I am in recovery from an eating disorder. It has been a journey filled with many challenges and many rewards. One of the most important lessons I have learned from my struggle is that self-compassion is a critical tool in coping with life, relationships, and health.
Individuals experiencing eating disorders often battle perfectionism, people-pleasing, and critical internal dialogue. Self-compassion is likely to be more important in eating disorder recovery than self-esteem.
Self-esteem is often based on a comparison of oneself to others and is contingent on achievement and success. Self-compassion is instead a sense of acknowledging that we are human, and no human is perfect. It pushes us to offer ourselves unconditional understanding, kindness, and acceptance. This empathetic stance is in stark contrast to the cruel, critical inner voice that accompanies eating disorders.
Over the years, I have heard clients report self-abusive thoughts involving harsh and hurtful name-calling while holding themselves up to impossible standards. They often think that if they can just live up to the high expectations they have for themselves academically, professionally, physically, etc., then they would then be able to like and accept themselves.
But the problem is that these expectations are overwhelmingly unreasonable and unattainable. This sets up a cycle of individuals driving themselves relentlessly toward impossible goals until exhausted and frustrated. Then they beat themselves up with judgment and critical thoughts that make them feel worse. This in turn fuels the disordered behaviors that offer dysfunctional comfort.
So, I have discovered personally and professionally that a kind, gentle, and accepting approach to oneself, despite our flaws, allows the eating disorder tension to dissipate significantly. Befriending oneself leads to a deeper commitment to healthful lifestyle habits and away from eating disorders. Providing ourselves with unconditional love and positive regard frees us up to do the hard work required for recovery.
Resource: Neff, Kristin & Vonk, R.. (2008). Self-Compassion Versus Global Self-Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself. Journal of personality. 77. 23-50. 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00537.x.
Jacquelyn Ekern is President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. which conducts business as Eating Disorder Hope & Addiction Hope. In addition, she is a licensed therapist with a counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.
Jacquelyn founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder.
She then founded Addiction Hope in 2013 after recognizing that so many members of the EDH online community were also struggling with a co-occurring issue of addiction.
Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters’s degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University.
She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation, and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations.
She is a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).