The truth is that increasing self-esteem is not as simple as increasing muscle mass. Self-esteem or the self-worth you attribute to yourself has a lot to do with your quality of life and your social relationships; you imagine yourself as a treasure, which is special and therefore deserves respect.
But to feel like a treasure, an implicit message is that you have to stand out and be special in something, compared to others. Also it’s about setting goals to achieve that justify this self-esteem. In other words, self-esteem depends on many external factors, and improving self-esteem often leads to constant comparison and competition with other people.
Why is it so important to be more compassionate towards yourself?
We love the term self-esteem because thinking about improving self-esteem is like thinking about building muscle mass and getting stronger. Most people feel they need to get stronger so they can handle the difficulties in their lives.that having low self-esteem, being very weak, not being able to deal with criticism, rejection… for lack of personal strength.
In this sense, many exercises and suggestions for improving self-esteem are based on feeding yourself with positive and motivating messages (“if you can, you are precious, look at all you have accomplished, you can love more” etc.) the idea that it is simply a matter of ingesting the indicated messages and thoughts (as food) to strengthen oneself little by little. Sounds easy.
Why the Idea of Boosting Self-Esteem Doesn’t Work
The problem is, if your self-esteem drops, you find it hard to believe the positive things that other people tell you. If you are convinced that you were bad, useless, problematic, etc. they are beliefs so deeply ingrained that they are not going to change just because someone tells you otherwise.
In the same way, focusing on the aspects in which you stand out in order to feel special or better in front of others only puts more pressure on you, since there will always be people better or more outstanding than you. in any area of life. When you are constantly tested and compared to check your worth again and again, the project of working on self-esteem becomes a hamster wheel.
Another story about self-esteem
In reality, what you identify as low self-esteem is not an indicator of weakness, but it does mean that there is a very strong criticism in your mind.
Imagine yourself in parts composed by different actors and internal voices, each with a role. More or less like in the movies or the series, where the protagonist has to make a difficult decision and suddenly we see him conversing with his angel and his inner demon who appear next to him, giving him completely opposite directions.
Your inner critic is the voice responsible for controlling your behavior. It’s this voice that calls out to you in the morning: “You should have gone to bed earlier last night.” And in the evening before going to sleep: “You should have done more tasks during the day”. His intention is not bad, he wants to protect you, prepare for the worst and make sure you are up to date with daily requirements. The problem is that if it’s very strong, it weakens you in the long run, because of course, it’s like being next to someone who has no confidence in your abilities at all.
The dynamics of internal criticism
If your internal critic or judge is very strong, it keeps you on constant alert, watch everything you dolike a suspicious mother or father and will always find things that still need to be fixed, so you can never do enough to make him happy.
In the logic of the critic, self-esteem is in the accomplishments that represent a person. More achievements, more personal worth. Then, if you’re the inner critic’s narrative, your self-esteem will improve when you achieve results: Winning a contest, promotion at work, and anything else that gives social recognition and admiration. That is to say, your self-esteem would improve only after a stage of effort under the whip of criticism, when a moment of glory will come which will nourish your security. Unfortunately, achievements are only moments and after a while the emotion that for a second could contain a spark of self-esteem passes.
The effects of chronic criticism
The belief that it takes constant vigilance and criticism to stay motivated/to be able to perform better has not held true. Rather, the opposite is happening: more self-criticism, in the long run your creative and motivating capacity decreases and it can even bring you to strong states of depression.
Constant self-criticism has been scientifically proven to dramatically increase stress levels which can be measured by cortisol and adrenaline levels in the blood. It puts you in a permanent survival mode, which in the short term functions to alert you to danger, but in the long term it irritates and exhausts you. It’s like you constantly feel like you’re being chased, only that you’re the one chasing yourself and you’re expending energy being the persecutor and the persecuted at the same time. So, undercritical performance, over time, makes you less effective at achieving your goals.
