Kristin Neff, a well-known researcher in mindfulness and psychology makes the following distinction between self-esteem and self-compassion:
Whereas self-esteem entails evaluating oneself positively and often involves the need to be special and above average, self-compassion does not entail self-evaluation or comparisons with others. Kristin Neff, University of Texas at Austin, "Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, and Well-Being" (2011)
Culturally, we have a tendency to focus on what is wrong with us, what we are not good at doing, what we need to improve, edit or change in our lives. We also get into a habitual pattern of comparing ourselves with others, especially with the rise of social media.
This negative bias towards ourselves can ultimately result in lowered self-esteem. Some people seek to enhance their self-esteem in comparison to others by "puffing" themselves up, and making the other person feel "less than" by putting them down. When we evaluate and rate ourselves as above average or "better than," then by default we would see others as less than average.
When we aren't centred or grounded in the knowledge of who we are, then we can get into a circle of emotional ups and downs depending upon how we perceive others' judgements of us. However, the need to analyze, edit, and judge is normal and, for some of us, habitual.
The practice of Mindfulness brings an awareness of our thoughts, feelings and judgements about ourselves and others to the forefront. With mindful awareness practice, we develop skills with which to be able to let go of the need to analyze and judge ourselves and instead experience stillness and a sense of self-worth.
Mindfulness is a self-care practice and it has so many benefits that strengthen our inner being. Research shows that mindfulness practice can:
- Improve attention, focus, and decision-making by bringing an awareness of our negative thoughts, habits, and judgements while creating a space for us to nurture ourselves with what is needed.
- Clear out the blind spots that we acquire over our lives that tend to over inflate us or under-rate us in our life, career, and relationships.
Try these 4 tips to nurture healthy self-esteem
The following mindfulness practice can be as long or short as you'd like. You can do it lying down, sitting or walking. Take a moment to focus on the sensation of breathing and connecting with your breath.
- Label your emotions with words; be as accurate as possible when describing your feelings to yourself or others.
- Bring a non-judgmental attitude toward your thoughts and emotions:non-judging helps acceptance.
- Sustain attention on the present moment:prepare for the present tasks and avoid worrying about future or ruminating about the past.
- Let thoughts and emotions enter and leave awareness: let them go without reacting to them.
(Tips adapted from Mindful.org, “Feeling Self-Critical? Try Mindfulness”)
MBSR and mindfulness in Vancouver
Mindfulness and MBSR are especially good ways to develop self-worth and self-esteem. Mindfulness teaches us to notice the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise in present-moment awareness, so that they can be experienced with kindness, acceptance, and non-judgment.