Self-Compassion as Body Liberation
When we’re talking about body image, self-esteem, or self-worth, self-compassion is often a first step in my sessions. But what is self compassion exactly? And why is self compassion so necessary to moving forward in relationship with your body and yourself?
Kristin Neff, renowned expert on self-compassion, says: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings…” and I would add, in any situation! The following process is adapted from Neff’s approach to self compassion.
Self-compassion means giving yourself the same understanding and kindness that you would to someone you love. How would you respond if your best friend said some of the things you say about your body, but about themselves? What would you say to them?
Self-compassion also means giving yourself time and space to feel your feelings. With my clients, this often starts with noticing diet culture or anti-fat thoughts. Often, I will suggest that people keep track of the amount of times that a diet cultury or anti-fat (or even judgy or critical) thought comes into their head in a week. When we seek to change something, the first step is noticing that it is happening.
Once they begin to notice these thoughts for what they are, the next step is to allow themselves to feel the hurt and pain from these thoughts. Where does that hurt land in your body? Put a hand there, feel the connection of your hand to your body- the temperature of it, the pressure of it- notice that someone is there (yes, that someone is you!) and acknowledge the hurt by saying to yourself: “ouch” or “that hurts”. Allow yourself to feel the hurt as much as you can, but not so much that it feels overwhelming or unsafe.
Giving some space and time to the difficult, uncomfortable feelings can allow them to pass through. Often people will avoid feeling those hard emotions, and in my experience, that makes them hang around longer or more intensely. What you resist, persists!
The next step is acknowledging that you are not alone in feeling this way. Recognize that humans feel pain, humans suffer, and tell yourself that you aren’t the first or the last person to feel this way. This can be so hard to do when we are suffering, which is one reason why I think community is so important. Seek out community around body liberation (like the free social support group I co-facilitate, Fat Chat!), or any other thing you are struggling with. I guarantee you aren’t alone in feeling this way. And I know how hard it can be to reach out on the days that you’re in what I call “the hole”- that place where everything seems like it’s the worst, I feel like I’m the worst, and I feel all alone and like no one will understand. On those days, I reach out to my most trusted friends to model compassion for me so I can then give it to myself.
And then finally, give yourself compassion. With a hand on your body, say to yourself something like “I’m so sorry you’re hurting”, “I love you”, “I wish you ease and gentleness”, “May you give yourself the compassion you need” or simply feel love and compassion towards yourself.
Self-compassion can be really difficult, and even dangerous to some folks due to trauma. Sometimes when people try to be kind to themselves, it can trigger an old response pattern where they expected kindness but received harm. This is why it’s so important to go slow with this process and recognize that it may seem mechanical at first. This is also why it can be a good idea to practice this exercise with the support of a therapist.
I think self-compassion is so key to moving forward in an improved relationship with your body and yourself because you can’t hate yourself into loving yourself. I tried for years to hate myself into loving myself. I would constantly put myself down, chastise myself for not being better, not being thinner, not “working hard enough”. It wasn’t until I started being more compassionate to myself, until I realized that it was ok to be fat, that I began to love myself just as I am. And recognized that I actually loved myself all along, because why else would that part of me be so fixated on my supposed failings? That part cares enough to put all that energy into wanting me to be “better”, it just learned a really messed up way of trying to do that.
If this is resonating for you, or you feel curious about the process of self-compassion, book a free 20 minute Discovery Call with me to see if we’re a good fit to work together. I’d also love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comment section below.