Self-compassion

A month ago I wrote about my tendency to take on the role of SuperWoman to myself and others. At the time, I recognized the troubling aspects of this voice and vowed to speak kindly to the go-getter in me, thanking her for her efforts and releasing her from her role. The next day I read my blog post to my partner. His candid response was, “That’s great, Meg. Do you think it will stick?” I paused. “This time, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson,” I said. “I’m done with trying to prove myself and be efficient and impress others.” Ahem. Yep. Not so much.

I am who I am. I am driven, compelled, obsessed (?!). I tackle everything on my to do list like it has to be done now and it has to be better than the last time. I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a child, every moment spent playing would be more interesting or memorable than the last. I would make it so! As a teen, every journal entry would be more inspired. I know I can do it! As a college student, every boyfriend would be closer to my perfect match. If I just try harder, he has to be out there! As an adult, every difficult moment in life will be my greatest lesson. I WILL grow wiser…even if I die trying!

Cue my new superhero: Self-Compassion. This is something I have read about, practiced (loosely) in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, and preached to my clients. Yet, it wasn’t until I was tackling another thing on my to do list last week that it dawned on me just how essential self-compassion is…for me and for all of us.

As I sat down to watch a recorded workshop by self-compassion “guru” Kristen Neff, PhD, I thought, “Let me just watch this on fast-forward and then take the online exam and get these CEUs out of the way.” But she opened with a guided meditation for self-compassion and I thought, “Well, this might be nice. I’ll just listen for a while and then skip ahead.” I ended up listening to the whole thing. And I felt better. It was as if all the rough, jagged edges of my inner struggle were softening. I began seeing my compulsive drive to succeed as it is, without judging it as good or bad. I felt as if I was breathing more easily (or for the first time). I cried. As the tears spilled down my cheeks, I gave myself a gentle hug and rocked from side to side. It was one of several suggested physical gestures of kindness that Dr. Neff says is part of compassion. And it felt so good. I realized how much I wanted to be held and rocked…how much the inner child in me misses being taken care of by others instead of having to do everything myself. And I felt relieved. I felt okay, as I am. That moment of self-compassion opened my heart to the power of self-love.

In her workshop, Dr. Neff shares oodles of research on the positive impact of self-compassion, not just on ourselves, but on others. She shared a personal story about how showing herself compassion while her autistic son was having a meltdown on an airplane actually calmed him down, too. This makes so much sense to me. And it makes me want all of us to be kinder to ourselves. We need it. Our world needs it!

So here are the three components of self-compassion for those who want to begin practicing it: 1) mindfulness of suffering; 2) recognition of our common humanity; and 3) kindness to self. Mindfulness of suffering goes against our inclination. We want to avoid it, right? I used to avoid my emotional pain by over-eating , restricting, or over-exercising. Now I over-work. It’s still avoidance of pain. So, being mindful of my suffering involves taking a breath, turning toward it, and saying, “This is a moment of suffering.” or “This is really hard for me.” or “This hurts.” Then, I can remind myself that others have probably hurt like this, too. (We want to claim ownership of this pain and believe that no one else in the history of humanity has ever suffered this way. But really…!) Lastly, I can show myself some kindness — something as simple as sitting still and breathing or resting my hands over my heart or giving myself a gentle hug.

Since watching Dr. Neff’s DVD, my eyes have been opened to how often I am self-critical and how much in need I am of self-compassion. If you’d like something more concrete than what I shared, I encourage you to listen to any or all of Dr. Neff’s self-compassion meditations on her website (Click here).

I hope that you grow in self-awareness and self-compassion. It’s certainly the next step on my journey.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

On Being Superwoman

In about a month, I’ll be leaving my job of almost six years and starting two new part-time jobs. The intensity of my current job has increased recently and I’m finding it difficult to simultaneously keep up with all of the paperwork and training requirements of signing on to my new jobs.

