Neff is an associate professor in the Educational Psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin. She's also one of the world's foremost scholars on self-compassion. (Her website, not surprisingly, is self-compassion.org.) She believes extending ourselves more compassion is the key to not only improving our own lives, but righting some of the wrongs in our society.
I'd recommend taking 19 minutes to watch her 2013 TEDx talk, "The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion." (There's some distracting whispering near the beginning, but that goes away a minute or so in.)
She explains that, in our society, we've been taught from a very young age the importance of having high self-esteem. It's always been considered a sign of good, strong mental health. But high self-esteem can backfire. If we're all taught that we have to be special and "above average," what happens when we fail? What happens when we encounter problems?
There are a few different ways the mind can go at this point. Some people feel the need to do things to prove that they are superior to others, to bully people to make themselves feel special, to deny that they could ever do anything wrong. (I can't think of any prominent individual who fits this description, can you?) For years, this kind of behavior has led social psychologists to insist that we're in a narcissism epidemic.
The other route is self-criticism. We berate ourselves for our failures and can fall into bouts of depression and anxiety. If the world is about proving you're better than other people and you find yourself unable to do so, the only logical explanation is that you are the problem. This is where high self-esteem can get us into real trouble. It's completely contingent upon success, so what happens when success is hard to find?