If you only read one book this year, read Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. Not only did it nourish my own self-growth on so many levels, it helped me as a parent, particularly when thinking about self-esteem with my children.
After reading this book, I’m no longer pondering how to improve my kids’ self-esteem.
In fact, I don’t even care.
Self-esteem is more about “separation and comparison, on being better than others, and therefore special.” (275) It is an “evaluation of our worthiness, a judgment that we are good, valuable people.” (138)
“Self-appreciation, in contrast, is based on connectedness, on seeing our similarities with others, recognizing that everyone has their strong points.” (275)
Doesn’t that resonate with you? It did for me.
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Appreciation
One of the big differences between the two concepts, explains Neff, is JUDGMENT. (Are we judging our traits as good or bad? And mostly ignoring anything we perceive as bad?)
Self-esteem judges and tries to suppress any so-called bad characteristics. Self-appreciation notices without judgment.
For example, “A teen boy who’s good at basketball and bad at math may decide that basketball is really important while math is for the birds.” (138) To have a good self-esteem, this boy decides to value only what he’s good at. But in doing so, he’s not allowing himself to see that he can improve at math, and that it is important in any way. Whereas if he could appreciate that he’s a hard worker and notice he’s not as strong at math, then he could work toward a learning goal in math. Without judgment.
Another difference is REALITY. (Do we see ourselves as we actually are?) Self-appreciation sees who I am in my entirety, the whole self. Self-esteem narrowly focuses on what we excel at.
Self-esteem, it seems, is a judgment call; it is seeing ourselves as we hope to be, all the good traits– pretty, thin, rich, with none of the so-called bad characteristics. We either ignore those “bad” traits, or we focus so much on those “bad” traits that our self-esteem is very low.
Nuff writes, “By sacrificing ourselves to the insatiable god of self-esteem, we are trading the ever-unfolding wonder and mystery of our lives for a sterile Polaroid snapshot. Instead of reveling in the richness and complexity of our experience — the joy and the pain, the love and anger, the passion, the triumphs and the tragedies — we try to capture and sum up our lived experience with extremely simplistic evaluations of self-worth.” (Good or bad.)
Self-appreciation, on the other hand, is seeing ourselves as we really are — without judgment or labels. Self-appreciation recognizes that “we are an ever-changing process that can never fully be defined — whether positively or negatively. It does, however, acknowledge our moments of splendor.“
Did you get the part about the no judgment? That’s so key! Once we can let go of defining ourselves and our characteristics as good or bad (for more on this see THE ENTIRE REST OF THIS BOOK,) we’re able to be in loving acceptance of ourselves!!
“There are always wonderful things to appreciate about ourselves even if they don’t make us unique,” Neff adds. “The fact that I can breathe, walk, eat, make love, hug a friend — these are magnificent abilities that are definitely to be celebrated, despite the fact that just about everyone shares these abilities — despite the fact that they are beautifully average. . .“
Self-Appreciation For Kids
Now let’s apply the concept of self-appreciation to our children’s lives, and how we parent. What can we do as parents to shift from self-esteem to self-appreciation?
- Appreciate Yourself
Be intentional about your own self-appreciation. Care for yourself in a kind way, and let your kids see! Model self-appreciation when you make mistakes. For example, “I screwed up. This is an opportunity to be kind to myself. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s part of being human.“
- Encourage Self-Appreciation in Your Kids
Talk to your kids about who they are and tell them what you appreciate about them. Encourage them to be kind to themselves. You can ask them to say, “I will be kind to myself in this moment,” and then to practice that kindness. Remind your kids that everyone suffers, that it’s part of being human. This helps remind them that they are not alone, and that we are all connected by the thread of humanity.
- Learn to Be Mindful (and Teach Your Kids)
Mindfulness is so important to self-compassion. We must be available to the moment we are in, without judgment but acceptance. Mindfulness helps us be calm and observe our emotions as them come, peacefully. It is absolutely essential to self-compassion.
- Get Rid of Perfectionism
I tell my kids that only God is perfect; that being imperfect is what makes us human. I believe that only when we embrace our imperfection can we grown and learn. Perfectionism leads to shame and judgment.
- Watch the Judgment.
We judge everything in our culture — good, bad, pretty, ugly. I remember a mind-blowing couples therapy session in which my therapist said to my husband that he (my husband) would forever appreciate him (my therapist) telling me this. My therapist said, “There is not a right way and a wrong way to parent.” Honestly, it was new information to me. I’d always believed that there was a right way — my mom’s way. And that I sucked at it, therefore was a total loser. (Oh, the judgment!) The therapy session started me on an amazing journey of healing and awakening as I realized some big truths and gained new insight about everything I was judging. (It also helped my marriage!)
Not only did Self-Compassion
change my thinking about self-esteem, it me new tools for difficult moments in life and how to better love myself. Read it and let me know what you think! It will change your life.