Compassion Supports Recovery
April 17, 2018
By Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS
When people struggle with an eating disorder, they often experience high levels of shame and self-criticism. Actively practicing techniques of self-compassion can be beneficial in eating disorder recovery.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is directing the loving kindness shown to others and to yourself. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has defined self-compassion as recognizing that you are suffering in a moment or situation, and being kind and understanding toward yourself.
From her studies, she identified three core elements of self-compassion:
Kindness: When we are suffering is when we most need to be kind to ourselves.
Shared Humanity: You are not alone in your suffering.
Mindful Awareness: When we meet our most challenging thoughts and emotions with curiosity (mindfulness) instead of judgment, we don’t over-identify with them or become consumed by them.
Compassion Focused Therapy for Eating Disorders (CFT-E)
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was first developed to target self-criticism and shame, as they were identified as key components of a number of mental health disorders.
CFT trains our minds (Compassionate Mind Training) to help us experience compassion, develop various aspects of compassion for ourselves and others, improve our abilities to self-soothe, and to foster the courage and wisdom we need to cope with difficult life events, memories or emotions.
CFT-E is designed to develop the compassionate self and use it to:
Develop sensitivity, awareness and understanding regarding the way eating and emotions have become linked.
Develop empathy for the self and the problems that the eating disorder may have tried to solve, as well as the unintended consequences of these attempts.
Develop wisdom around the challenges of recovery.
Develop motivation to care for the self in a way that is in one’s own best interests and therefore commit to engage in recovery.
Develop the confidence and courage needed to offer understanding, support, advice and encouragement to the self. (Goss & Allan, 2010, 2011)
Gentle, self-led compassion for the pain and suffering, and the gratitude for strategies that made life bearable at the time, are recognized in the course of therapy at Fairhaven. The journey of realizing that these extreme behaviors are no longer needed (in cases where they are not) and that the client can reclaim her joy is our goal.
You are not your eating disorder. Your eating disorder developed to protect you from severe emotional pain. Where self-loathing and disgust existed, there is a now a window with a small opening looking out toward self-compassion.
When you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to treat them with dignity and compassion. If you’d like to talk to someone about eating disorders, contact a specialist or a counselor at Fairhaven Treatment Center today.
Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS is the Founder and Executive Clinical Director of Fairhaven Treatment Center near Memphis, TN. Dr. McCann has over 30 years of experience in working with women and adolescents with symptoms of eating disorders of all kinds. Dr. McCann specializes in the treatment of eating disorders that are related to trauma and attachment disorder.