7 Days of Self-Compassion: An experiment to be repeated

November 12th, 2012

Each Tuesday, I look forward to receiving the MentorConnect Weekly Mentoring Moment email. Last week, the theme was Self Compassion is Never Misplaced:

“When was the last time you did more than judge yourself for the progress you’ve made toward recovery – or lack thereof? Have you ever had a parent or teacher try to judge or shame you into changing your behavior – or your mind? It doesn’t work very well, does it. Shame may change the behavior, but it won’t change the motive, or belief that you are not worth changing for. Luckily, Ed doesn’t know that. But now YOU do.

Next time you feel tempted to listen to Ed’s insults, or to judge or shame yourself into changing – or believing you never will – try a little (or a big) dose of self-compassion instead. Ed won’t expect it, you just might like it, and best of all – it just might WORK!”

be gentle with yourselfSelf-care has always been quite the challenge for me. In my experience, engaging in eating disorder behaviors has clearly been a form of self-harm. I am unsure of the exact root of this drive to treat myself so harshly, but I can only surmise that growing up in a hectic, chaotic environment was a contributing factor. Patience and compassion were rarely modeled, because there was rarely an adult around to supervise us.

Our mother worked night-shifts as an RN and our father usually worked on assignment out of town. My sister, who is 7 years my elder, often served as primary caretaker. As children, we were running on auto-pilot in survival mode. Logistically, emotional neglect indirectly resulted. Generally, if all was well in the house, we heard no complaints. In efforts to restore order, feedback generally surfaced in the form of criticism. I do not believe this was at all intentional. Everyone was doing the best they knew how to do. Providing basic needs (such as heat, electric, food, and shelter) was first priority and our parents did an excellent job with that. Loving affection was further down the list, though we did always have the best holidays! It just was not a daily affair, and it certainly was not habit in our home.

Permission to self-care

The last few months have been abundant with change and transition. In the last two weeks alone, I have experienced a loss, adopted a small dog, and moved into a new apartment. Those of us in the process of recovery can attest to the fact that stress, whether in the form of distress or eustress, needs to be approached with awareness, gentleness, and kindness.

As you can imagine, last week’s MentorConnect theme of self-compassion could not have been timed any better. It undeniably captured my interest. I still receive aftercare to ensure my recovery process remains solid and grounded. With this idea of self-compassion being fresh in mind, I walked into session last week hoping for permission to make protecting my well-being THE GOAL for the week. For some reason, I sought that externally. Why couldn’t I just give myself permission and that be good enough? Though it was a self-determined goal, I was unable to assign myself this task WITHOUT judgment. I yearned for approval that an emphasis of self-care was an acceptable focus at this time.

Selfish vs. Selfless

I have always wanted to be selfless yet fearful that I am rather selfish instead. Selfishness is an excessive concern for the self without regard for others. In contrast, selflessness is having no concern for the self. In reality, neither of these are a balanced state as they exist on opposite ends of a continuum.

If anything, having an eating disorder will make you self-focused; but this is not necessarily a negative. In fact, throughout recovery, we need to be self-focused. When in doubt, pay attention to your intentions! Self-care is the foundation of health promotion and, “refers to decisions and actions that an individual can take to cope with a health problem or to improve his or her health.”

For many of us, this idea of putting ourselves first is foreign and uncomfortable. We may have fears of being perceived as selfish when we take time for and put energy into our recovery. We may question our worth and whether we deserve to practice self-care. The blunt reality is that our health is our responsibility. If we fail to pay attention to our needs, we suffer. When we suffer, those around us suffer. Therefore, return to your intention of improving your health to achieve a win-win scenario.

The ATM Analogy

Most of us have heard the analogy, “mask first, “ which is borrowed from  the lecture flight attendants give while preparing for take-off. “In the event of an emergency, place your oxygen mask on yourself before attempting to help another passenger.”  I have heard this so many times, my eyes tend to roll at the thought of it. However, I know it is truth. Therefore, I picked my brain to come up with another analogy that conveys the same message without being so mushy-mushy.

We can all relate to money. YOU CANNOT WITHDRAW MONEY from an ATM machine without first making deposits to your account. Whether you want to save the world or just help out a loved one, you must first help yourself. You will have nothing to give away (withdraw) if you do not first give to yourself (deposit). If your loved one wanted to write you a check for $100 (withdraw), would you judge them for first putting the money in their account (deposit)? Of course not! You do not want that check to bounce, right? Self-care works the same way. To fulfill your purpose in life, you must handle yourself with great care.

A practice of self-compassion

I am at a pivotal point in my recovery journey. I know, understand, and accept that I MUST practice compassionate self-care in order to progress. I decided to embark upon an experiment after reading last week’s MentorConnect theme. I made a conscious effort to practice self-compassion for the last 7 days and I must admit (a) I liked it and (b) it worked!

Historically, I do not express loving compassion very well. This was a key complaint in my last relationship. I did not know if I really had it in me. When I mentioned this in my therapy session this last week, my therapist said, “But Heather, you are very loving and nurturing with Peanut (my new dog).”  Well, I had no rebuttal because she was absolutely correct. It was an “Ah-Ha!” light bulb moment for me. For the rest of the week, I practiced observing my thoughts and actions rather than judging them. When I had the urge to falter, I looked at Peanut and asked myself if I would treat her the way I was treating myself. It’s so easy to love her!

Examples of Self-compassion

  1. I allowed myself to accept an offer to substitute a yoga class for my mentor. Normally, I would tell myself I am not good enough to cover for her. Instead, I accepted the opportunity with gratitude. The result was a confirmation of my confidence with sharing the practice of yoga. It was an uplifting joy that is hard to describe :)
  2. I said, “No!” when asked to do something I really did not want to do. Rather than sulk in guilt over saying no or harboring resentment for doing something I didn’t want to do, I was thankful for the ability to be assertive.
  3. I slept through my alarm by turning off the snooze button. I’ve been very adamant about keeping a healthy sleep-wake schedule and routine. My first inclination was to berate myself for being “lazy” and “wasting the morning” so I took a deep breath and acknowledged how refreshed I felt. My body needed the rest.
  4. I spent extra money on prepared foods and eating out rather than preparing everything from home. I was simply exhausted from moving and unpacking all week. I did not have the energy at the end of the day to cook a well-balanced meal. Therefore, I did the next best thing. I bought higher, priced convenience foods to get myself through the week. It was such a treat too!

This 7 day experiment has been a complete success. I’ve had the best week and I am definitely going to continue this practice. I hope you are enticed to give it a go for yourself too!

Heather Purdin, M.Ed., RYT
Guest Blogger

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One Response to “7 Days of Self-Compassion: An experiment to be repeated”

  1. David says:

    Our souls need love, minds needs awareness, education and hope. Bodies need adequate nutrician. The nutician is most important, being the foundation of our lives. This blog is unique in its vegatarian minority, asking questions, providing answers and providing facts. Giving a clear path of exceptance and direction. Thank you for caring and sharing.

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