Self esteem – Self criticism – Self compassion


What makes humans different from reptiles is our caregiving system. Crocodiles are happy to just let their babies wander off or maybe they’ll eat them because there’s not that sense of an attachment bond but as mammals we have ability to both soothe and be soothed. When a crying baby is rocked and held and comforted, that baby calms down. We’re also programmed to try to suit others in times of distress.


Prof Paul Gilbert OBE in the UK explains the evolutionary system of «self esteem», «self criticism», and «self compassion»He argues that the desire for self-esteem is natural and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for wanting to be number one. This is part of our evolutionary heritage: you’re more likely to survive when you’re top dog and our physiology releases dopamine and energizes us when we succeed. 


Self-criticism taps into the threat defense system because in a way, you’re trying to just keep safe. The double whammy of self-criticism is that you’re both the attacker and the attacked so when you are criticizing yourself, you’re releasing a lot of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline makes you jittery which is choking your amygdala. This is part of being human again, a very natural system. 


There’s the theory about the attendant orphan system that we aren’t just competitive evolutionarily and that humans were able to be so successful because of social cooperation. This is natural as well and there are studies of looking at people who are induced to being in the self compassionate frame of mind as it reduces cortisol levels and it releases oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) so when you give yourself compassion you’re actually changing your physiology in a way that you feel safe, more secure, and less stressed out.



Recharge your own emotional batteries



People go into a caregiving profession because they feel compassion for others, they want to help, they want to do good in the world. Oftentimes they get burned out, they just can’t take it after a while, they give and they give, and they give until they feel drained.


Self compassion allows us to hold suffering. If you soothe yourself for the suffering it actually gives you much more strength and resilience to just be there with the person that’s suffering. You don’t have to turn away from it because you have the skill that allows you to be with an open heart. 

This example of  airplanes is clarifying: stewards and stewardesses say that if there’s a plane crash or something goes wrong and an oxygen mask comes down, you must put your own oxygen mask on before helping other people. That’s partly what self compassion is if you’re constantly replenishing your own emotional resources to kindness, care, support, and acts of self soothing that actually gives you more resources to then share with others.


Acts of self compassion are unlimited so the more unlimited compassion and care you give to yourself the more you have in your heart to give to others. It’s a win-win situation. People who have more self compassion have less compassion fatigue and they often report being more satisfied with their caregiving role because they’re able to be present with it and recharge their own emotional batteries.


Soothing touch follows the three components of mindful self compassion by Ph.D. Kristin Neff 



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