Though our culture values self-esteem, new research shows that what matters to your health, happiness, and relationships is your ability to go easy on yourself.
Take a moment for yourself today—because according to new UT research, it just might strengthen your relationship.
People with high levels of self-compassion are happier, healthier, and make better relationship partners, says a new study from UT educational psychology professor Kristin Neff.
At first, this finding may seem like common sense. You have to love yourself before you can love others, goes the old saying. But Neff says it’s more than that. She draws a distinction between self-esteem (thinking highly of yourself) and self-compassion (relating kindly to yourself). Only the latter is linked to happier relationships, she’s found.
“Self-compassion is not contingent on success, and is also the most relevant when we make mistakes,” says Neff. “You have to be able to notice your own suffering and pay is due attention instead of trying to fix it.” Self-compassionate people are able to frame their own failure and mistakes within the context of humanity’s shared imperfection.
The finding that partners with high levels of self-compassion felt happier and more authentic within their relationship was no surprise to Neff because of the large body of academic literature linking self-compassion with psychological health. What was new: partners who were rated to have high levels of self-compassion were also rated as significantly more affectionate, more intimate, and more accepting in their relationships. They were also more willing to grant autonomy and freedom to their partners.
Conversely, partners with low levels of self-compassion were more likely to be domineering, aggressive, controlling, detached and—because of the link with psychological health—less healthy and happy.
Unlike self-compassion, “high levels of self-esteem can also be associated with negative relationships,” says Neff. Self-esteem is about valuing yourself and your skill highly. This mindset, unlike self-compassion, can lead to negative feelings when confronted with failure. “Most people are much harder on themselves than they are on other people,” Neff says. “The way we treat ourselves when we fail is a way we would never treat others.”
Photo by Gregory Jordan via Flickr Creative Commons.
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