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  • Sara Mann

Self-Esteem & Self-Compassion

Once a week I attend an eating disorder recovery support group! I've been going to it for about a year and a half and it has played a major role in my success thus far in recovery! (Side note - Seriously, if you are recovering and not in a support group, I highly suggest finding one!) There are a few different elements that take place during our group, but one of them is a directive. Typically a therapist, dietician or a pastor comes in and leads our group in some sort of discussion, lesson, or activity that has to do with our eating disorder. It could be anything from how our brains work when we are triggered to how to make a thought box with inspirational stickers! This past week our directive was about self esteem and self compassion. We watched a short Ted Talk by Kristen Neff called, "The Space Between Self Esteem and Self Compassion," and then discussed it afterwards. In my opinion it is VERY VERY good. SO, I want to share it with all of you today and then share my thoughts about how self esteem and practicing self compassion has affected me in my eating disorder and recovery! I REALLY encourage you to take the time to watch :)


Isn’t that video great?!

I want to start off by admitting that the idea of being compassionate to myself was very very odd to me. I’ve always heard it talked about in the sense of a quality I should have, like being a compassionate person, or extending compassion towards others, but never in terms of towards myself. I am suppose to be nice to myself? What?! I had never thought of the idea of being kind to myself, it was always about being kind to others! I’m serious! I’ve always been VERY hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist and I hold myself to a standard that is pretty much impossible. For those of you that don’t know me, I play piano. I use to have recitals and I could play a song 99% perfectly, but that 1% of mistakes would KILL ME! I never thought to be kind to myself about it. That was for the weak. That was for people who didn’t want to be great. I just needed to work harder and be stricter and do MORE. This was my mindset throughout many aspects of my life, including my eating disorder. There was ZERO compassion during the seven years I struggled with anorexia and extreme exercise. I only spoke to myself harshly and in an extremely critical way. So, about a year ago, when I first saw this video, and was struggling along in recovery I was shocked at the idea that I could actually be compassionate towards myself and show up for myself! But before I get into all that I want to touch on a few things that Neff talks about in her Ted Talk!

Neff starts off by talking a lot about self esteem. She says, “To have high self esteem we have to feel special and above average.” Ugh, it’s true isn’t it? One of the things that I thought of when I heard this was how much my eating disorder gave me high self esteem. It was the one thing that I felt above average at then everyone else. Obviously to my detriment and demise, but none the less, it gave me high self esteem. I was good at a bunch of other things, but I never felt above average at them. I’m a photographer, but there was always someone else who I thought was better. Same with piano, or the fact that I was married with no kids while everyone else was popping out one kid after the next. Everyone had all these prestigious jobs and degrees and I felt inferior with my degree in philosophy and my career as a photographer. I wasn’t the best at all those things, but I was the best at working out and sticking to a strict diet. Once I chose to recover and end my eating disorder, I had taken away the one thing I thought I was good at and I entered a very deep depression and had very low self esteem.

Neff also mentions how one of the number one ways that woman find their self esteem is in our attractiveness! I don’t know about you but this has been true for me as well. I mean lets think about this, we are raised in a culture where we have been trained that looks matter. We even rate each other on scales of 1-10 of attractiveness. “Oh she’s like a solid 8…” It’s REALLY harsh out there, especially with social media where people can comment on ever little flaw and we feel the need to filter every photo we post! During my eating disorder I was very fit and constantly complimented on my looks and not much else. My self esteem was pretty high in this area (until of course my self talk became critical and the lengths I had to go to in order to maintain this was unhealthy), but then when I went to recover and started gaining massive amounts of weight to heal, the compliments stopped and I suddenly felt over-weight and very unattractive by todays beauty standards. Again, my self esteem took a nose dive and if I’m being honest, has yet to recover. I have not been able to have positive body image since recovery started. I’ve accepted where I’m at and my healing body, but it is a far cry from the high self esteem I once had in it. It's going to take a lot of hard work to de-program myself from our cultures beauty standard.

I thought when Neff talked about bullying it was very interesting! Bullying makes people feel better then others and increases their self esteem. It honestly made me think of my last blog, (you can check it out here) about diet talk. I feel like these go hand in hand. Is diet talk bullying?!?! It’s definitely something to think about! Honestly, I’ve felt bullied by diet talk before. Someones diet talk has made me feel really bad about myself and in the mean time made them feel great about themselves. It builds our self esteem to constantly talk about our diet and show others how above average we are at dieting, but so often it is putting others down and making them feel less then.

Since according to Neff, in our culture, it takes being above average in something to have high self esteem, either I need to get a LOT better at some things, or maybe I need to change my perspective. Can I be cool with just being average? Can my self esteem come from just being the best me? Can I be confident in my worth and abilities, even when the person next to me is better then me? Ya, I actually think so! There is not a rule book that says I have to buy into our cultures way of thinking. In fact, my faith, wise older people and common sense tells me to almost never just go along with worldly thought and instead to think for myself. Maybe I can be confident being simply average :)

So now we get into the self compassion part, and let me tell you, I LOVE THIS!!!!! (Insert a million heart emojis!!!)

