Self-Appreciation and Self-Compassion in Your Compassionate Career
As teachers, we spend a great deal of energy working to help others feel good about themselves and develop self-esteem. We believe a student’s good feelings of self-worth will lead them to positive things in life.
However, we need to rethink our tactics and change our focus for ourselves and for our students. Too often, in our US culture, developing self-esteem comes as a result of comparing ourselves to others. To determine if we are above average, our critical inner voice puffs us up while it puts others down or vice-versa. This process naturally releases the fight or flight stress hormone, cortisol.
Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Educational Psychology, blames the self-esteem movement in schools for the current epidemic of narcissism in our culture. She says psychologists have been tracking the narcissism levels of college students for the past 25 years. In her 2016 Ted talk, she said narcissism levels were at the highest levels ever recorded for the college-aged segment of our population.
Narcissism is a mental disorder that lacks empathy for others but requires constant outside sources of admiration. It is a self-esteem that is deeply vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
Interrupt the Narcissism Trend with Self-Compassion
You have vast power to interrupt this current trend of selfishness. Neff suggests starting with personal self-compassion. Research demonstrates warmth, soft-touch, and soft vocalizations release the feel-good hormones oxytocin and opiates. When you feel upbeat and optimistic, you are more likely to respond positively to yourself and to best influence others for good.
Explore Opportunities to Practice Self-Compassion
- Treat yourself with the same compassion you treat others.
- Think about a family member or a good friend coming to you when they have had a bad day. Do you respond with quiet, reassuring words possibly followed up with a hug?
- Now think of how you talk to yourself when you’ve had a bad day. What do you say to yourself in your head? It is normal human nature to focus on a negative thought, to blame ourselves for what went wrong with our day. How else are we going to change, right? However, only focusing on the negative puts us in a downward spiraling loop.
- Instead of talking negatively to yourself, try talking to yourself with the same compassion and caring tone you use when talking to others. Consciously acknowledge how you feel. Don’t judge the feelings, simply view your feelings with compassion. And give yourself a hug.
Develop a growth mindset – It's not failure, it’s a learning opportunity.
Neff also suggests we develop a sense of common humanity. To be human means we are going to have good days and bad days, we are going to have successes and failures because “To err is human”.
The development of social media has negatively impacted how we see our fellow humans. It is a good idea to remember life is not only about the good things a person posts. For all the good vacations or milestones someone lets you glimpse on their media page, there is a lot of life they are not posting.
When you err, you have an opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t. It is a chance to readjust and to move forward to achieve your goal.
Be authentic. Be yourself.
With all the noise in our culture, it is easy to think we have to be a certain way for others to like us or accept us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When we put on a false persona, we increase the flight-flight response and negatively impact our chances of feeling good.
My last-minute advice to my adult high-anxiety children before a job interview is to just be yourself. People are drawn to someone authentic and comfortable with themselves.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
If you are struggling to be compassionate with yourself, try mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day. It is as simple as taking time out to pay attention to yourself and your world with your senses. What can you hear? What can you feel? What do you smell?
Dr. Hebert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Massachusetts says meditation interrupts negative thought processes and moves the body into relaxed responses.
Accept gifts and verbal thank-yous with gratitude
When someone compliments you or thanks you, accept it at face value. When we demean a complement, we bring negative thoughts and emotions into our psychic. However, accepting and expressing gratitude for their thoughtfulness allows us to see ourselves the way others see us in positive ways.
The long-term benefits of exploring and practicing self-compassion will affect more than your inner feelings. By treating yourself with compassion, you will be in a better place to reach out and improve the lives of all you touch.
Article by Miss Jae
Chen, Serena. “Give Yourself a Break: The Power of Self Compassion.” Harvard Business Review. 2018. https://hbr.org/2018/09/give-yourself-a-break-the-power-of-self-compassion
Riopel, Leslie. “15 Most Interesting Self-Compassion Research Findings.” Positive Psychology. 2020. https://positivepsychology.com/self-compassion-research/
Neff, Kristin. “Self-Appreciation: The Flip Side of Self-Compassion.” Self-Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/self-appreciation-the-flip-side-of-self-compassion/
Neff, Kristin. “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion at TEDxCentennialParkWomen Transcript.” 2016. https://singjupost.com/kristin-neff-the-space-between-self-esteem-and-self-compassion-at-tedxcentennialparkwomen-transcript/?singlepage=1
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