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Self-Esteem and Compassion  

The quest for self-esteem can have a negative impact on relationships.  People who are overly focused on their own self-esteem tend to emphasize their own needs to the detriment of others.  Other people in their world become primarily places where they can get validation of their own worth.  This makes their interaction with other people primarily about themselves.  They don’t come across as caring and, quite frankly, too much focus on themselves tends to make them more boring as well. 

This series has spent quite a bit of time looking at how the self focused strategies aren’t very helpful in increasing positive feelings for oneself – and they tend to damage other areas of life.    It is interesting though, that a focus on others or some goal external to oneself often has the opposite effect.  People who focus on strongly held values or principles, such as their association with a religious faith, tend not to have the same negative consequences as those who focus on things such as appearance or skill or knowledge. 

Goals of compassion that take into the account the wellbeing of others also tend to make people feel good about themselves.  Doing things to help others or improve their lives leads people to feel better about themselves as well.  Focus on others also tends to lead to positive feedback loops, leading the other people to reciprocate with good deeds and return the benefit to well-being.

Bottom line is that feeling good about oneself is a good thing, but many of the ways we think of increasing self-esteem seem to be counterproductive.  Next month I will end this series with some suggestions for how you can help your children build good feelings about themselves in a positive, healthy way. 

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