We’ve all heard that we should be more compassionate with ourselves, but what exactly does that mean? For those who are struggling with diet culture, it’s all about showing up and supporting yourself as you would a friend.
Self-compassion is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. If you’ve ever done work on yourself with a therapist or other health professional, you may have been asked some form of the following question, “Can you be more compassionate towards yourself?”
You might be thinking what would that even look like? For many, this is a work in progress, and likely a lifelong one. And for those who are on the road towards an eating disorder (ED) recovery or are making the transition out of dieting, self-compassion can be especially important.
Why? Because recovery is not a straight line.
There may be days, weeks or even months when you’re struggling, when you feel like you’re not making progress, or when you fall back into diet mentality or ED thoughts.
And what happens when you slip up in this all-or-nothing culture we live in? You push yourself harder, restrict more, overexercise, and beat yourself up over your perceived failures.
And what does that result in? Do you feel more motivated? Do you feel more confident? Perhaps there is a false sense of control, but often times, it ultimately leads to more self-loathing and self-destructive behaviors.
So what can we do instead of being hard on ourselves? Self-compassion, which Dr. Kristin Neff has previously broken down into three main tenets: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Let’s explore them a little further, and how to put it into practice.
You make a mistake. You have a setback. Do you start to self-criticize and judge yourself? That’s certainly what diet culture would have us do. Instead, with self-kindness, you recognize your imperfect nature as a human being and shower yourself with understanding and warmth.
Self-kindness is talking to yourself as if you were talking to a good friend. What if your best friend was having a challenging body image day and was feeling really bad about herself? Would you criticize her and judge her? Probably not.
Remind yourself that you understand how hard this must feel, and that you love yourself no matter what. Wrap your arms around yourself as you were giving yourself a hug. Touch can be very healing and therapeutic and there’s no reason we can’t offer up that warmth to ourselves.
2. Common Humanity
When you come up short or feel yourself struggling, you might automatically feel isolated as if you’re in this all by yourself. Those pervasive feelings of isolation will ultimately lead to more suffering and shame. Common humanity helps us recognize that as human beings, we all suffer. The very nature of being a human being is being imperfect and vulnerable. We can take solace in knowing that we aren’t alone in our suffering, that this is a shared part of the human experience.
One way to practice common humanity is to think about all the other people who are currently experiencing a similar type of suffering. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggles, pain, and shortcomings. Remember that we are all imperfect human beings, and will therefore feel suffering as part of the human experience.
When we fuse with our thoughts and feelings, we let them take us away on a narrative as if we are living it in real life. We give them more power than they deserve. When you have a difficult thought or feeling, perhaps one of two things happen: you ignore the thought or feeling and try to dismiss it, or you attach with it and identify with it.
The former is a common reaction to avoiding discomfort, but it’s not productive. We all know that if you try to bury something under the rug, it’s still there and eventually will resurface, likely with even more power. And if you over-identify with a thought or feeling, it will probably be challenging to remember self-kindness and common humanity. The practice of mindfulness helps us sit with our thoughts and feelings, observing them without judgment or criticism so that we’re neither suppressing nor over identifying with them.
With mindfulness, you’re observing the present moment – sounds, your breath, the sensation of touch, your body, and seeing thoughts and feelings as they come up and clouds passing through the sky, without attaching to them or giving them meaning. You can even say “thinking” out loud when you recognize you have a thought. Name it out loud, then gently bring your attention back to the breath, sounds, and touch.
Remember, there’s no perfecting self-compassion because we are imperfect human beings. Allow your self-compassion practice to be messy and imperfect.
The most important part is just showing up and trying.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: SARAH SWINTON
Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT is a nationally-recognized and award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and yoga teacher. She believes that the key to authentic health and wellbeing is celebrating food and our bodies, a philosophy that she instills in the kitchen, yoga studio, with her clients, and in her popularly featured food and healthy living blog The Foodie Dietitian.