Wholeness Healing Today

Mental Health and Wellness – Start with the Children

I recently spoke to a group about my book, Finding the Peace and how my story pertains to Self Esteem versus Self Compassion.  The focus of the talk was about what we need to bring to our children, adolescents and ourselves in order to have mental health and well being.  I tell my story about being able to accomplish things as an adolescent, however, still struggling with depression which was left untreated and followed me into young adulthood.

Hopefully telling the story of my mental health struggles helps to shine the light on helping people move from the labels (and stigma) of mental illness and look at their lives beyond the labels. – each person’s own mental wellness.  We all have mental health issues.  We need to look at our mental health just as we look at our physical and spiritual health.  Sometimes looking at the mental health part of our well being gets pushed away due to the stigma of it being “mental illness.”  If we can’t look at it because we are afraid of it, we can’t do anything about it.  It is treatable, if it is addressed.  Mental health is an important part of the quality of life. We need to be able to assess it and be proactive in taking care of it – just like we do when we have a physical or spiritual issue.

So as a child/adolescent, I was an achiever.  I always have been able to achieve. Self-esteem was promoted in the 80s as a way to stabilize mental health. This, in theory, should have made my life better regarding my mental health, right?  We think if our kids feel good about something they are good at, this will be helpful in how they manage life.  It will build their self-esteem.  But self-esteem involves a global judgmental about ourselves and often means we have to be “better” than others to feel good about ourselves.  Average is unacceptable.  So it is a moving target both within ourselves and how we feel about something we are doing and outside ourselves. Because of this, parents often raise the self-esteem of their children artificially which has increased tendencies toward narcissism, antisocial behavior and challenging behaviors that may threaten one’s self concept.  This is the consequence over the past few decades of the self-esteem movement – a narcissism epidemic.  Self-esteem has also been linked to aggression, prejudice and anger towards those who threaten someone’s sense of self-worth.  Is this why we have a bullying epidemic going on right now?  (Neff K., 2011).

So my journey was about being a teenager, who could be successful and achieve, yet had depression that was left untreated.  We can see from the generations of time focusing on raising self-esteem, that we have created some problems and the mental health and wellness of our children is not more stable. Where do we go with this if raising the self-esteem of our children doesn’t work to help them feel better and have better mental health and well being?

Perhaps it starts with self-compassion.  Self-compassion is more about wrapping itself around us and embracing us – all inclusively while self-esteem is an exclusive – “about me” situation.  The hardest work each of us is here to do, from my perspective, is to learn to really love ourselves which is where self-compassion can help.  We have to love ourselves in the midst of it all, regardless of how human we’re being in the moment.  This will build resiliency and help our children get through life with mental wellness.

By learning self-compassion, we teach being warm towards oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring or hurting oneself with self-criticism.  With that ability, we can then move towards having compassion with others.  The three key components of self-compassion are self-kindness, a sense of common humanity and balanced, mindful awareness.  Kindness opens our hearts to suffering so we can give ourselves what we need.  Common humanity opens us to others so that we know we aren’t alone.  Mindfulness opens us to the present moment so we can accept our experience with great ease.  Together they comprise a state of warm connected, presence during difficult moments in our lives.

All of this starts with the simple skill of mindfulness.  We have to begin to be in touch with what is going inside of us, what we are thinking, how we are feeling, and what is happening outside in our environment.  We have to show up to the moment.  We have to be present.  This is where we start with our children.  We teach them mindfulness.  We teach them how to be aware of themselves and others.

Then we have to learn that it is okay to be human.  This means we accept that we are part of the human race, we make mistakes, and we are all in this together.  We aren’t alone when we make a mistake, but rather we are part of the common human experience.  We can have compassion on ourselves and others.  We recognize that suffering and personal failure is part of the shared human experience.  Being human means that we will fall, make mistakes and have times that we are really going to struggle.  We are brought into the fold of the human beings, not isolating us but normalizing us just as the rest of the world experiences life.  So it gives our children the message they don’t have to be the “best at anything and everything”.  It teaches them how to live life fully, present, and lovingly, starting with mindfulness and moving towards self-compassion.  We are starting our children’s DBT group which will focus on A Mindful Approach to Living this summer.  Our adolescent’s DBT group will continue through the summer.

For more clarity and depth on this subject check out my presentation on YouTube called Janie Pfeifer Watson, Self-Compassion Versus Self Esteem.  Through watching the presentation, I would hope you might consider that mental illness and the stigma around this needs to go. We need to step into mental wellness and taking care of ourselves with mental wellness being just as important as physical wellness. Learning how to have mental wellness means having self-compassion, learning to love ourselves and be non-judging.  This is all part of the mindfulness journey.  If we can be non-judging, and realize that we are all part of the human race, all in this together, then when we make mistakes (as we will) or do something that is less than we wanted, we can be compassionate with ourselves and also then learn to extend this to others.  But it all starts with learning how to be compassionate with ourselves so we can also then, extend it forward.  Bring this into your life so we can begin to teach our children these life skills.

Works Cited

Neff, K (2011) Why self-compassion is healthier than self-esteem.  Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com.

[Wholeness Healing Center](January 28, 2016) Janie Pfeifer Watson Self Esteem versus Self Compassion [Video File]  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zskT4Eyygx4.


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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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