Which part of that statement has you wondering the most?
What is your most important relationship? Or if it’s true you’re bitchy in it and why?
The statement is 100% gender-neutral by the way – do think ‘weaponized’, instead of bitchy if it serves. Either way, here’s the point.
We’re conditioned to hear that as selfish but it’s not. Let it sink in. Be aware if a preconception of selfishness has you wrestling with it. Challenge that so you stay open as you read on. The most important relationship you have really is with yourself.
Psychologists like Kristin Neff, say self-compassion is the healthier way of relating to yourself in the face of setbacks and even the failings we bring on ourselves, than its cousin, self-esteem. In fact, true narcissism is more connected to self-esteem than it is to self-compassion.
So, if career or business success is what you strive for, let self-esteem go and try self-compassion instead.
Self-Compassion is best thought of simply as compassion and kindness, turned inwards. It doesn’t depend on other people’s perception of you and isn’t linked to your successes – or failures – in the same way as self-esteem. So, it’s a more reliable and stable way to relate to yourself.
What does that mean for you? I know you wouldn’t deprive a friend of non-judgmental understanding when their career (or life stuff) gets sticky. You wouldn’t be so harsh when they need you most. You’d be a friend.
You’d sympathise. You’d empathise too, offering your own vulnerable parallels to give them hope that stuff happens for all of us and reassure them things will get better. You might deliver some harsh truths if it helps them get on to what they could do to handle the blow and turn things around.
And you know what else is true? You would not give your kindness a second thought. Now please hear what I say next because it applies to every single one of us.
Actually, I’m speaking with some specific individuals in mind when I say this. You will know who you are! Are you listening?
You’re Allowed To Be Kind To Yourself…Really. Because The Most Important Relationship You Are In, Is WIth You.
Self-esteem relies on validation from other people and depends on proving ourselves. Again, and again. Self-esteem is precarious precisely because we must keep accomplishing to keep it high. Which is a relentless pressure and inevitably unstable.
And so, the only reliable thing about self-esteem is that it causes much anxiety for those who live life using it as their compass – relying on the approval of others or a constant succession of wins to feel ok. Living life afraid of failure. Always.
So, our drive for self-esteem is what sits behind the bitch in all of us – and the problem we need to handle. We can’t effectively strive for a life we want until we get out of our own way here.
Setbacks will come for us all, sure – but with them, learnings that can inform our future vision. Clarity. Next steps worth taking. Meaningful career chapters waiting to be rewritten. But which only motivate our efforts if we see them through the right filter, a growth mindset. As a challenge, an opportunity.
Not harsh judgement and biting criticism. Self-esteem triggers these self-conscious emotions. Toxic feelings that only exist via our perception of others judging us. Emotions like guilt and shame and stress and self-doubt. All projected. All teaming up to maintain the status quo, paralyzing us in their negativity super-highway before we get close to fulfilled. And sometimes, before even letting ourselves try.
Self-esteem relentlessly employs self-comparison. Too often that’s toxic in itself if we feel we don’t match up to others. Which means we don’t feel worthy of self-compassion, worthy of success, or love, worthy of happiness. And when we don’t believe we are worthy, we give up.
But for how long? How long is a piece of string… There was a time self-esteem was held up as the ultimate marker of mental health but that has long-since been reconsidered as the damage it brings with it has shown up to be so great.
Although self-esteem’s inner-commentary can offer us powerful protection when things are at their worst, it also blocks us engaging with the very stuff that would get us moving again. Taking ownership – so we can recover and carry on working for the change we want. We need. Now.
And really that’s the pitfall of self-esteem. We get horribly stuck defending our self-worth when we would repair quicker if we accepted the set-back instead. Hiding from our mis-steps, denying the learnings that could motivate really great solutions. And all without noticing our paralysis. “My boss was awful… or I didn’t enjoy that work anyway…time to put the family first…honest, it’s fine”. Anything sounding familiar?
Apply a little self-compassion to the same scenarios instead and you’d find yourself less stressed and motivated far earlier to turn your attention and energy to productive next steps. So ‘your luck’ would change faster too. Because the most important relationship you have is with you.
Neff has done much work in this area and offers many (free) research-backed tools to help us understand how to train ourselves in self-kindness. Her work gives us all hope that we can choose self-compassion for ourselves and if we do, our reward will be that we’re not only happier, more optimistic – but successful too!
These happenings do not define you as a person. They’re just happenings. Accept that. Notice your feelings. And accept them too. So-called negative feelings are most valuable when re-interpreted as next steps to be taken. That’s why in professional life, feedback is given after all. To inform future action. So, acknowledge your feelings, but as incoming information. Not with harsh judgement. Not as justification for ruminating over and over, what could have gone differently, if…. Shrug-and-hug here again. Especially here. It’s allowed.
There are very many self-compassion tools ‘out there’ and Mindfulness certainly comes up high on the positive psychology toolkit. I have a firm favourite that I use to prompt self-kindness in my clients – so they can get out of their own way and succeed instead. It is deeply powerful. Every time. Try it, you’ll see for yourself. Because your most important relationship is with you.
Originally published at www.helenhanison.com