Self-compassion and eating disorder recovery
Updated: Jun 10
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, and this time of year brings up a lot of changes. Summer can be a challenging time of year for many. As the weather heats up and the school year winds down, 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. 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 because it is 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 more effectively give the same qualities to others.
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-judgemental perspective. Your therapist might have taught you the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill Non-Judgmental Stance. 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 Non-Judgmental Stance, try removing judgment words from sentences and replacing them with the 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 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). 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.
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 are 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:
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Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.