How to build self-compassion
We all know that believing in ourselves is important. Countless films, fairytales and even advertisements have told us that we can accomplish anything if we just believe in ourselves. So having low self-esteem can easily feel like failure – another way in which you’re not the person you should be. Trying to love yourself can feel like a tall order when it seems like you’re barely acceptable, and trying to force it can leave you feeling hopeless.
But don’t despair. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to think you’re great to accomplish things in life. In fact, exaggerated self-belief can just as easily lead to failure as lack of self-belief. It can lure you into a false sense of ease and result in lack of preparation for difficult situations – like not studying for a difficult exam due to assuming you know everything already. It can lead you to take on more than you can handle, so that you end up exhausted and disappointed.
Self-esteem fluctuates depending on our life situation, and is generally low for people in their teens and early twenties. It’s partly dictated by your sense of control over your life, and how accomplished you are at what you’re doing. Being a student, and thus not yet having reached the level of knowledge or experience you need to do what you want in life, and still being dependent on your parents means that you have limited sources of self-esteem. If you’re engaged in activities you enjoy, and surrounded by people you’re comfortable with, you can feel good, but because of the instability of your situation, it’s easy to lose self-belief again.
Research shows that it can be more feasible and adaptive to work on building self-compassion than self-esteem: To try to see yourself as part of the human race – not perfect, but not horrible either. As someone who is trying to get through life, and figure it out as they go along. To allow yourself not to know how to get everything right, but to attempt to learn and gain experience along the way. To acknowledge your struggles and difficulties, and cultivate patience at times when you’re not making progress.
Allow yourself to be disappointed when things don’t work out, but don’t turn it on yourself. Go “oh, that sucks” or “I really wish that had worked out for me”. And try to accept that sometimes doing your best doesn’t lead to success. That doesn’t mean you have to give up – quite the opposite. It means that you give yourself credit for trying, but take away the pressure of having to control the outcome. If you put your best effort into studying for an exam, and you didn’t receive the mark you had wanted, or the person you have a crush on doesn’t return your feelings, be sad. Cry or rage about it. But instead of beating yourself up, try to see yourself from the outside: As a person who really wanted something, and did everything they could, but didn’t succeed or get lucky this time around. How would you respond if this was a stranger, a friend, or a family member? Is there some way you can forgive what happened, and try again when you have had time to recover?
To practice self-compassion, try to repeat to yourself every day inside your mind: “I am a human being. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I make mistakes and I mess up. But I am trying. Just like everyone else. And like every other person, I too want to be safe, be happy, and be loved. I may not always get love or happiness, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it.” Use your own words to make the sentiment stronger. Imagine our planet as a whole, full of people, just like you, who seek the same things you do. Not everyone does well every time, but that doesn’t make them less worthy of love and happiness.