In an earlier post I talked about self confidence and how important it is in building resilience. Lack of Self confidence is often the first sign when we feel that we are not good enough, or when we believe we are failing to fulfil our potential. Doubting our ability to get a job done or doubting our ability in some skill we take for granted is usually a good indicator that our self confidence is beginning to dip. We notice these failures sometimes in ourselves but often in our heroes, people we look up to. We wonder how they suddenly loose form or fail to achieve to meet the high standards of previous performances. How often do we see our idols challenged by the ordinary. People we look up to, who we believe “have it all”, are often challenged by ordinary everyday life events. It can be easy to judge ourselves and others in these cases. It can be easier to judge those we don’t really know. Sometimes however, when we rush to judge we overlook the pressure that we are under. More importantly we lack an understanding of what self confidence really is.
Self Confidence is not Enough
Being great in one area of your life, or having an exceptional gift or skill doesn’t naturally lead to success in other parts of your life. We can see this played out every day in our own lives. Frequently its more noticeable for us to to see failure in the lives of the people we put on a pedestal. Being able to bounce back takes more than self confidence. Their are times in our lives when we fall down, that we realise it takes quite a lot to get back up. Its at times like this we feel its more than just that single performance failure. We begin to believe that we are not good enough as a person. That somehow our talent, a particular skill or ability has let us down. In situations like this its easy to feel isolated and small in the world. When we believe we have failed in some way, Self Esteem is a word that many people use to describe this feeling of not being good enough. Self Esteem doesn’t just refer to our ability, our professionalism, our skill. It is how we feel about our self as a person. Its about how we judge and evaluate our own self worth.
Self Esteem is an emotional evaluation of our own “being”. It represents and guides how we behave towards our own sense of our self worth. Much like self confidence, self esteem is not a global trait, its very specific. While we can feel good about ourselves in our professional role, we may feel inadequate as a father, a mother. The problem with low self esteem in one area of our life is that it can seep into the other aspects and roles we carry out. Too much self esteem though, can also lead to other issues like being self obsessed, narcissistic, feeling special and self entitled. While there are significant pitfalls with self esteem, the biggest issue is that its a temporary judgement, a temporary evaluation of our own worth.
We often start the process of self evaluation or self judgement by looking to other people to make that evaluation for us. Without self confidence we believe others will make a more accurate assessment. Not surprisingly most of us are our own biggest critics, no one can criticise us more harshly or more frequently that ourselves. So when in the process of being doubtful it makes a lot of sense to look for an evaluation of our self worth (self esteem), from others. This process leads to increased self doubt, as friends, parents, partners try to boost our ego. No one who loves you really wants to see you down. More importantly an external evaluation leads us to believe that only a true judgement of our worth must come from others. This process of emoting and cognition is probably the most destructive and disempowering unconscious process within us. It creates a repetitive cycle that leaves us disempowered, and often depressed.
Is there an alternative you ask. There is, but its not so much an alternative as an addition to self esteem, which can help create more balance, more empowerment, and a deeper resilience within us.
The Missing Ingredients, Self Kindness, Self Compassion.
Acting with compassion is one of the important qualities of an effective therapist, but also for every human being . Acting with compassion is an ability to remain in a non judgemental space when feeling sympathy, concern, and empathy for another person in distress. Compassion brings with it a desire to alleviate distress. As a therapist one of the most powerful lessons about compassion comes when moving from compassion for the Client, to invoking self kindness within a Client. Of course invoking any emotional condition is only possible if the conditions are right, but more importantly if there is a willingness on the Clients behalf to respond. Getting to self compassion is a three step process, preceded by the experience of authentic compassion and self kindness. Invoking self compassion in a Client in therapy is remarkable in the intensity of how strongly self compassion is resisted, and defended against. On a personal basis my own experience tells me that moving from compassion to self compassion is a huge leap. Yet, without self compassion its almost impossible to create and maintain true self confidence, and authentic self esteem. We often hear the mantra “fake it till you make it”. In reality “faking it” will never build true or authentic self confidence or self esteem.
Being resilient requires the personal experience of authentic self confidence and self esteem. However both of these qualities in order to remain consistent and stable require a solid foundation on self compassion to be effective. The difficulty is that most if not all of us strongly resist the concept of self compassion.