#4 Why I Switched From Self-Esteem To self-Compassion

Traditionally psychologists thought the hallmark of psychological wellbeing was self-esteem. A high self-esteem and you love yourself. A low self-esteem and you hate yourself and might even want to die. #HealingTrauma

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

However, the problems with self-esteem is how do you get it? To have a high self-esteem in Western culture you have to be ‘special and above average’. If you said I was an average Psychologist that is considered an insult. So what are the problems?

It is a logical impossibility for all of us to be above average. This has led us to puffing ourselves up and putting others down. This has led to bullying, fear, prejudice and racism, etc. Self-esteem is also problematic because it depends on external factors.

“Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” – Sir Ken Robinson’s world famous TED Talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ (2006).

If you do well, you feel like a success. If you fail, you feel like a failure. Compliments feel warm and fuzzy; insults or criticisms feel offensive. It is problematic because on any given day many pleasant or unpleasant experiences can make us feel very up and down.

Lastly, self-esteem is problematic because we now have a narcissism epidemic. Narcissism has steadily increased over years (e.g. the “selfie” movement). Some argue it is due to the self-esteem movements in schools (e.g. competing for grades, physical performance, appearance, etc). Adulthood: status, beauty, fame, fortune and power.

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee

So what is the solution? Scientist Dr Kristen Neff spent more than ten years comparing self-esteem and self-compassion. She first learnt of self-compassion during a difficult time of her life when she tried a meditation class.

Dr Kristen Neff’s world famous TED Talk: The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion (2013).


At the end of the meditation class the teacher said: “make sure you include yourself in your circle of compassion”. This idea was new to Dr Kristen Neff. She was always kind to others. But never thought to be kind to herself. This began her work on the science of self-compassion.

Dr Kristen Neff has since identified three elements to self compassion: ‘kindness’, ‘common humanity’, and ‘mindfulness’. Kindness: is treating yourself like you would treat a best friend. We all know how be there for someone else. Do we do this for ourselves?

Healing Trauma. #YouBelong

“No one is more worthy of your kindness and compassion than you are.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Often we treat ourselves worse than someone we do not even like, by being overly self-critical. Crucially, self-compassion is not about external factors (i.e. performance/approval). This self kindness is offered whether you succeed or fail (where self-esteem abandons you).

Common humanity: what do we all have in common rather than what separates us. While self-esteem is driven by a desire to be perfect, common humanity acknowledges being human is imperfect; our imperfections and suffering are what connects us.

Carl Sagan and His Holiness the Dalai.

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” – Carl Sagan

Instead, often when something bad happens to us we have irrational thoughts: “Why is this happening to me? Why am I the only one experiencing this?”. With clarity we can easily see shared human experiences, one of which includes suffering. So how do we get clarity?

Mindfulness: nonjudgmental acceptance of the present with openness and curiosity. Self-esteem requires judgment: to be more or less at something or against someone; instead self-compassion is ‘nonjudgmental’. We only need judgment to assess risks, drive a car, cook a meal, etc.

However, if we are always judging/critical of everything, including ourselves, life becomes very unpleasant. Self-compassion gives us respite from this judgment. Moreover, self-esteem is always hungry (i.e. to be the best), where self-compassion ‘accepts the present’.

Actor Will Smith with Sadhguru.

“The essence of yoga, as we have said before, is just this—to arrive at that moment where there is a clear space between you and your mind.” – Sadhguru

Finally, a child looks upon life with ‘openness and curiosity’. How many adults can say they do that? Self-esteem has us narrowly focused on being number one; competing for: grades, physical performance, appearance, status, beauty, fame, fortune and power. Self-compassion is ‘openness and curiosity’ to all of life’s experiences within Existence.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan

I believe self-compassion is our solution to address injustice. Why?

Self-esteem is ‘survival of the fittest’: competition, more/less, never enough (i.e. judgment or blame, punishment, shame, stigma, and ultimately leaving others behind to die).

Self-compassion is ‘Enlightenment’: collaboration via kindness, common humanity, mindfulness; you are enough #YouBelong; awareness, compassion and purposeful action.

“Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

“If we want to see a more peaceful world, we have to learn to collaborate. Young people shouldn’t follow previous patterns of behaviour. New conditions, like our interdependent, globalised world, require new ideas. Dividing people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ is out of date.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Self-compassion offers the benefits of self-esteem without the pitfalls. Self-compassion increases personal wellbeing and our shared humanity. This is why I switched from self-esteem to self-compassion. Thank you Dr Kristen Neff for lining up young science with a wisdom tradition.

Adapted from Dr Kristen Neff TED Talk ‘The space between self-esteem and self-compassion’. https://self-compassion.org

“For it is easy to criticize and break down the spirit of others, but to know yourself takes a lifetime.” – Bruce Lee.

Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong

With love,

Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist

#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong

Jewel – Hands (1998):

“If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all OK
And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these

I won’t be made useless
Won’t be idle with despair
I’ll gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear

My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken

Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn’t steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn’t ever after

We’ll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what’s right
‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing

My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken

In the end, only kindness matters
In the end, only kindness matters

I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray

My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken

My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken

We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s mind
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s heart
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s hands
We are God’s eyes.”




“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support we received overnight! We’re able to fund one more Indigenous Psychology student for a full three year Psychology degree from just a 10 minute appearance on ABC #TheDrum.” – Dr Tracy Westerman AM

If you would like to donate, please visit:

My partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic who taught me do not let anyone control your life. #YouBelong

Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo

Kopika (left) and Tharnicaa (right) were kept at Christmas Island Detention Centre for nearly two years despite trauma informed calls to return them to Biloela, Queensland. Tharnicaa has spent most of her life detained by the Australian Government and is still in community detention to this day. #YouBelong
Trauma Informed World respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which this educational resource was inspired. I acknowledge and respect Elders past, present and emerging. I honour the continuation of educational, cultural and spiritual practices and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of people and relationships worldwide. This website contains images of deceased persons. There are also swear words in some of the songs presented that portray intense emotions. This website is not intended to trigger people who have experienced trauma. However, if you do find any of the content triggering, each page has a link to Australia’s National Helplines and Websites for immediate mental health support. These are my own personal views and comments and may not reflect the views of my employer.

Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:


To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.

Published by Dr Louise Hansen

This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time. The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power: “Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong

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