“You’ve got this, Meg! You’re superwoman! Just sleep a little less, work a little harder. Don’t let anything slip. Show your new bosses how much you can handle!”, says an insidious voice within me.

The voice is very familiar. It’s a cousin of “Ed”, the former voice of my eating disorder. Ed’s comments were always focused on calories, food, weight, shape, and exercise. Ed’s underlying fear was gaining weight; gaining weight to Ed meant I was a “failure” or “unworthy” or “unlikable”.

This voice, which seems encouraging at first, is anything but. It pushes me to ignore my emotional, physical and spiritual needs. Just like Ed. It tries to manage anxiety for me by dictating my behavior. Just like Ed. It puts conditions on my worth and likability. Just like Ed.

This Superwoman voice is just another manifestation of my False Self, my ego. But tonight I recognize it and am speaking words of compassion to it from my True Self:

“Superwoman, I know you’re scared. I know you think you won’t measure up in your new jobs. I know you’re sad to leave beloved co-workers and clients. I know you’re unsure about how you’ll connect with your new clients in this new setting. I know your way of managing that fear, sadness and uncertainty is by telling me to stay busy, to try harder, to get things done a week before the deadline, to prove myself worthy of these new roles. But your way is not helpful to me. Your way wears me down. It causes me to ignore my needs until I’m exhausted and depleted. So, tonight I choose a different way. I choose to sit in stillness and listen to my needs. I choose to respond to my needs. I choose to communicate to my new employers about my need for more time. I choose to remind myself that I was hired because they believe I’m a good fit for the role. I choose to believe that God wants me to be still. I choose to believe that I am already beloved: just as I am without having to do or change or prove a single thing. So, thank you for trying to protect me, Superwoman, but I know how to protect myself…with self-compassion, self-awareness, humility, and love.”

How are your inner voices (Perfectionism, Superhero, Ed, Victim, etc) dictating how you behave? Are you willing to practice self-compassion and speak kindly to that voice? What False Self need (esteem/affection, safety/security, or power/control) is driving you today? Are you willing to take time to tune into the immutable True Self which already knows your needs and how to meet them?

Peace to you on your journey,

Megan

Thriving and Giving Thanks

Last week I facilitated a workshop for students with disordered eating called “Thrive! Don’t Just Survive Thanksgiving”. Attendees were invited to anticipate stressors that could make them more vulnerable to relapse in their recovery. Then each individual created a list of coping skills to deal with those stressors. I was in awe of the number of skills they identified: walk away from the table; take some mindful breaths; text a supportive friend; watch a funny movie; have a discussion with family ahead of time about feelings and needs; listen to uplifting music; and self-soothe in healthy ways.

I enjoyed leading the workshop because I can easily recall a time when holiday meals were agonizing. Food was “the enemy”. I told myself I had “no self-control” and believed if I was around foods I enjoyed (pretty much everything on the Thanksgiving table), I wouldn’t be able to stop eating. I would gain weight. And, to my warped mind, fat was the biggest enemy of all.

It has been eleven years since I began my recovery journey. I still have some fear-based thoughts about food: Am I eating too much? Have I eaten enough variety of nutrients? Did I exercise this morning? Should I eat fewer calories tomorrow? But, thankfully, those thoughts are fleeting. At this point, I’m able to mindfully notice them and gently send them on their way. They are a remnant of my former way of thinking, my former behaviors. They do not consume me now.

One thing that has really helped me thrive, at Thanksgiving and every day, is being grateful. It’s easy to be thankful for the obvious blessings of family, friends, freedom, food, shelter, and companionship with my cat. But I’m also learning (slowly) how to be grateful for even the pain and difficulties in my life.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll start (or continue) a routine of gratitude. There are many small ways to give thanks — a thought, word, or written note; a gesture of kindness; a pay-it-forward moment; or even by contributing your time, talent, or treasure to a charity of your choice. However you choose to give thanks, take the time to do so. Eating disorders thrive on fear and secrecy. Open-hearted gratitude is the cure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

Coping with Change

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A month ago, I spent time helping my partner find and furnish a new apartment. Two weeks ago my annual 8-week summer break ended and I returned to my job as a college counselor. On Friday morning I had the opportunity to welcome dozens of first-year students to campus as they moved into their residence halls. Saturday I offered a workshop called “Endings, Beginnings, and Transitions: Adjusting to College Life”. It’s safe to say that “coping with change” has been on my mind for some time.

