Self-Compassion Is Self-Esteem 2.0

“…In order to have high self-esteem, you have to feel special and above-average. If someone said, ‘Oh, your performance was average,’ you would feel hurt by that, almost insulted.” 

In an interview with The Atlantic, Dr Kristin Neff, who popularised the self-compassion movement, saw how pursuing self-esteem as a culture failed to deliver the confidence it promised. 

“When we fail, self-esteem deserts us, which is precisely when we need it most.”

The parable of the second arrow

In Buddhism, a story is told to teach this concept called “the second arrow”, which can give us an insight into alleviating suffering. 

One day, as a man walked through the forest, an arrow flew from nowhere and lodged on his back. Naturally, he cried out in pain. His immediate reaction was to ask, “Why me?”

His thoughts spiralled into self-pity, “Why do bad things always happen to me? What have I done to deserve this?”

The negative thoughts that follow are known as “the second arrow”.

When bad things happen to us, it already causes us suffering, but we compound that suffering by self-blaming and other irrational conclusions. 

We want to find the source of the suffering and when we can’t, we subconsciously blame ourselves for it.  

Self-compassion is always available to us


The beauty of self-compassion is that you don’t need any fancy tools to practise it. Trust me, you are probably going to have to deal with some bullshit today—a wonderful opportunity to practise self-compassion.

Let’s say someone aggravates you on the road or you go back home to a grouchy spouse after a trying day at work. 

If you lose your temper, it’s all well and good, but don’t prolong your suffering by stabbing yourself with a second and third arrow.

Reach for the self-compassion in your heart instead. This sounds almost simplistic, but our self-criticism might already be such an ingrained habit, it causes us to experience a storm of negative emotions without realising the root cause of it: self-blame.

When we are aware of the second arrow and, subsequently, that self-compassion can be utilised to support ourselves in a difficult situation, we are able to find constructive and less emotionally draining ways to deal with our circumstances.

Dr. Neff further explains, “Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation—as if ‘I’ were the only person suffering or making mistakes.”

Whenever I don’t get something I want, I often feel cut off from the rest of the world and the loneliness compounds my misery. 

Since learning about self-compassion, I am more ready to acknowledge my common humanity that whatever pain I am feeling in the moment is probably readily experienced by others.

Knowing that gives me the courage to love myself out of the situation, instead of being unnecessarily hard on myself. 

Also read:

How To Help A Depressed Friend: A Guide To Being There For Them Without You Feeling Emotionally Drained

Why Self-Compassion Is The Best Form Of Self-Therapy

Artwork by Jcraydesigns, quote by the Dalai Lama

Mindfulness is also an important aspect of self-compassion. We can develop a non-judgemental attitude towards observing our emotions and pain. At the same time, we can keep a healthy distance without feeling like we are drowning in our emotions or pain. 

We can practise mindfulness in a community or through YouTube mindfulness audio tracks by ourselves.

Choosing kindness instead of judgement towards ourselves, acknowledging our common humanity readily and practising mindfulness over becoming overwhelmed by our pain are the three pillars of self-compassion.  

Failure and unpleasant experiences are part of life. But instead of blaming ourselves or others, let’s learn to have more compassion for our pain. Then, we can extend the compassion to others.

Also read:

RuPaul’s Drag Race Taught Me How To Deal With Bullies And The Importance Of Self-Love

Cover illustration by Asher Mak