You’re too hard on yourself, and at some level you are probably aware of that. We sometimes think that if we are hard on ourselves we will push ourselves to do better, and thereby become the person we want to be. However, this pattern of critical self-talk often has the opposite effect, and erodes our sense of self, pushing us toward a variety of self-destructive forces. An Eating disorder is a complex pathology that often stems from psychological, sociological, cognitive and environmental factors. Although it might be hard to identify when and why the maladaptive thoughts and behaviors around food started, it is clear that people who suffer from an eating disorder are in pain, and they want to find a way to live their life peacefully and heal from emotional wounds. Indeed, clients with an eating disorder often experience anxiety and depression; they suffer from body image issues and insecurities, which are impacting their self-esteem and the way they interact with the world. In other words, behind the food behaviors, different parts of the self that are injured are hiding and are looking for comfort.

One of the ways I have found helpful and extremely powerful to heal the injured parts of the self, is by practicing positive self-talk and being self-compassionate. In order to understand self-compassion, think about how you would talk to a friend who is suffering and asks you for help. Think about how you would respond to a child who needs comfort and reassurance. We are often supportive to others, but when it comes to ourselves we become self-critical and quite judgmental. As Kristin Neff describes it: “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Self-compassion is something you can practice with your therapist, with a friend or even by yourself. Self-compassion helps us realize that everyone has struggled at a certain time in their life. It can help you be kind with yourself, and help you learn to accept and love yourself for who you are, with your own personality and your own values. Here are three ways you could practice self-compassion:

What are you thankful for about yourself? Think about what you have accomplished during the day and create a list every night before going to bed. Don’t concentrate on what you have not been able to do, or did not get a chance to accomplish, only focus on what you did, and how it impacted your life in a positive way. Remember, some of the best things in life are not things at all, so think about concepts that you are thankful for, or feelings, or people. Gratitude can be extended well beyond the material realm. If you are working toward recovery, think about what you have done during the day that helped you get closer to recovering from your eating disorder.

2) Think about what you would say to a friend:
When friends struggle, when they need to be reassured and comforted, think about what you would say to that person. Would you maybe show empathy and compassion? Write down the sentences and the words you would choose to show love and support to your friends. Perhaps you have even already had this experience, in which you provided support to a friend. You can look back on what you said to that friend during their time of need. Practice using those words for yourself whenever you experience a hardship, or lose confidence in yourself.

3) Practice positive self-talk
Be gentle with yourself, you deserve kindness and love, you are worth it, remember? A great way to practice positive self-talk is by identifying the negative messages that we tell ourselves on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, people suffering from an eating disorder often identify an inner voice constantly criticizing them, and blaming them. By identifying these negative beliefs about ourselves we can learn to counteract these thoughts using logical facts, as well as positive truths in our life. Use positive affirmations everyday, it will help you believe in your abilities, and make positive changes for yourself.

One final thought: when trying to incorporate self-compassion into your daily life and your recovery, you need to be compassionate about your efforts in doing so. It may be challenging to shift your thinking right away, so remember it is a work in progress and be compassionate towards yourself as you strive to introduce more self-compassion into your life.

Elena Covo, Associate MFT is Therapist at Cielo House. She works with clients to find a more compassionate version of themselves, and through that process assists them in finding recovery and establishing the kind of life they truly want to live.

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