What cost, improving self-esteem? 

By  Lysette Offley

What cost, improving self-esteem - photo of computers in classroomAfter Arnie’s ‘paperless classroom’ debacle, resulting in ingenious, entrepreneurial teenage crims hacking the provided iPads in order to sell them on…

California gets it wrong again!

This time in the name of improving self-esteem.

Perhaps they thought those ingenious, entrepreneurial teenage criminals needed a boost of the stuff?

The intention was to raise the kids’ self-esteem, and by doing so, improve grades, and reduce bullying, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and crime…

The working party, had $250 000 to support the programme, but even with all that cash, a roaring success it was not!

It actually failed to achieve any of the outcomes it set out to accomplish.

Oh dear! And how come?

Perhaps they should have done their research before rushing out with only their best intentions for ammo, because they’d have known that artificially boosting self-esteem does nothing except encourage narcissism, which actually makes people unhappier and less satisfied with their lives.

What does watching a reality show say about you?

Narcissism or high self-esteem

So much for improving self-esteem!

What cost improving self-esteem - Writing says "Be kind"Fortunately, we do actually know what raises self-esteem, and perhaps it’s not what you think.

Its self-compassion, and Professor Kristin Neff’s research illustrates how it’s not more self-esteem we need, but more self-compassion.

Because it turns out that too much self-confidence and esteem can actually cause problems instead of solving them.

You might wonder how this can be. But it comes and goes, doesn’t it? Plenty of the stuff when we do well at something, but if you’re not careful, disappearing without trace, after a setback. And let’s face it, none of us has an intact self-esteem all the time, so if that’s your goal, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and failure typically lowers self-esteem…

Whoa! Wait a moment!

Back to self-compassion then…

How about, instead of lying to yourself that you’re so great, and better than everyone else, how about focusing on forgiving yourself when you’re not? !!

What cost, improving self-esteem - photo of peacockThat doesn’t mean that you’re judging yourself against others. It doesn’t mean you have to decide that you’re a good person or a bad person. It’s simply about recognising that you’re going to fail sometimes, and then being kind to yourself when you do.

Because, instead of high self-esteem leading to healthier habits, it’s the other way round. Academic achievement, being good at your job, not smoking, drinking or taking drugs leads to high self-esteem.

The good news is that self-compassion and self-esteem are inextricably linked. Clearly, you’re ore likely to have healthy levels of self-esteem if you’re not constantly criticising yourself for being less than perfect. And less than perfect you are! We all are.

Or is that ‘aren’t’?

You know what I mean!

Couples report feeling happier in their relationships with self-compassionate people, probably because if their partners are more accepting and kinder to themselves, it’s easier for their partners to be kinder and more accepting of themselves too. And belonging and feeling accepted (even if by yourself) is a very strong and hard-wired Human need.

We all stand together

Soldiers with high levels of self-compassion are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after harrowing experiences on the battlefield.

People who are kind and accepting of others don’t necessarily extend the same compassion towards themselves. The two don’t necessarily follow.

The person at school who used to be nasty to you was called a bully, right?

Who’s the person being nasty to you now?


What cost, improving self-esteem - poster saying "I believe in me"To be kind to yourself you have to admit you messed up. You can’t be in denial or try to ignore it. And that can be hard, especially at first. Maybe it’s about not taking yourself too seriously? It takes practice, and you have to be your own bezzy mate, and talk kindly to yourself – same as you would to a friend in a similar position. It’s not one rule for them and anther for you.

Self-compassion isn’t about letting yourself off the hook. It’s not about not bothering or not taking responsibility, but it is about accepting that being less than perfect is the nature of the game, and that by keeping at it, we can improve.

So what cost, improving self-esteem?

It’s about picking yourself up and having another go. And another. And another.

It’s about having a growth mindset, realising that making an effort, keeping going and continually learning is what will get us to where we want to be.

And the biggest prize?

The healthy self-esteem that develops alongside that healthy attitude.


Do you agree? Maybe you disagree? Please leave me a comment and let me know.


What cost, improving self-esteem. Image of book cover: Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

by Kristin Neff


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  1. Agree wholeheartedly with your self esteem piece. I really can’t go with the coaching idea of telling yourself how wonderful and brilliant you are, because the truth will out – even if you can fool others for a while, you can’t fool yourself. And when you fail, as we all will, some with more frequency than others, the fall in self worth will be doubled.
    I know how to be tolerant of myself (doesn’t mean I don’t have goals or ambitions), but I do struggle to be tolerant of others!
    Thank you Lysette

    1. Ha ha! I’m with you there, Mike. I find, as I get older, that that struggle becomes more of a challenge!!! Sometimes tolerance loses the fight!! Must do better!

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Lysette Offley

Genius Maker & Founder of Genius Material and The Genius Principles. Working with professionals who need exceptional academic & professional development.

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