One wall I’ve hit many times during my weight loss journey is frustration with myself for behaving certain ways or not behaving other ways in different situations (stressful ones in particular, of course.) Why didn’t I defend myself better in a disagreement? Why can’t I be more like others who can navigate social situations with ease? Why do I let my mom’s nagging drive me crazy? The mental list of ways I choose to browbeat myself goes on and on.
The situations that cause this kind of dialogue, and the dialogue itself, leave me running for cover and comfort–and that comfort has often been in food. If this sounds familiar to you, I read something recently that may be your ticket out of this vicious “wheel of misfortune” game.
This quick survey comes from Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. I’m maybe a quarter of the way through this book, but it has been invaluable in getting me to reconsider some of the mental stances I’ve taken as undisputed truth for years. In addition to encouraging you to have compassion for yourself, Dr. Neff also encourages readers to remember that everyone makes mistakes and struggles with aspects of themselves that they wish they could change–that these frustrations are a part of the human experience, which we all share. She calls readers to consider that they’re not defective, merely human. This part of the book resonated with me, due to the struggles with perfectionism that I have previously discussed. (One quote from Dr. Neff on this topic that has stayed with me: “To demand perfection is to turn our backs on real life, the full range of human experience.” I think we should absolutely strive for better through spiritual experiences, but we can’t forget our humanity, either, for ourselves or for understanding and empathizing with others.)
Here’s the list of questions from Dr. Neff’s book that has helped me immensely lately. Try asking yourself these when you are frustrated with yourself for something that you begrudgingly consider to be an inescapable part of your identity, something that normally leads to emotional eating:
- How often do you display this trait?
- Does the trait really define you if particular circumstances must be present in order for the trait to emerge?
- If various external factors have caused the trait (like family, life, etc.), is it accurate to say it reflects the inner you?
- Did you choose this trait? Do you have choice over when it’s expressed? If not, why are you judging yourself for it?
- What happens if you stop saying “I’m ____” and instead say “Sometimes, in certain circumstances, I ____”?
When I answered these questions in my head, I found out the issues that frustrate me the most don’t happen every day, in every situation. Therefore, it’s not fair to me to label myself as eternally defective for something that I don’t do all the time, that emerged as a result of life experiences, that has been a means of protecting my true, inner self (that I chose when I was very young and incapable of choosing something more effective). And it’s not fair for you to give yourself a life sentence on your faults, either.
I’ve mentioned before that my weight loss journey has been enriched immensely by cultivating a relationship with God, and that that relationship, in turn, has inspired me to think of others differently, and begin to look for ways to make connections that I’ve avoided for much of my life. But as I said last week, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t also extend this courtesy to myself–and I should.
I’m not anywhere near finishing Dr. Neff’s book on compassion, but every day, I see more and more that compassion for ourselves and others is a major component of living our lives in the highest state that we can. The things that divide us–unflinching allegiance to racial, religious, political identities and other identities, in a way that disparages “others”–I think sometimes keep us from cultivating compassion for everyone, and that’s a mistake in my book. Compassion may improve your perception of yourself and your eating habits, and it may improve how you experience and interact with the world, too.