Why Self-Compassion Is More Important Than Self-Esteem

A cultural shift in positive thinking appears to be underway.

Posted in , Jul 13, 2018


Several years ago, when I was in my first Mommy and Me class with my newborn, the instructor said something that hit home both in my parenting life and in my quest toward walking a positive path through my own days.

She said, “The greatest challenge for the current generation is not self-esteem. It’s self-regulation.” Years later, her words echo in my mind, especially as I read about new thinking among psychologists about how self-compassion might be more important than self-esteem to overall happiness.

Self-esteem is the belief that we are valuable, talented, attractive—whatever positive qualities might come to mind. Self-esteem is unquestionably important to a healthy emotional life—without it, we are filled with doubt, resentment and even despair.

But self-esteem can become too much of a good thing, particularly if it leads to thoughts that we are so worthy, so important, that we can do no wrong.

That’s where self-regulation—and self-compassion—come in. Self-regulation refers to our ability to control our reactions to events and emotions. And self-compassion asks us to cultivate positive feelings toward ourselves even when life doesn’t go our way.

After all, life is not all about success. Sometimes we falter. Sometimes we let ourselves or others down. So when our self-esteem suffers an injury like a professional or personal failing, we are left with a choice: how will we handle it?

Over the past two decades, researchers have been exploring this question of the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion, and many believe that the latter is what brings us to a peaceful, positive outlook.  

When something goes wrong in your day, why not take the time to “regulate” yourself in a loving direction? Say to yourself, “That didn’t go well. But I know I can do better next time.” Or, “I don’t feel good about how I handled that situation. How can I approach it differently when it comes up again?”

In other words, endeavor to live with authentic positivity—acknowledging the negative realities of life, but committing to love yourself through them, right into the better day that lies ahead.

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