Welcome back to our self-esteem series. If this is your first time accessing the blog, you may find it helpful to read the first post in this series to familiarize yourself with the topics that will be discussed in this post as well as in future posts. In the first installment, I talked about six different steps that you can take to help foster a relationship with yourself that is characterized by its level of helpfulness. In this post, I will be discussing the second step that I believe to be crucial in self-esteem work: increasing compassion and understanding. For the sake of this post, I will be referencing compassion and understanding as they apply to the self. We often think of these two things as ways of relating to others and fostering good relationships. If compassion and understanding are two things that you value in your relationships with others, then you are already primed to apply them to strengthen your relationship with yourself.
Before we explore what it means to increase compassion and understanding, we must be confident that we know what these two things look like. Compassion often gets conflated with self-love and while self-love is extremely important, compassion is a little less intense as it simply requires one to be gentler with oneself, especially in the face of hardship. Understanding often gets conflated with making excuses in a way that is negatively connoted. Being understanding towards yourself does not mean that you excuse behavior that you know is going to be harmful to yourself and others; it’s about being curious about the reasons and unmet needs behind a behavior when you aren’t sure what your intention was. Often times, understanding leads to compassion.
Now that we know what compassion and understanding as they relate to the self are, we can explore how to cultivate both of these things to increase your view of yourself and move you towards a more meaningful life. The first step here calls upon something that I discussed in the last post: cultivating awareness. When you can tap into what is going for you mentally, physically, and emotionally, you have the opportunity to ask yourself some meaningful questions such as: “Why did I deem this a failure when it is just a bump in the road?” or “Why am I so quick to call myself a ‘loser’ in moments that I am struggling?” By asking yourself questions such as these, you are opening yourself up to the possibility that these things that you believe about yourself are not totally accurate. This leads into the second step, which is looking for evidence. Due to the fact that we all have skewed perceptions of ourselves, we often take things that we believe as the ultimate truths. Believe it or not, not everything that we think is true! This applies to beliefs about the self as well, so looking for evidence against negative thoughts can be helpful in creating space and, again, opening yourself up to the possibility that you are capable and valuable.
The third step to increasing compassion and understanding is to be willing to take it easy on yourself. Nobody can grant you the power of being compassionate towards yourself but you, so a willingness to do so has to exist. My guess is that most everyone will say that they are willing to be kinder to themselves – who wouldn’t? However, when we take a step back and observe our thoughts and behaviors, we will often notice that they do not line up with this perceived willingness. In my experience, many people get caught up on this step because it requires a fierce commitment to the work and a constant reminder to break comfortable habits. Once you can adopt this willingness, compassion and understanding will come a little easier to you.
The final step is to practice. This one seems intuitive, but because we are so often on autopilot, we forget to pay close attention to the nuances of our self-esteem practice which can lead to maintenance of a negative evaluation of the self. By being curious about your self-talk, your feelings, and your behaviors, you can remind yourself to practice the steps mentioned above so that you can continue increasing your compassion and understanding towards yourself.
If you are feeling inspired after this post and want to apply some of these steps now, I will leave you with a link to a meditative practice called the Loving Kindness Meditation. This particular type of meditation is great for increasing compassion and understanding of others and of yourself. As with all meditative practices, you are welcome to make any alterations that you please. Stay tuned for the next post in this series that will focus on decreasing comparison to others.
Loving Kindness Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d_AA9H4z9U