Working on self-esteem as if it were something to nurture doesn’t make much sense then. It’s more important know the dynamics of self-criticism that you practice and record your way of speaking on a daily basis.
It is important to introduce new voices
Improving self-esteem depends more on listening to this critic (where does he come from? Is his criterion really valid? Is it still relevant?), on the one hand and on the other hand to the introduction of new, non-judgmental, but more friendly and compassionate voices that they also exist within you and will help you calm down and reduce your stress levels, boost your creativity and self-confidence on the long term.
In a situation where you are always very critical of yourself, ask yourself, for example, if the same thing had happened to a good friend of yours, what would you say to him? Would you talk to him the same way you talk to yourself right now? Often we are much harsher with ourselves than with others and it is because of this mistaken belief that strict control protects us.
The role of self-compassion in our sense of self-esteem
Compassion is the ability to feel with the other person and to want to act to relieve their pain. It’s directly related to our capacity for empathy. A compassionate person is someone who acknowledges and validates the pain of others and strives to understand what they need in their situation. Be by their side, embrace, listen, and validate each other’s feelings.
Too much self-pity is often associated with the idea of relaxing too much and losing sight of your goals, but in fact the opposite has been proven. Feeling the compassion of others not only benefits our mental health by lowering stress levels, but also benefits our physical health.
People who grow up and live in more compassionate settings live longer and healthier lives. Which makes a lot of sense, given that the compassionate voice is almost the opposite of the critical voice. Experiencing Compassion Increases Your Oxytocin Levels (happiness hormone) and builds self-confidence when you stop comparing and recognizing yourself as a human being, with similar weaknesses to others.
To be compassionate is not to be victimized
Unfortunately, it is not yet common to apply compassion to oneself. It’s almost frowned upon, because it’s confused with egocentrism and victimhood, although it’s very different. Self-compassion seems paradoxical because it is associated with becoming more docile and finally recognizing one’s own weakness. Many people fear this process because they feel it involves a loss of control over their situation.
Pity is different from self-pity, because it puts the other person in a victim position in which they can do nothing but regret and wait. To victimize would be to say to you: “Me, poor man, I am not guilty and I cannot do anything.
To have self-compassion would be: “This situation is difficult, it really frustrates me and it costs me to find a solution.” (validate), “I really need more… help, understanding, patience, etc.” (think of solutions and alternatives without blaming yourself for not having found them yet).
Self-compassion puts you in a moment of pause and reunion, from which you will feel the motivation to continue.
How to practice self-pity
Kristin Neff (2013), a pioneer in research on the benefits of self-compassion, includes three processes in her practice.
It is to recognize those difficult times when, instead of criticizing you, you should accompany yourself as a friend. The hardest thing about practicing self-compassion is getting caught in the moments when you are being tougher on yourself, to get out of the previous dynamic of self-criticism. Mindfulness involves simple phrases like, “It’s hard, I’m having a hard time, I’m feeling sad.”
Instead of looking for ways to stand out, recognize that you were human and that your weaknesses connect you to others, not isolate you. The challenges you are going through are similar to those of others and you are not alone. Phrases that help you recognize your own humanity can be: “It’s part of life, it’s normal to have these challenges, other people feel the same way in these situations.”
Speak and treat each other with affection, imagine what a good friend would say to you in this situation, caress each other. Say things like, “You do what you can, you’ll find a way.”
It’s different from saying motivational messages, as it takes a process of being more present to yourself and finding the words you really need to hear in a difficult or frustrating situation, and then giving yourself the time. and the courage to listen to your own needs, because you deserve it.
Self-compassion requires recognizing and accepting our own imperfections and vulnerabilities y es decirte también, you don’t have to achieve everything and you don’t have to always make it perfect. But precisely this process is necessary, because it is the truth. You can’t do everything and you won’t always achieve perfection. This is the only way to free yourself from constant self-criticism and stop being you but the enemy by not forcing yourself to be more. It is to say to yourself: “You were doing it and you are doing enough.” It motivates you to keep going without the need for constant criticism or threats.