As young kiddos we are taught, “Do onto others as you would have them do on to you.” We are taught to treat others with respect, kindness, humility, and compassion. We are encouraged to give back to others and that giving to one’s self should always come second. Why are we not taught the importance of self-compassion or what that even looks like? Where was that episode of Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow, because I missed it?
When I was a little girl I was constantly bullied at school for being bigger than the other kids in my class. I was called names, teased, belittled and broken down for not being the same size as the other little girls and for wearing glasses. How could a 6 year old be such a burden to those around her simply by existing and being herself? Where was the compassion, that we are all taught at a young age; and why was this little girl, who unconditionally showed compassion to others, not on the receiving end of it? It was years of being told that I wasn’t enough and that for me be worthy of a happy and fulfilled life I had to look like everyone else; because I wasn’t enough in the skin I was in, that led me down a road of shame, self-doubt, and eventually an eating disorder.
Self-compassion has always been a foreign concept to me. I am a giver by nature, and the idea of showering myself with understanding and affirmations makes me extremely uncomfortable, often leaving me with a false sense of self- love and authenticity. In treatment we are encouraged to give to ourselves, fill our own cup, before we can give to others’. Instead of ruthlessly judging and ridiculing ourselves for various failures and inadequacies, we are shown how to hold space for the uncomfortable and that we can coexist without forfeiting our identity and authenticity simply by showing ourselves kindness and understanding. Why did it take 24 years, 4 months of treatment, and 4 years of weekly outpatient therapy, to finally arrive at a place where that broken little girl was finally being encouraged and provided with the tools on how to show herself compassion and what that even looked like.
Being 4 years into my recovery from my eating disorder, self-compassion is still something that I have to mindfully practice. Having compassion for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you have to love yourself every moment of every day, but that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go to plan, life happens, and you will encounter frustrations and you will make mistakes. This is what it means to be human. But, the more we open ourselves and our hearts to the reality of this, instead of fighting against it, the more we are able to feel compassion for ourselves.
We all need different things to feel loved, and we all have different “self-love” languages. What I need to feel as though I am taking care of myself may be completely different for you, and that is ok! The important thing isn’t about what it looks like or how it can differ person to person, but is finding what resonates with you.
Words of Affirmation
Are you a person that feels fulfilled by words of affirmation? “You can do this!” or “It’s going to be ok.” If that is the case, use your words to build yourself up. Be positive in the way you not only talk to yourself but about yourself. Try a daily affirmation. Choose a positive quote or mantra to be the focus of your day. Say it in the mirror or write yourself a love letter.
Acts of Service
Are you a person that feels content after doing something? For example, you know when you come home from work and the last thing you want to do is ANYTHING that takes brain power or energy to complete, but the second that you do – you feel so much better. Whether it be making yourself a meal, or a cup of tea, or going for a mindful walk. Get up and give yourself what your body is telling you it needs in that moment.
I like to call these, “yay Me’s!” Treat yourself! I am the first person to give to others, and the last person to give to myself. When it comes to those I love, giving gifts is my love language and is often without hesitation or question. But, when it comes to giving to me there are a million reasons why, “it’s not ok,” and shame often takes over the driver’s seat. Tell yourself “YES” to little gifts! Treat yourself! Invest in yourself and never feel bad and apologize for nurturing your mind, body, and soul.
Give yourself the space and time to just be, however that looks for you. We often get distracted and use the chaos of life as an excuse to not give ourselves the space to slow down and reflect. Make time for being alone and for slowing down to get to know yourself, which in turn will help you to be more present in your life.
Lastly, and for me one of the hardest, is to be nice to your body. Our bodies are the vessel where our soul resides, and deserves love and kindness, not to be punished for what we claim it’s not. This can be as simple as yoga, a massage, or taking a bath.
Think about yourself, what “self-love” language resonates with you? We each have that little child inside of us. What does that little child inside you look like? What has he/or she been through and what are they needing in this moment? Brene Brown said "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do." Own your story. Be compassionate with yourself. Nurture and show empathy and love to that little child inside you. We are told as young children that there is no re-do button in life. I beg to differ. Recovery is like being able to hit the reset button of your life. What an amazing thing right!!? While it may not change your past, it allows your past to not dictate your future. It has allowed me to look at life through different glasses. It has shown me that I am worthy of a life filled with connection, love, and adventure; and that I am more than enough simply by living my life authentically true and aligned with my values. That little boy/or girl is still inside each of us. It is never too late to show them empathy, compassion, and love – they deserve it.
Written by Joanna Nolen
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."