PRACTICE WHEN THE IRON IS WARM, NOT HOT
It is helpful to practice getting your body back to neutral when your emotions arent extreme. Try an experience right now. Use your awareness to scan your body and notice any areas or places where you are holding your body in a tense way, like hunching your shoulders or tightly crossing your legs or craning your neck. Just try to change anything you notice by slowly unclenching, uncrossing, and loosening up the noticeable areas. Observe how you feel. This can be done in traffic, during an argument, lying in bed, or wherever you find yourself needing to neutralize a feeling. With practice, you will be able to do this whenever you want, even if the iron is hot (when the emotions are intense).
Feeling Worse While Getting Better
As you progress in your recovery, your feelings will become more noticeable or seem more intense. Reconnecting with the myriad feelings that have been covered up for so long may, at first, make you feel worse. Recovery involves learning to feel your feelings without using your eating disorder or any other destructive ways of escaping or masking them People, not just those with eating disorders, do all kinds of things to avoid, suppress, or distract from their feelings. Stealing, self-harm, and other compulsive behaviors and addictions are also common struggles of people who have not learned how to deal with their feelings or let others in to help them.
Sometimes You Just Need a Break
Despite the importance of dealing with your feelings, sometimes distracting yourself from the feelings you are having is useful. It is important to note that distraction is different from avoidance. Nonharmful forms of distraction can be used to divert your attention for a while if you feel there is nothing else you can really do about the situation, or until you are in a calmer, more rational state of mind.
You might go for a walk or play basketball. You might comfort yourself by taking a bath or listening to music. If your feelings are very intense, it may be easier to comfort yourself after some other form of distraction. Intense feelings may also require a distraction that matches the intensity of the feeling. For example, if you are extremely angry, taking a bath and relaxing might be too hard, while gardening or cleaning out your closet might work perfectly. The bath will probably feel better after something like this.
WHAT ACTIVE DISTRACTIONS CAN YOU USE?
Everyone is different, and what provides a good distraction for one person might bore another (think sports or shopping). Write down some things you think would be good distractions for you when you need to use them.
WHAT COMFORTS AND SOOTHES YOU?
Take a moment and think about what kinds of things or sensations feel comforting or soothing to you. Some ideas include a hot bath, a massage, sitting by a fire, listening to music, or reading. Write down a few ways to self-soothe that appeal to you.
Have Compassion for Yourself
Self-compassion is a critical ingredient when dealing with your thoughts and feelings. You probably find it far easier to be compassionate toward others than to yourself. Recovery requires you to explore your life, your thoughts, your behaviors, your problems and feelings, and then practice new skills. Self-observation is required, but if it leads only to self-reproach or judgment, it can end up making you feel worse about yourself instead of better.
Treat yourself with the kind of compassion you would show anyone else going through your situation. We venture to guess that you would not berate others for their feelings, or suggest to others in similar situations as yours that they starve, binge, purge, or self-harm to deal with their feelings. If you are like most of our clients, you not only feel compassion for others, but can also offer good advice when they need help. Why would you treat yourself any differently?
ASSESS YOUR SELF-COMPASSION
Read each statement listed below and put a check next to all that apply.
1. I often feel undeserving.
2. I have a hard time accepting and sharing my flaws.
3. When something bad happens, I blame myself.
4. I treat others better than I treat myself.
5. I feel bad practicing self-care.
6. I’m judgmental of myself.
7. I have a hard time forgiving myself.
Add up how many check marks you have. Total:
Newsflash: If you are like most of our clients, you need to turn some attention to how you think about, talk to, and treat yourself. Even if you only checked one item, you could use some help practicing self-compassion and self-care.
The good news is that self-compassion is something we learn, not something we have or do not have. While you can learn self-compassion, your old habits are well entrenched, so it takes continued practice to achieve it. That might sound discouraging, but it is no different than practicing patience, meditation, playing an instrument, or yoga. The more we practice something, the better we are at it.
We will come back to self-compassion in Key 6, but we suggest you also explore other resources.
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