Self-Esteem Versus Self-Compassion: Aren’t They the Same?
By Gina Cipriano
Many people use the terms self-esteem and self-compassion interchangeably. Often, people think of someone who has high self-esteem and self-compassion as being confident, successful, and happy. While there is overlap between self-esteem and self-compassion, the two can present themselves very differently in people.
“Self-Esteem is an evaluation of our worthiness as individuals, a judgement that we are good, valuable people” (Neff, 2011, p.1).”
Self-Compassion is defined as someone who possesses the following three components:
- Self-kindness: This refers to treating ourselves as we would a close friend. Rather than beating ourselves up or putting ourselves down, we are gentle in recognizing that we are imperfect beings- and that is more than enough.
- Common humanity: We are all connected in our imperfect humanness. As people, we can recognize that we are not above anyone and nobody is above us; rather, we relate to each other in our triumphs and failures.
- Mindfulness: This entails taking a step back from difficult life situations and acting as an observer, rather than participant, of one’s life. Ultimately, mindfulness allows a person to view their world objectively while they allow themselves to experience difficult emotions without judgment.
“Like self-esteem, self-compassion is a salient source of positive self-regard” (Neff, 2011, p.6). However, people with high self-esteem may have it as a result of thinking they are better than others. Self-esteem appears to be related to a person’s ego. Ego can lead people to become prejudice, put others down, and over-evaluate their own abilities in attempt to feel better about themselves. Further, when this self-concept it challenged or their pitfalls come to light, their self-esteem inevitably diminishes. Additionally, a person may only boost their self-esteem by becoming successful in one area of their life, such as being successful at work, and fail to consider other aspects of their life that need to be improved. While self-esteem can be positive as it can increase a person’s confidence and happiness, it may not always be beneficial to strive for, depending on the person (Neff, 2011).
A common misconception is that having a high amount of self-compassion will cause someone to become complacent (Neff, 2011). After all, if we view ourselves as worthy, despite our short-comings, that means we would never put in the work to fix them. Right?
Beating ourselves up, putting ourselves down, and trying to make ourselves perfect is often counterproductive. It causes us to strive for things to prove our worth rather than recognizing that we are already worthy. Research has shown that people higher in scores of self-compassion actually take greater initiative to improve their lives (Neff, 2011). Ultimately, people with self-compassion improve their lives because of internal motivation (such as the joy it brings them) versus external motivation (proving to others that they are better than them). Self-compassion allows us to act in a way that aligns with our values and points us to a joyful life. When we inevitably fail, self-compassion allows us to recognize that we failed because something went wrong- not that we are somehow not enough.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00330.x