Self-compassion and eating disorder recovery
By: Hannah de Groot, MEd.
Hello beautiful human, I hope you are doing as well as you possibly can at this time. The world has been a chaotic place recently, and I hope you are taking care of yourself and holding your loved ones close.
Change can be hard
This time of year brings up a lot of changes. Pressures seem to be higher than ever. Pressure to get perfect grades, maintain perfect relationships, and have perfect bodies. This is a slippery slope. It always seems that as we get closer to perfection, the bar raises and perfection is never truly attainable.
Perfection is Not Possible
That is because it isn’t - perfection is not possible! Perfection has come up in a lot of recent sessions, and I’ve noticed a critical component for strong mental health missing: self-compassion. Self-compassion is speaking to yourself with love, acceptance, and forgiveness, especially in times of suffering, failure, or inadequacy. It is treating yourself the way you’d treat a friend during trying times.
For some, self-compassion often feels impossible or undeserved.
Some believe that their mistakes and flaws define them and make them ineligible for love. This is not true. In fact, I’d argue that if you are struggling, you deserve self-compassion even more! Today we will discuss why self-compassion is important, and the skills needed to help access the kindness, love, and acceptance you deserve.
Developing self-compassion yields results that lead to better mental and physical health. People who display self-compassion report lower rates of anxiety and depression because they are able to show themselves kindness and love in times of despair.
Before diving into methods for practicing self-compassion, let’s myth bust.
First, some people believe that self-compassion is an expression of weakness
They believe this because they view it as self-pity. This is not true! Practicing self-compassion means viewing ourselves with acceptance and without judgment. Rather than believing we are weak for being kind to ourselves, we are able to accept our flaws and work on improving them. Some research shows that self-compassion is “one the most powerful sources of coping and resilience available to us” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion).
Showing yourself empathy and grace during challenging times decreases anxiety and lessens the long-term burdens of challenging situations.
Furthermore, some believe that self-compassion is lazy and complacent.
Again, viewing ourselves through a compassionate lens allows us to view our flaws objectively. Doing so allows us to learn, make critical changes, and grow. Thinking judgmentally keeps us stuck while thinking compassionately allows us to move forward without judgment.
Lastly, some think that self-compassion is selfish.
This argument reminds me of safety presentations on airplanes. We’ve all heard that you must put an oxygen mask on yourself before you can place it on someone else during an emergency. Mental health, self-care, and self-compassion follow the same logic. We cannot adequately help others if we are not effectively taking care of ourselves. In fact, a recent study found that self-compassionate partners were more likely to be “caring, accepting, and autonomy-supporting”. On the other hand, partners who were more self-critical were called more “detached, aggressive, and controlling” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion). Showing yourself love, acceptance and kindness allows you to give the same qualities to others.
Self-Compassion Can be Developed with Patience and Practice
Self-compassion comes naturally to some, while for others, it takes practice. While it can be challenging to develop, it can be mastered with practice and patience. Developing self-compassion is not always easy, but it is essential to the healing process. One of the core foundations of self-compassion is acceptance. Self-acceptance is understanding that you deserve unconditional love exactly as you are. In order to show ourselves compassion, we must accept ourselves as we are - flaws, quirks, uniqueness, and all. Acceptance also comes with forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes - it is part of human nature. No one is perfect. Give yourself permission to process your mistakes from a non-judgmental perspective.
Using DBT to Process Mistakes Effectively
Your therapist at Recovered and Restored might have taught you the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill Non-Judgmental Stance. A non-Judgmental Stance is viewing something from a neutral perspective, and not deeming it as either “bad” or “good”. Thinking judgmentally leads to suffering. Judgment happens when we think subjectively, not objectively. It can look like using words such as good, bad, pretty, ugly, lazy, smart, or stupid. Notice how all of these words are opinions and not facts. To practice a Non-Judgmental Stance, try removing judgment words from sentences and replacing them with facts. Try thinking about your past mistakes in a non-judgmental way to learn what you could do differently next time. Remember, no one is perfect and we are all a work in progress. The goal is to continue striving to be better, not to be perfect.
Mindfulness to Practice Self-Compassion
Mindfulness can also be helpful for practicing self-compassion. Mindfulness is another DBT technique that emphasizes thinking non-judgmentally in order to assess thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without acting on harmful urges. Practicing mindfulness enhances self-awareness, which strengthens the mind’s connection to the body. Mindfulness also helps build “awareness of negative or painful experiences, emotions or thoughts, in ways that allow self-acceptance without rumination” (https://positivepsychology.com/mindful-self-compassion/#mindful-self-compassion).
Living in the Present Moment
In short, thinking and living mindfully allows us to live in the present moment without getting stuck on negative thoughts and self-judgment. When practicing mindfulness, we are more likely to succeed at self-kindness, acceptance, and love. Dr. Kristen Neff, a psychologist known for her work in self-compassion, has developed wonderful guided meditations to enhance self-compassion skills. Feel free to check out her Affectionate Breathing meditation or her Soften, Soothe and Allow: Working with Emotions in the Body meditation for some practice. Integrating mindfulness into your self-care routine can be a great way to exercise self-compassion.
Journaling to Increase Self-Awareness
Lastly, journaling can be a powerful tool to better understand emotions and the mind-body connection. Doing so can increase self-awareness, and in turn, help inspire progress, not perfection. Journaling can develop self-compassion by instilling grace, expressing gratitude, and practicing kindness towards others and yourself. Here is some awesome journal prompts to help practice self-compassion:
Write about one of your unique qualities, and some of the benefits it has provided you.
In a non-judgmental way, discuss a time you were unable to meet a goal or expectation you’d set for yourself. What would you do differently next time?
What is preventing me from showing myself kindness?
Journaling about self-compassion increases self-awareness and helps challenge perfectionist tendencies by channeling acceptance.
Self-compassion is one of the most powerful skills for resilient mental health. While it may not always be easy, showing yourself kindness, forgiveness and love is an essential part of the healing process. As a rule of thumb, treat yourself as you’d treat a friend during challenging times. You deserve all of the care and empathy you put out into the world! If you or someone you know needs help practicing self-compassion, developing skills or treating mental health, please do not hesitate to reach out. We would be honored to share in your recovery journey!
For more information on self-compassion, feel free to check out the following resources:
Fierce Self Compassion (with Kristen Neff) on Your Anxiety Toolkit
Never Good Enough: How to Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage Without Letting it Ruin Your Life by Monica Ramirez Basco
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