Further watching and resources: Self-compassion
I make no money from this, it is just commendable work Dr Neff is doing
Dr Kirsten Neff TED talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4
Annabelle’s real people, real health story: Self-compassion
Annabelle was one of my toughest cases. She was 140kg or 310 pounds. Whilst this is not the heaviest person I have helped, she was the toughest because she was very unreliable. She would constantly come in and talk for 30 minutes about how she was going to try this new internet diet or pill and it was going to be great. Then I would see her 2-4 weeks later and she had never started it but rather gone onto the next craze. She never adhered to what I asked her to do, and honestly, I started to get impatient with her. I thought she was simply lazy.
One day she came in and I stopped my own mind and impatience and asked her if she was happy living this way. She said, “No, but I always fail at changing it”.
Instead of asking her what I or she can do about it, I asked her “and how does that make you feel?”
She immediately started crying. I had seen many emotions from her but I had never seen her cry.
We explored further. She told me she hated herself, she hated that she kept failing, that she never could lose weight and that she just kept getting heavier. She told me she had been overweight for 30 years and remembers being “skinny” in her teenage years. She remembered starting to put on weight when the first baby was born in her early 20’s and feeling guilt and shame. She remembered her own mother criticising her for putting on weight.
We ran through a scenario exercise that Dr Kirsten Neff uses. I asked her to imagine that there were 3 of her in the room. Her as she is now, her as her best friend and her as the doctor. What would each of those people say? I wanted to know how she was talking to herself, and how she could potentially talk to herself. It was clear that she had become extremely critical of herself, always putting herself down, calling herself “fat” and “lazy” and “stupid” and “weak”.
My response was – “How can you succeed if you talk to yourself like that? No one would feel good if they had that in their head all day!”
So I ignored the weight and asked her to read Dr Neff’s book and start some simple exercises. Every time she automatically reacted to herself in a harsh critical way respond by challenging it and then talking to herself like her best friend would. I asked her to spend some time understanding herself, her actions, her past and the people in her life like her mother – why did her mother talk to her like that? Was her mother suffering and just trying to keep controlling the situation through criticising just like Annabelle was?
This was the first major breakthrough for Annabelle. She started to change from the inside-out. She relaxed, she stopped frantically searching for quick solutions, she let herself have time and patience, she supported herself, she congratulated herself for the wins even if she were small (especially if they were small!), and she forgave her mother, forgave her newborn baby in her 20’s, forgave herself. And yes, she lost weight for the first time in 30 years.
Now, this may seem like a cheesy daytime drama series. But it is true. There may be reasons you are struggling. In our busy and often lonely society, we don’t stop to heal past traumas and we don’t have the support or wisdom from others available when we need them. So if you think there is an internal component to your suffering – it may serve you well to see a professional to work through that. Every builder knows you have to have strong foundations to build a home upon otherwise it falls over. Your health is no different.
Be kind to yourself.
One of the most common barriers I see with anyone trying to change themselves is the cruel way we treat ourselves. We all have a little internal conversation, a few voices going back and forth. But more often than not these voices are impatient and judgemental and we talk to ourselves in a way we would never talk to the ones we love in our life.
Let me give you an example. If the person you loved the most came up to you and they were upset and suffering, how would you respond? Would you respond like “o you are weak and fat and pathetic, why don’t you get over it?” No, you wouldn’t, you would never respond like this because you know that is only going to make things so much worse. Almost always you would respond like “that sounds terrible, let me help you, you can get through this, you are strong”.
So what does this tell us? This tells us that instead of being friends with ourselves, we actually act towards ourselves as if we are the enemy. So many of us have had real trauma in our pasts so what chance do you have of succeeding in anything if you treated yourself like your enemy the whole time? Now I am not saying we should be false, yes sometimes we should be critical of ourselves as that is a form of reflection that helps motivate us but we need balance. Just like a parent to a child, sometimes we praise and reward and sometimes we restrict and discipline.
I suggest just try to be compassionate to yourself, accept that you have made mistakes, we all have. I can think of many times in my life I was weak or selfish, or stupid, or lazy and I wish I had not had done those things. But I did, and you did too. That is the human condition and the longer we live the more and more mistakes we make. So what do we do about it? Do we hold onto it and let it poison the rest of our lives? Or, do we accept we are real and not perfect but endeavour to support ourselves, be our own best friends, improve and be better?
If you are hearing me or reading this it means you care enough about yourself, and when you lose weight you need to thank yourself, sincerely. Really say and feel it to yourself. Thank you for caring and taking the time and effort.
Not only this but appreciate that you are existing and hence inevitably have an impact on the people and world around you. Everything you do has flow on effects. So you have worth by definition. Now, this could be good or bad, but you have it. So accept you are worth putting effort into and you are worth caring for because only when you treat yourself like this can you be a good effect on those around you
There is a nice TED talk on this which I encourage you to watch by Dr Kirsten Neff and I have put the link below. She also has a book and some exercises if you want to follow up on this topic.