Kindness: the essence of self compassion
This poem (or its two last stanzas) pretty much captures the essence of self compassion:
‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye
“Before you know kindness is the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow is the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
And then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness ties your shoes and sends you into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say,
‘It is I you have been looking for,’
and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.”
These lines show how we need to turn toward our struggle, our sorrow, our suffering with the same loving-kindness and tenderness like we'd show to a friend who is suffering; we need to do that with ourselves in order to be able to cope and get by in life. So many people are very good at being kind and compassionate to others, but just beat themselves up mercilessly, especially if their struggle comes from feeling inadequate in some way or failing at something.
The more we’re able to support ourselves to be that good friend to ourselves, having the shadow of kindness that follows us wherever we go, especially when times are difficult, it just makes a huge difference in our ability to cope and be strong and in situations that are quite challenging.
Why choose self compassion over self-esteem
The biggest problem with self-esteem is that for most people, it's contingent on success. We feel good about ourselves and we succeed, when we're liked by others. We experience self-esteem when being better than average.
What happens when we fail though, when we look in the mirror we don't like what you see, or when someone does a lot better than us, is that our self-esteem deserts us, when we need it the most.
That's where self-compassion comes in because, compassion, by definition, is aimed at suffering; the word means, compassion, ‘to suffer with’. So when we’re with ourselves, when we're struggling in this kind caring way, it helps us feel good about ourselves, not because we're special above average but because we are a flawed human being doing the best we can like everyone else. Therefore self compassion offers a more stable sense of value and self-worth.