The world can be a harsh and confusing place for people who are dealing with an eating disorder. What might be a simple task for other people, such as a trip to the grocery store, can be daunting when you are surrounded by mixed messages.
Standing at the checkout counter, a quick glance at the magazine rack shows photos of celebrities caught in unflattering poses, details of the latest quick-fix diet, while on the same cover there is a photo of a decadent dessert with the promise of the recipe inside. Every aisle is adorned with displays meant to entice us into buying things we weren’t planning to buy or to eat. This type of temptation can lead to unhealthy behaviors, which then set into motion a cycle of self-blaming and self-loathing.
When it seems like everything in the grocery store is against you, it becomes even more important to cultivate an ongoing sense of compassion for yourself. When you can acknowledge what you’re going through and every small victory you accomplish, you can help yourself heal and grow.
While I disagree with how Dictionary.com defines compassion as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering," I do appreciate these synonyms they offered: "tenderness" and "heart".
Compassion is more about validation than pity; "I see how challenging this is for you," rather than, "You poor thing." Feeling compassion is not about feeling sorry for oneself or someone else. It's about looking at self and others through a tender heart.
Here are three ways you can add compassion into your life:
- HALT – This powerful slogan stands for "Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired," which are feelings that can make people more vulnerable to act out in their addictions. When you become more aware of whether you are feeling one of those things, you can choose to act on that feeling, or address it using a healthier tool. It takes courage to look with integrity and truth at what’s really happening within yourself. This awareness gives you the compassion and perspective to see why you might be feeling or acting a certain way, and ask what you need to do to take care of yourself in that moment.
- Think twice about giving in to your compulsive behavior – It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when you focus on the list of things that may not be going your way, "My friend isn't talking to me," "I had a struggle at work," "I'm not talking to anyone in my family," etc. The next thought might be to "treat" yourself or repeat a harmful behavior. Yet is it really a treat if it will damage your health and you'll feel bad about it later?
- Question your self-talk – Notice the mixed messages and give yourself compassion for reacting to them. Release the self-criticism, shame and self-loathing that undermine your self-esteem and confidence and make you feel bad. This all just leads to wanting to eat more or restrict more.
Compassion is about being fully present with yourself, just as you are, without condemning or judging any part of your whole self. Compassion isn't a free pass or letting yourself off the hook; it's a way to focus on the solution and get yourself to the physical recovery that is so important.
The compassionate choice isn't always the easiest one. Another 12-step axiom is that "the first thought is a freebie." You don't have to act on that first thought, which will often take you back into old, unhealthy patterns and habits. You can let that first thought go and revise it into one that will lead you towards recovery.
For some, compassion can be love. For others it can be grace. What is compassion for you?