Self-esteem is a global evaluation of self-worth, and for a long time psychologists saw self-esteem as the ultimate marker of psychological health. If you have low self-esteem you might be anxious, depressed, or have a variety of other issues. But high self-esteem has some issues too. In order to have high self-esteem you have to view yourself as special or superior to others. In American culture calling something “average” is typically considered a kind of insult or put-down. So if everyone has to be above average, what kind of a society are we left with?
If we all have to be above average we start playing these little psychological games where we puff ourselves up and put others down. There’s a literal epidemic of narcissism in the culture, which has been tracked scientifically. There are a lot of nasty social dynamics that can be created by this self-esteem epidemic, such as bullying and prejudice. And what happens when we fail to live up to these unreasonable self-expectations?
Self-compassion isn’t a way of judging ourselves positively, it’s a way of relating to ourselves kindly, warts and all. My TEDx talk below covers the three core components of self-compassion, means of application, and the importance of being sensitive towards our own suffering.