Think about your own inner dialogue. Is it kind, gentle, friendly? Is it aggressive, rejecting, demeaning? Both? Neither? For the less fortunate among us, self-critical thoughts come automatically, while thinking kindly about oneself might feel inauthentic or indulgent. Why is it some of us struggle to treat ourselves in the manner that we might treat a friend?
The inner world of someone with binge eating disorder (BED; or any other eating disorder) can often be an unfriendly place. The stream of consciousness thoughts within the mind of the person who is struggling tend to be skewed toward self-critical, self-deprecating, and self-blaming statements. The person is fairly constantly under siege by these negative, judgmental and disapproving and shaming thoughts about self. Ah, shame… what a dark and haunting emotion. Shame is a destructive emotion that makes us feel less-than and fosters isolation. The eating disorder enters as a way to manage the shame, and often exacerbates these feelings. It is a nasty positive feedback loop. And it is no coincidence that shame is often a main target in psychotherapy during the treatment of BED.
How do we target shame, you ask? Well, there are many ways we can work to take that terrible monster down! Have you heard about self-compassion? It is about self-kindness, it is about recognizing our humanness, and it is about mindfulness of reactions to our painful thoughts and feelings (Neff, 2003). And, amazingly, self-compassion may just be the best antidote to shame.
Don’t worry if you find yourself self-compassion-deficient. You are not destined to remain that way, as there are methods for you to develop more! Self-compassion is not an all-or-nothing thing. It is not about “having” or “not having” self-compassion. Self-compassion exists on a continuum, and like anything worth having, it takes work and practice. How might your life be different if you were a little kinder to yourself? What might change? Can you dare to imagine…? Might you have more patience with yourself; might you befriend your body; might you forgive a mistake you made?
Let’s not forget that when it comes to eating disorder recovery, the very act of honoring your body’s hunger and fullness cues is an act of self-compassion. The practice of self-compassion can make all the difference in helping a person bridge from self-destruction to self-actualization. We need to nurture a self-compassionate voice to counter the self-critical one, otherwise, recovery will likely remain out of reach.
So, what can you do today to nurture some gentleness and loving-kindness towards little old you? You deserve it!