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By Pebbles Mendoza

There was a time when it was popular to start one's day with a lot of positive expressions about ourselves. At that time there was no Internet, but there were tape recorders. So many of us recorded positive messages like “I am beautiful, inside and out,” “I am strong,” “I am a good leader” and so forth on a tape, and replayed them while getting dressed for work.


Have you been talking to yourself lately? If your answer is “No,” then you are either lying to yourself or may lack self-awareness. Psychotherapist Ashley Graber cites research that indicates that people spend almost half of their waking hours (47%) in self-talk

For example, as you drive to work you engage in self-talk, dwelling on what you will do today, or what you did yesterday, or what went wrong recently, or what went right. At that point, you are functioning on autopilot, and when you reach your office you are surprised, wondering how you got there.

Compassion vs. Pity

There are three steps to compassion, namely:

  1. You see someone suffering.

  2. Your heart is filled with warmth and caring. (Compassion = suffer with.)

  3. You want to help the person.

Compassion also embodies understanding, being kind when someone errs or fails, being non-judgmental, and acknowledging that imperfection, failure, and suffering are shared human experiences.

It is different from pity. Pity is an emotion, but compassion is both an emotion and a virtue. Compassion has the same properties as pity, but it goes one step further - it includes the desire to help the suffering person.


When we beat ourselves up, fixate on something we hate about ourselves, or bottle up our negative or angry emotions to portray a happy front to those around us, we are not being self-compassionate. We are only hiding our realities and bottling up our feelings. At the end of the day we may go home feeling miserable. Self-control that involves mentally pushing some emotions into a corner can get us stuck. This is because we have settled for portraying a positive impression to others, rather than examining and processing our emotions.

This is not to say that we should hang our emotions on post-its of different colors all across our faces. Instead, we need to practice self-compassion at home. It will make us naturally stronger when we are offended in front of other people.

There are three components to self-compassion, namely:

  1. Mindfulness. We recognize that we are stressed or struggling, but we don't judge ourselves for feeling this way or for what experience causes these situations.

  2. Self-kindness. We choose to support and understand ourselves, rather than harshly criticizing ourselves.

  3. Connection. We recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and has difficult times. We aren't alone in our situation. Rather, we are just as human as everyone else. We can, therefore, be as compassionate to ourselves as we would be to someone we love very much. We can love and accept ourselves, flaws and all.

Self-Compassion vs. Self-Esteem

Often self-compassion is confused with self-esteem. However, self-esteem lacks many of the benefits that are provided by self-compassion, says Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Educational Psychology.

Neff defines self-esteem as a “global evaluation of self-worth, a judgment: 'Am I a good person, or am I a bad person?'" For many years, psychologists believed that self-esteem was the paramount determination of psychological health.

Neff notes that low self-esteem can lead to self-hate, depression, anxiety, and various psychological problems. At its worst, it can lead to contemplation of suicide.

Conversely, high self-esteem is a good thing. But what makes it bad is what we resort to in order to have it. People with high self-esteem believe that being average isn't good enough. We must be above the norm to be special. However, Neff calls this a “logical impossibility.” If everyone felt above average, no one could be special. The bar for the norm has simply gone higher, as a result of which people look for new ways to stand out. They over-promote themselves to others. Or to feel superior, they put down others, may resort to bullying, may be prejudiced, or may behave in other negative ways. Such behavior allows us to feel better about ourselves compared to all the rest. This creates a culture of narcissism.

Self-esteem is contingent on success in things that are important to us. For many of us, it's beauty. We feel bad if we aren't as beautiful as supermodels. Meanwhile, supermodels insecurely compare their looks to other supermodels. Or, we may have ideal standards in our careers. What if we fall short of those standards? We tend to punish ourselves in our self-talk. We look down on ourselves.

What Self-Compassion Means

How can we treat ourselves with self-compassion? We can do the following:

  1. Accept our humanity, and honor it.

  2. Accept that everyone in this world experiences frustration, plans that don't work out, and loss, and we are no different.

  3. Accept that we, like everybody else, have limitations.

  4. Accept the human reality that we fall short of our ideals.

  5. Accept all of the above. Don't fight reality.

Neff cites three core components of self-compassion, namely:

  1. Treat ourselves with kindness. Rather than judging ourselves harshly, we should give ourselves understanding, encouragement, patience, empathy and gentleness, in the same doses that we give all of these to our closest friends. We especially have to remember this when we've just had a bad day.

  2. Common humanity. Self-esteem asks, "How am I different from others?" Conversely, self-compassion asks, "How am I the same as others?" Implied in this question is another question: “What does it mean to be human?” The answer is, it means being imperfect. Everyone in the world is imperfect, and everyone leads imperfect lives. Imperfection is a shared human experience.

  3. Mindfulness. Mindfulness means being in the present moment all the time. It also means acknowledging and accepting times when we are suffering. By doing this we can process our suffering with self-compassion. People with high self-esteem are also sometimes their own fiercest critics, causing themselves incredible pain.

Now that you know the benefits of self-compassion, you may want to try this exercise as a lovely gift to yourself. Write a compassionate letter to yourself. Here are the steps:

  1. Write about an issue you have that makes you feel sad, insecure, or inadequate. It may be something that is work-related, or something about your physical appearance.

  2. Feel the emotions that arise when you think of this issue. Examine your emotions without judgment and write exactly how you feel, no more and no less.

  3. Write what you understand about the emotions you feel, and what you don't understand about them.

  4. Write about the above with words of love, encouragement, and kindness. Show yourself the same kind of kindness that you show to someone you love.

  5. If you are in a competitive field, whether it's a sport or a cutthroat job, learn to compete with yourself rather than against others.

  6. Do this exercise every day for one week. At the end of the week, observe what happens to you, and write about that, too.

Are you ready to give yourself self-compassion? If so, you must let go of self-pity and the need for high self-esteem. Life is not a contest. We must ultimately see those around us, whether at work or at home or elsewhere, as connections rather than competitors. Self-compassion has all the variables of pity and high self-esteem, but without the trouble that goes with the two - and with added benefits, to boot.


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