Self Care

Self-compassion is a more secure foundation than self-esteem

In the Western world we’re obsessed with self-esteem. And as a medical specialist who  trained fourteen years to year the pinnacle of my clinical career – a senior staff anesthesiologist at the biggest teaching hospital in the country – I knew all about self-esteem. My identity and purpose was wrapped up in technical expertise, advanced knowledge, and heroic skills.

So why did I feel so bad when I made an error – or worse, harmed a patient?

It turns out, self-esteem is a brittle foundation for psychological security, happiness and wellbeing; we find ourselves constantly competing with others; and it leaves us alone in our shame, wallowing in self-judgement and self-criticism.

But recent research suggest there is a healthier way to feel good about yourself – self-compassion. This better way of being has three components: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity in our life difficulties, and mindfulness to help us step back from painful emotions. In my experience, health professionals who are kinder to themselves are kinder to their patients too.

Kristin NeffThe world authority on self-compassion is Kristen Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin.

She’s a lovely warm and gentle soul who herself had to learn self-compassion to deal with difficult life events.

We recommend you visit her self-compassion website where you can access and download many free resources as well as purchase her book and CD’s.

For her take on the contrast between self-compassion and self-esteem, see this great YouTube video of her TEDx talk.


Feature image: “Self Love” by Donna Grayson

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