By BodyMatters therapist Sarah McMahon
Do you offer yourself the same compassion that you offer to others? My experience in working with people who suffer from eating issues is that they are often very good at exhibiting compassion for other people however rarely apply the same courtesy to themselves. Similarly, family members struggle so much to do the “right thing” for their loved one and yet are constantly feeling that they have not done enough- again not exhibiting the compassion to themselves that they offer their loved one.
Whether you are a sufferer yourself or you have a loved one with an eating disorder, one thing is for sure: eating disorders tend to use guilt & shame to their advantage. Learning to be self compassionate is a vital aspect of the recovery process. This blog explores what self compassion actually is, what it is not, and provides you with some ideas of things that you can do to improve your self compassion. The information is adapted from Dr Kristen Neff’s great work on this subject, which you can view more of here. You can also view our summary of this here. I do hope and trust that you will find it helpful in your battle against the eating disorder.
What is self compassion?
Self compassion is essentially demonstrating the same compassion you have for others to yourself. It involves acknowledging suffering when it is there and feeling moved in your heart sufficiently to respond to that pain & suffering. There are three components to self compassion:
- Self kindness- being warm and encouraging, rather than self flagellating
- Common humanity- seeing suffering as part of the common human experience, rather than something you are alone in experiencing
- Mindfulness- acknowledging and paying attention to the feelings we have in a balanced, here-and-now way
One of the interesting things about self compassion is that many of us chose not to practice self compassion on the basis that we feel it enables poor performance. However this is wrong. Self compassion is highly correlated with success because self compassion allows for a balanced acknowledgement of circumstances, allowing us to learn from those experiences.
What self compassion it is not?
Self compassion is not self pity or self indulgence. It is not “wallowing” in feelings of hopelessness- or indulging those feelings in an unhelpful way.
It is also very different from self esteem. Self esteem is more a reflection of our self worth and is usually highly contingent on success. You can watch more about the difference here.
How self compassionate are you?
So now you have read about self compassion, how self compassionate do you think YOU really are? What sort of self talk do you engage in when you notice a flaw or make a mistake? Do you feel isolated and alone in your imperfection and pain or do you feel connected with fellow humans? How do you treat yourself when you run into life’s challenges?
You can test your self compassion here.
How can you improve your self compassion?
- Think about some aspects of your life where you experience shame or sadness. Write a letter to yourself as if you were your best friend or big brother/sister. Use this as an opportunity to compassionately work through those painful experiences.
- Keep a self compassion journal for a week or so. Each day, recall & write down the painful experiences that have taken place. At the end of each day, work through these feelings using each of the three elements of self compassion: self kindness, common humanity & mindfulness. How can they be re-framed with each new paradigm?
- Think about an area that you continue to exhibit self hatred through self flagellation, particularly if it is an area of life that you want to change (eg beating yourself up because you are disorganised or not studying hard enough). Obviously you would not treat a friend who was experiencing the same problem in the way that you treat yourself in these instances. So identify three things you would say to or suggest to a friend who was experiencing the same problem, if you were encouraging behaviour change. When you find yourself engaging that familiar pattern of self hatred, remind yourself that that approach it hasn’t assisted change and try to exchange this for the approach you would take with someone who you love.