We all know the Golden Rule

Treat others the way you want them to treat you, and by the same token, don’t do things you wouldn’t want done to you. It’s an oldie but a goody; an ancient standard of altruism and empathy that banks on the notion that we treat ourselves with the same kindness we should extend to others.

But do we?

Matters of the Self: self-compassion versus self-esteem

Our culture has a bad reputation for being self-obsessed, with treat yo-self shopping sprees and selfie overloads. But let’s not mistake self-indulgence, a.k.a hoarding up attention for yourself like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and the newest season of OITNB, for true self-care. There are so many ways to assess how we self-identify that it’s hard to differentiate between them, and sometimes even harder to know which will lead to fulfillment.

Current research in psychology is starting to show the connections between the rise in mindfulness (which is a foundational element of our philosophy) and its influence in how we view ourselves and how we can relate to others.

Self-compassion is a growing field of research within American psychology that, for many, can be an important first step toward a healthier, happier life, according to Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering researcher in the field. Self-compassion begins, Neff writes, when we start to “treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend — or even a stranger, for that matter.” Studies have shown that this approach to self-care can reduce procrastination and stress and increase happiness.

What about self-esteem?

In a 2008 study by Dr. Neff on psychological functioning and different ways of relating to oneself, self-esteem was shown to have a positive (and unsettling) association with narcissism. Uh-oh. This is because self-esteem needs us to compare ourselves to others, to receive external validation that we are exceptional and not ordinary like those other folks. The study revealed that self-compassion doesn’t work that way at all. Instead, it instills stable notions of self-worth, sourcing love from deep within ourselves instead of gleaning it from outside sources like lovers’ affection, friends’ compliments, colleagues’ approval, Instagram likes, Snapchat views, you name it.

Not only is self-compassion more effective when compared with self-esteem, research shows that self-esteem can actually have a negative effect on our mental health by increasing our stress and anxiety, not to mention a lot of negative self-talk if (and when) we fail to receive enough praise from others.

Self-compassion 101

“What if you wake up some day and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big, juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” — Anne Lamott

Don’t let your desire to be exceptional hold you back from being exquisite.

Your humanity is lovely, even with its cracks and chips. Fear and insecurity don’t get to steal your compassion for yourself — not on our watch! Your life is too, too short for that nonsense. You can start incorporating the basic concepts of self-compassion into a daily affirmation, your mindfulness routine, and when you feel an onslaught of negative self-talk.

1. Treat yourself with kindness
Think of yourself as your own best friend. How would you give support, offer a lending ear, and show compassion to those closest to you? Practice greeting yourself with that kind of love and acceptance each morning.

2. Recognize your shared humanity
So often we hold ourselves to harsher standards than anyone around us. Acknowledge that you are, in fact, human and extend grace in stressful times. Sometimes it may feel like you’re all alone, but remind yourself that your experiences are connected to a larger shared human experience, and someone else somewhere is going through exactly the same thing.

3. Be mindful when faced with negative aspects of yourself
You overslept your alarm, forgot your bestie’s birthday, failed to meet a work deadline, and burned dinner to a sizzle. Instead of jumping to judgment, criticism, and the downward spiral of self-loathing, sit with yourself in all your muck and let out a sigh. I mean really let it all out. Blow the anxious thoughts out through your breath, up your throat, flutter in-between your lips. Read a poem or play your favorite song, and remind yourself that you are still good, you’ll do better next time, and you are still worthy of love.

Happy self-loving, Spoonies! Let us know how these practices help shape how you think about yourself and how you think about others. XO


“Self-Esteem Based on External Sources Has Mental Health Consequences.” Monitor on Psychology, 33(11), Dec. 2002. American Psychological Association. Web. June 2016.

Barnard, Laura K. and John F. Curry. “Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions.” Review of General Psychology, 15(4), Dec. 2011, 289–303. APA PsycNET. Web. June 2016.

Creswell, J. David, et al. “Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress.” PLoS One, 8(5), 2013. Web. June 2016.

Neff, Kristin. “Why Self-Compassion Drumpfs Self-Esteem.” Greater Good, May 2011. Web. June 2016.

Parker-Pope, Tara. “Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges.” New York Times, Feb. 2011. Web. June 2016.

Sirois, Fuschia M. “Procrastination and Stress: Exploring the Role of Self-compassion.” Self and Identity, 13(2), 2014. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. June 2016.

TEDx Talks. “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen.” YouTube, Feb. 2013. Web. June 2016.

University of Hertfordshire. “Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practice the least.” ScienceDaily, March 2014. Web. June 2016.

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