[Gratuitous cat photo alert.] I chanced upon a great TED talk by Kristen Neff on “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion” the other day. It piqued my interest because too many people engage in body bashing, either of their own bodies when they look in the mirror or pull on skinny jeans, or of other people’s bodies. Of course, that’s last bit’s OK, right, because you know, we’re engaged in a war on obesity and all. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
When people feel bad about themselves, either because of internal or external criticism, rarely does anything good come of it. Feeling bad about yourself is a poor motivator for change, at least for lasting change (it’s seems to be a pretty good motivator for dieting attempts that flame out in a few days or weeks).
One of the things I liked about Dr. Neff’s talk the most is the distinction she draws between self-esteem and self-compassion. Having good self-esteem requires that you feel that you are perfect, or at least better than everyone else. That’s problematic, because nobody’s perfect, and everyone can’t be better than everyone else. That means that decades of preaching the importance of fostering good self-esteem has led to a rampant increase in narcissistic individuals who have learned to knock other people down in order to make themselves feel good.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, involves realizing that none of us are perfect, that we all suffer and make mistakes, and showing compassion in spite of the inevitable human flaws and failings. Bringing this back to the body bashing thing, it means that we are all worthy of love and compassion, from ourselves and others, no matter what we weigh. Lack of self-compassion surely contributes to disordered eating, and probably to actual eating disorders (although there are many factors that contribute to true EDs).
You can find more videos and resources on Dr. Neff’s website, self-compassion.org. I myself was inspired enough to download the audio version of her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Thought provoking, and possibly life-changing, stuff.