I saw this video about a year ago and then again last week. When I watched it the first time I made a commitment to myself to begin practicing self compassion immediately. Here’s why…

First of all, I needed it! Like I said before, I am really hard on myself. Also, recovery is a very very (can I add 100 more very’s?), hard process. It is painful, emotional and draining. I would (and sometimes still do) feel like I am failing or confused and never doing enough or meeting my goals and constantly slipping up and having set backs. I would react harshly to myself which would lead me to feel even more defeated and depressed. When I realized I could be compassionate to myself, relating to myself kindly, embracing myself as I am, flaws and all, it opened this whole new world of speaking to myself and accepting myself in a way that I had never done before!

Second, as I’ve mentioned before in many blogs, I am a strong believer. Christ is VERY compassionate. Scripture is littered with examples of His compassion. (2) This leads me to believe that being compassionate is something I should definitely strive to be, and since I am one of His children why should I be left out of that equation? I should be kind to myself! He would never want me to be cruel or ugly or sinful, even to myself.

Neff mentions three components to self compassion. Kindness instead of harsh self judgment, finding common humanity, and mindfulness. I’ve talked a little already about how harsh I am to myself, but when she talked about how a lot of times we wouldn’t even talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves I was highly convicted. I will call myself fat, gross, a failure all day long but would NEVER say those things to a friend. Why would I treat myself like that? I now have a daily goal that if I catch myself being nasty to myself, I will follow it by giving myself a compliment. Rome wasn’t built in a day and my negative self talk won’t just disappear but I can start by speaking to myself with a lot more kindness.

I find myself a lot of the time concentrating on how I’m different than other people rather then what I have in common with them. So when Neff suggested the idea of common humanity, it shifted my perspective. The other day a woman in my bible study invited me out to dinner. I was so nervous. I was nervous about my weight, what food I would order, if there was anything about me that would make us click and be friends. (side note - isn’t finding friends in your 30s like dating?! hahaha) She is beautiful and fit and has two children and I felt overweight and ugly and was thinking about how I have no children, which in the past has caused me to be left out of a lot of friend groups leaving me feeling rejected, insecure and hurt. But when we went out for dinner I realized that we had much more in common then not. We both have dogs and love Dave Matthews and have both been told we can’t have children (although God had other plans for her obviously!) and we love wineries and have similar struggles and strong faiths and a lack of interest in politics. When I concentrated on what we had in common all my insecurities and self criticism went away! Maybe Neff is onto something here!?

Last, Neff discusses the idea of mindfulness. “Being with what is in the present moment.” How many times have we suffered at the hands of our own self criticism? Some days I will be going to bed feeling tired and defeated and it’s really only because I was mean to myself all day long. There are days that we go through things that are REALLY hard and then we criticize ourselves for being weak or crying about it. I never want to feel sadness or failure, so instead I hide in hatred of my body or obsession in the food I eat. What if I allowed myself to feel instead?

About a year ago I started practicing self compassion and showing up for myself when things got hard. It has completely changed me. There have been many times I have walked out of a doctors office, alone, after an appointment that went horribly wrong and I have sat in my jeep, put my hand on my heart, prayed and then said to myself, “Sara, that was really hard. In fact, that totally sucked. It’s ok to be sad and confused and frustrated. This process is difficult. Let’s take today slow and do our best.” I offer myself the compassion and love that I would offer a friend. I validate the feelings that in previous times I would have quickly tried to stuff down and cover with some sort of cheap replacement or push through because I have to be “strong.” Practicing self compassion has in fact relieved a lot of anxiety and stress in my life. I don’t feel this sense of failure all the time because I am more accepting of myself.

Being more compassionate with myself, like Neff suggested, has helped me to be more compassionate with others. If I’m kinder with myself, I’m automatically more kind with others. I have more to give because I’m not constantly stressed and angry because of my own inner battle. It’s almost like the saying, “You practice what you preach.” If I am being compassionate with myself I am more likely to be compassionate with others, and if I am more judgmental and harsh to myself I will be more judgmental and critical towards others. Practicing self compassion I think has definitely changed my ability to connect with people on a more meaningful and different level.

Practicing self compassion has truly been a life changer for me. I didn’t really notice it until a year after seeing this video, I saw it again and was able to say wow, I AM a lot kinder to myself then I use to be and it’s a great feeling. Whether its recovering from an eating disorder, losing a job, going through a breakup, spilling coffee on your shirt right before an interview, getting a D instead of an A in a class, hearing the news that yet again, not pregnant, there has been a death of a loved one, or maybe its just a bad day, life is hard! Be a good friend to yourself!


- Sara -

1-TEDxTalks. “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2013,

2 - Matthew 9:36, Psalm 79:38-39, Psalm 147:3, Lamentations 3:22-23, Colossians 3:12-13, 2 Corinthians 1:2-4, Ephesians 4:32, Psalm 103:13, Romans 9:15, 2 Kings 13:23, Isaiah 14:1, Hebrews 10:34 to name a few!

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