Is it time to stop focusing on self-esteem, and embrace self-compassion instead?

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Sarah Doyle is a life coach and a self-help expert. This January, she is guiding us towards a more confident, comfortable version of ourselves.

I believe, as women, how we feel about ourselves is sacrosanct. But is it time to stop focusing on self-esteem and embrace self-compassion instead? Having a healthy sense of self-esteem means we have a strong sense of self-worth and that we can recognise our inherent value. The relationship we nurture with ourselves is the foundation for a confident, vibrant, happy and successful life.

However, therein lies a problem rarely spoken about that can agitate this relationship. Have you ever snapped at your kids because you were so exhausted, fell short of hitting your targets at work or had an off day in the gym; things that you usually do so well, and ended up feeling bad about yourself? We often use these setbacks or mistakes as a measure of how good a person we are, even though they should have no bearing on our self-esteem. When we use our previous successes and accomplishments as a benchmark for feeling good about ourselves, we will eventually create such high expectations that it will be impossible to meet these standards all of the time. Not to mention that we are, at the end of the day, imperfect beings and bad days are just a part of life.

 Related: Let's make 2019 the year of self-kindness


Contingent (external or extrinsic) self-esteem is self-esteem based on external awards, material possessions, the approval of others or on social comparisons and can sometimes feel like we are fighting an exhausting, perilous uphill battle. Contingent self-esteem will manifest in many ways and I am sure you can relate some of these; excessive self-consciousness, self-criticism of your appearance, the pressure of perfection, fear of judgement of others and maybe even a little social anxiety.

Do you recognise these qualities in yourself? We all experience moments of doubt and insecurity. We will regularly be confronted with our perceived inadequacies and failures. Mistakes, a lack of confidence, social comparison and bad days will cause us to question if what we are doing or if who we are is enough.

So, what then?

Because self-esteem refers to our own feelings of worth or value, as a result, we will regularly seek out benchmarks or make judgements of our own lives to assess how valuable or worthwhile we feel on any given day. And this problem can inadvertently damage the love affair we have so boldly started with ourselves. The problem, in short, is what happens when we are down, out of luck, feeling despair, sadness or fear.

How we respond to ourselves in moments of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering is what I have come to see (in my six+ years of coaching) as paramount in our self-development and personal success. Imagine a friend struggling with life, feeling despair, stress and heartache. Imagine that she comes to you for solace, support and love and you kick her when she is down. Even though your friend has suffered a significant and upsetting set back, you criticize, exploit and insult her.

Would you do this?

Or would you provide unconditional kindness, non-judgemental listening and a positive attitude? Would you listen and comfort her? Of course, you would choose, in your own way, to offer your best friend a positive attitude, love and kindness.


Why should you be any different? Why are you the exception to your own rule?

Self-compassion means that we be kind to ourselves and instead of finding way to beat ourselves up following a setback or making a mistake, we embrace our flaws and humanity. It means that we treat ourselves as we would our best friend. Self-compassion truly is life-changing because it teaches us that we can feel good about ourselves not just because we have ‘won’, but because we have connected with our inherent worth. I hope you will all forgive me for ending this piece with a quote from my own book, Be Your Own Best Friend, but I’m clearly a fan; "if self-esteem will be the bricks you use to rebuild your life, self-compassion will be the cement holding it all together.”

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