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When is it self-compassion compared to narcissism?

Growing up all the hype was around having high self-esteem. We were all told that if you think highly of yourself you should be able to conquer any problem or difficulty that life throws your way. So, I could never understand why I'm falling short, why do I not feel like I can conquer the world and why do I still sometimes compare myself to others and feel like I don't measure up? Why have I not accomplished what I should have at this point in my life (whatever that may be).

The answer is simply whether “high self-esteem” is really the answer.

The high self-esteem we were told was good to have has led to narcissism. It is narcissism that is the underlying cause of school children who seem to lose the plot and shoot their classmates because they think they are better than everybody else. Self-esteem is the problem, it tends to lean towards you being something special, something unique and resultantly it must mean that other people aren't, they are just average and assuredly you are better than them.

Although self-esteem is only supposed to be an appreciation of yourself for who you are, it seems to end up with a kind of compulsive concern with I, me and mine and it isn't the same as loving ourselves. Loving ourselves, self-compassion in other words, points us to resilience, compassion and understanding that are simply part of being alive whereas high self-esteem points to narcissism, self-absorption, self-righteous anger, prejudice and discrimination.

So, what is the answer?

According to Kirsten Neff in her book "Self-compassion – The proven power of being kind to yourself", we continually need to feed our need for positive self-evaluation and it is a bit like stuffing ourselves with candy. We get a brief sugar high, then a crash. And right after the crash comes a pendulum swing to despair as we realize that – however much we'd like to – we can't always blame our problems on someone else. We can't always feel special and above average. We look in the mirror and don't like what we see.

The goalposts for what counts as "good enough" seem always to remain frustratingly out of reach. We must be smart and fit and interesting and successful and sexy, etc . Insecurity, anxiety and depression are common in our society. How many of you are on anti-depressants or have been on them at some point in your life? How many people do you know that are on anti-depressants or use calming tablets, sleeping tablets, etc. or maybe abuse alcohol or prescription drugs just to cope with everyday living?

How many girls and boys suffer from anorexia, bulimia or some other form of eating disorder. People who are overweight are shunned and ridiculed although our society supports bigger helpings and overeating (eg. the program Man vs Food).

This can hugely be ascribed to self-judgment , beating ourselves up when we feel we aren't winning in the game of life.

Being human does not mean being better than others. Being human means you encompass the full range of human experience, the positive, the negative, and the neutral. Being human means you are average in many ways.

Can you celebrate the experience of being alive on this planet in all your complexity and wonder?

For me personally I found : Stop trying to evaluate and measure yourself as "good" or "bad" and simply accept yourself with an open heart. Treat yourself with the same kindness, caring and compassion you would show to a good friend, or even a stranger for that matter and remember that being human means that you will experience joy and sadness, prosperity and hardship as it all forms part of the experience of living. Also remember to let yourself off the hook and stop beating yourself up about what you should have done, achieved or accomplished and just enjoy being in the moment that is your life and what if your sole purpose on this earth was to give money to a specific beggar on a specific day or help a old lady from stepping in front of a car? Would you only be happy if you fulfilled some grand purpose like going to space….. or can you be content with just doing the simple things in life but doing them with love?

Shouldn’t your purpose every day just be that your love and joy spill over and leave everyone you encounter feeling that they are something special?

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