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You Can’t Criticize Yourself into Confidence!

Have you ever struggled with your body image? Have you ever tried to fix this issue by engaging in behaviors like: positive affirmations, going on a diet, self-criticism, or seeking reassurance from a loved one?


There are interventions you can start TODAY which will help you to make steps to increase your increase your kindness towards yourself and help you to engage in kindhearted responses to yourself. There are countless research studies which prove how impactful negative self-talk or degrading thoughts can have on your self-esteem and your body image. Instead of positive affirmations- take a look at this skill of self-compassion. First let’s explore what self-compassion is.


What is the Definition of Self-Compassion?


The art of practicing self-compassion is learning how to be compassionate towards yourself the way you would be to a loved one. The definition of self-compassion (from one of the most notable professionals in the field) Kristen Neff is as stated on her website:


Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “This is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”


One of the biggest misconceptions people often have about self-compassion is that if they practice being compassionate, they will be viewed as “egotistical” or “making excuses for making mistakes”. On the contrary- people who are self-compassionate are often more mentally flexible with themselves and others. They also show higher rates of self-esteem and lower rates of judgment of themselves and others. People often feel uncomfortable acknowledging their own pain or suffering because of the fears of the negative because of the fears they may have. They often feel as if they “should be stronger” or as if their pain “wasn’t a big deal.” If you cannot validate your own pain/ difficulty or emotional pain (no matter how trivial you may see it) it is near impossible to gain self-esteem. Think about a friend- how much would you confide in them or look to them for support if they constantly put you down or disregarded your pain/ suffering? The likelihood you would feel comfortable or continue to confide in this relationship would likely drop or the relationship would possibly discontinue.





Some Simple Steps for Self-Compassion


If you are wanting to take the steps to learn how to be more compassionate to yourself, there are a few simple things to keep in mind. Start by envisioning someone you love unconditionally. This tends to be family members, best friends, partners, or even pets! Think about how you would talk to that individual if they made a mistake? Now compare the response you have to this individual to your personal self-talk/ responses if you were to make the same mistake. Does it feel different? If so, how could you adjust your internal or external dialogue to match a compassionate response you would give to a loved one.


Now, think of body image. This tends to be more difficult for people to be compassionate about because our culture has largely made it acceptable (and almost expected) to body shame ourselves in public settings. It is seen as abnormal to be compassionate towards the way your body looks in our society, and body shaming bonding is a way people often connect. If you are unable to see your looks in a compassionate way- start with appreciating what your body does for you. Are you appreciative for the wind you feel as you walk outside? Or that your body can take you to new places or to experience different things? Identification and appreciation of the things your body can do for you can be compassionate in itself because you are learning how to look at your body as more than an ornaments and as a vessel that can help you to experience different activities.


Lastly, it is important to recognize that difficult emotions to hold (e.g., anger, sadness, disappointment) do not dictate our worth/ success or lovability. Although these emotions are often not coveted feelings, they are important to express and validate while also not putting too much meaning into emotions. One of the biggest barriers people struggle with is knowing the difference between feeling a certain way- and the emotion representing something about themselves. For example, you can feel as if you failed a test- and it does not mean you actually failed. You can also “feel like you are a bad person” and it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Generally, with body image issues people feel unattractive and so they think that they must change the way their body looks to feel attractive. Granted, this is an uncomfortable emotion-but feeling unattractive doesn’t mean that there is anything you need to change about your body. Maybe it’s a bad body image day, maybe diet culture is impacting you, or maybe you just woke up not being excited about your looks (which Is ABSOLUTELY normal).


Learning how to be kind to yourself is an invaluable skill. Times of self-doubt, difficult changes, relationship issues, and overall pain/suffering are unfortunately unavoidable. If you are used to engaging in a large amount of self-criticism, try walking through some of these basic steps to adjust critical thinking. If you are looking to explore this further- check out Kristen Neff’s information (some resources provided below). Body criticism is an extensive and complicated issue- I encourage all to carve out some time every day to practice self-compassionate responses, exploring self-compassion exercises/ techniques, or trying out different workbooks to support you on this journey. Included below are resources you can use to support you to start practicing self-compassion skills to support your views of yourself and your body.


- Deanna Smith, LCSW


This blog is not meant as therapeutic advice, rather to provide education. If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, or body image issues know that there are many educated qualified mental health therapists and dieticians who are well-versed in these complicated issues. Please seek therapeutic & nutritional support if disordered eating or body image concerns are impacting your life.


Resources


-The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength and Thrive author: Kristin Neff

-The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook by Tim Desmond





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