If I’m too nice to myself, I'll keep on giving myself excuses and I’ll change nothing. I'll never lose the weight I want to, ugghh.
That’s what I used to think.
I was pretty hard on myself when I was younger. Particularly when I was struggling with food and and my body wasn't doing what I wanted it to.
In some respects, that hardness gave me the ‘push on through’ mentality I needed at the time, and to a certain extent it got me through some tough stuff. Like tolerating a difficult relationship. And being there for everyone else except myself. But the wins were short lived.
My all or nothing approach to most things meant I was full on or had nothing left to give. I was on it or I was off it. I felt I had to choose between being strong or being weak.
And what I noticed when I went for ‘strong’, was that little grumbling voice in my head got louder. And more critical. And proper bossy!
It went from ‘are you sure you want to do that?’ to ‘stop being so bloody lazy’
It went from ‘that might not be the best idea’ to ‘do NOT eat that. Have you no self control?!
This voice would be self defeating and self destructive. It’s tone would be harsh and aggressive.
It added to my anxiety and sent me spiraling.
On my own journey towards finding happiness in my own skin (as well as through my professional work), I read extensively into self compassion. I learnt it’s NOT about self indulgence or lowering our standards. It's definitely not about giving up.
I really like the 3 part model by Dr Kristin Neff; that self compassion is made up of mindfulness, common humanity and self kindness.
It invites you to notice your inner voice. And rather than confront it (him or her) or push it down, can you just hear it out? What if you viewed this voice as your inner ally rather than your inner bully? Could you reassure it that you are OK and ask it not to be so loud?
Self compassion does not deny the difficulty of a situation; it's NOT toxic positivity. It reminds you of your humanness and that are not alone.
It’s not all soft and cuddly. It acknowledges the reality. The 'this is F'in hard' and enables you to meet more of your own needs.
Here are 5 ways to add more self compassion into your life:
1. Take a breath. This may seem obvious but breath work that involves controlled, deeper breaths (especially the exhale) helps to calm our nervous system. It activates our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn lowers our heart rate and promotes muscle relaxation. It has a grounding effect which means our more rational thinking brain can have some space to work.
2. Acknowledge what is happening. Allow yourself to say out loud (or journal it out) and express your emotions about what is going on. That whatever it is you are feeling is valid, especially if it feels difficult or too much. And it's OK if you don't like what's happening and that you don't have all the answers.
3. Have your own back. You can do this by finding somewhere to sit - a chair that you can lean back into. And do lean into the back. Your chair has your back. It supports you. Let the contact it gives you provide reassurance. It wants nothing in return - no favour to do or energy to zap from you. Take a moment here and catch your breath. You can put your hand on your heart, rest your hands on your thighs, rub your arms or even give yourself a hug - this will release Oxytocin that brings us a sense of safety and trust.
4. Re-write your inner voice. What would you say to your best friend? How would you say it? You can literally create a script that you can refer back to at difficult times that arise in the future. You can use mantras and affirmations to help cultivate a more gentle, compassionate voice too.Here are some (food related) examples:
- Just because I think it, does not make it true.
- I choose health and healing over restriction and punishing myself.
- Just because someone looks perfect on the outside, doesn’t mean they have a perfect life. No one has a perfect life, we all struggle. That’s what being human is.
- Food is nourishment.
- When I'm hungry I am supposed to eat. Food helps me thrive.
- Chocolate is not my enemy. It's also not my friend. It's just food. It has no power over me.
- Being thin or fat is not my identity. I am identified by who I am on the
inside; a loving, wonderful person.
5. Practice forgiveness. Stop punishing yourself for the mistakes you make. No-one is perfect so be gentle with yourself when you are confronted with your shortcomings. You are valued by your friends and colleagues because of who you are, not because you are faultless.
If you have any more to share, I'd love to hear them.
I offer a free half hour chat if you feel you would benefit from some further insight into your own inner voice and how to find more compassionate ways to take care of yourself.