February series: Feelings
I’m OK, of course.
So far this month we have talked about the importance of befriending our emotions (https://kathystoddardtorrey.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/ive-got-a-bad-feeling-about-this/) and understanding that every situation has a fact and a feeling part (https://kathystoddardtorrey.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/everything-has-a-fact-and-a-feeling-part/). Now let’s talk about how we feel about ourselves. We want to have positive feelings about ourselves; therefore, we want to speak to ourselves in a kind and supportive way. Life is way harder when we face the challenges of the world with negative self-talk in our heads.
There are quite a few phrases that are tossed around to describe how we feel about ourselves; words like self-esteem, self-love, and self-compassion. The self-esteem emphasis has traveled a long and troubled path. Many grumpy, old people blame the millennials’ attitude of entitlement on the self-esteem movement. That’s a discussion all its own that would include open-mindedness, the danger of stereotypes, and communication.
However, studies have shown that a focus on self-esteem results in a dismissal of our faults and wrong-doings. We sort of ignore them and focus on our good qualities in order to maintain positive self-esteem. We are not motivated to change or even believe that change is possible when we think that we are excellent no matter what. There is no correlation between high self-esteem and success or superior performance. If we feel a need to protect our self-esteem, we rationalize bad behavior and don’t think we need to change because we are so awesome already
Next up is self-love, and I must admit that self-love is not one of my favorite phrases. I’ve already disclosed that I’m not a mushy-gushy type of person, and this phrase just doesn’t appeal to me. I have a dear friend who is also a coach, and she talks a lot about self-love. In fact, she has her clients look in a mirror and say, “I love you.” Many times, the people who do this are moved to tears. There is a very emotional reaction that I can’t pretend to understand. If self-love resonates with you, it’s a fine way to start feeling positive about yourself. However, unconditional self-love that focuses on only our good qualities runs the same risks as self-esteem.
My favorite perspective is self-compassion. One of the reasons I like it is that it isn’t overly mushy. Another reason is that it’s got some impressive research behind it. When researchers compared self-compassion to self-esteem and just general positive feelings, they found that self-compassion resulted in a belief that we can change our less-than-desirable qualities and behaviors. Even better, self-compassion motivates us to change! That’s huge!
Here is a definition of self-compassion from a study done by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen called Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation:
“Self-compassion has been defined as a self-attitude that involves treating oneself with warmth and understanding in difficult times and recognizing that making mistakes is part of being human.”
They go on to cite other studies that show that self-compassion creates a more positive attitude and increases optimism, as well as happiness. It also lowers levels of anxiety and depression. Bonus: Self-compassion results in better romantic relationship functioning. Woot!
To get these results, when you consider a mistake or misdeed that you’ve done, ask “What would I say to myself from a compassionate and understanding perspective?” Talk to yourself as you would to a close friend whom you care about.
If you find yourself rationalizing the behavior to get yourself off the hook, you are slipping into a self-esteem perspective that doesn’t require self-examination and behavior change. We would tell our friends if they were misbehaving, and we should tell ourselves the same thing.
Exercising self-compassion is the surest way to get to self-actualization, which is realizing one’s full potential. We know that we are OK, and that we can be even better.
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