better my life. Or it may not, but I’m excited about the opportunity to read about something that’s been playing around in my head for a while.