When I look back at my past difficulties with Binge-Eating Disorder, I realize that my most significant binges began with an intense emotional response to change. I didn’t have the tools back then to cope with change. It evoked fear, anger, and sadness, none of which I wanted to feel. I described myself (and others described me) as a happy person, kind and gentle and hopeful. How could I reconcile that label with feeling afraid, angry, sad, or hopeless?

Fortunately, my years in recovery and my professional experience as a counselor have taught me that I can still be “a happy person” who feels the full range of human emotion. I’ve learned that I can recognize and sit with my feelings and they won’t drown me; they usually subside on their own. But when they don’t, I now know how to redirect my attention to the present moment using mindfulness meditation or just the principle of non-resistance to the way things are.

If you’re struggling to cope with change, you’re not alone. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the fear, anger, and sorrow of letting go of what’s familiar. Be gentle with yourself and know that whatever you’re feeling is okay. It will eventually (or soon) pass. If you need to talk about your feelings with someone, do so. A trusted friend, family member, clergy person, or counselor can validate and normalize your feelings, help you problem-solve or find other resources, or just distract you from the intensity of your feelings.

Consider learning about mindfulness and starting your own mindfulness practice. There are many guided meditations on YouTube, as well as books about the practice of mindfulness. I’m currently reading “The Mindful Way through Anxiety” by Orsillo and Roemer and “How to Be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving” by Richo. Find what would be most helpful to you and give yourself the gift of accepting change, accepting your feelings, and accepting support from others.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

39 Experiences I’ve Had Before Turning 39

A friend of mine shared with me an article called, “40 Experiences Everyone Should Have Before They Turn 40”. After joking with her that I have over 14 months before reaching that milestone, I looked at the article. It’s an ambitious (and expensive) list of places to see, culinary experiences to have, events to take part in, and ways to give back to others. While I certainly felt drawn to a handful of experiences listed, I was reminded that my greatest moments of fulfillment and enjoyment were not had while pushing my body to its limits, eating a fancy meal, or indulging in an expensive bottle of wine. In fact, the greatest moments in my life weren’t even had while traveling abroad, though I’ve traveled extensively.

No, the experiences that stand out for me in my (almost) 39 years on this planet are those that have connected me inward (to myself), upward (to God/Spirit), and outward (to others). They are moments of gentleness, simplicity, humility, honesty, openness, and trust. These virtues are not often valued by the world, but they have contributed to what I believe are 39 years well-lived, despite many mistakes and challenges.

So, in anticipation of my 39th birthday (a long seven weeks off), I thought I’d share my list of 39 Experiences I’ve Had Before Turning 39. Perhaps you’ve had some of them, too.

1. Cart-wheeled as an adult in a public place

2. Cried in front of a friend

3. Gained wisdom from the stories told by my grandparents

4. Pulled over to the side of the road just to pick wildflowers

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5. Walked away from and returned to God

6. Laughed at myself

7. Practiced meditation, centering prayer, and yoga

8. Named my inner child (“Henrietta”)

9. Talked out loud to animals while out for a walk

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10. Experienced rich blessings by connecting with the homeless, hungry, and marginalized

11. Wrote a letter to my favorite author

12. Grew roots in a faith community

13. Apologized for hurts I’ve caused

14. Faced my fear of public speaking, singing, and acting

15. Marveled at the beauty of Creation

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16. Followed God’s call to become a counselor and then a spiritual director

17. Rode in a hot air balloon

18. Sent love poems to boyfriends

19. Recovered from an eating disorder

20. Practiced forgiving others

21. Forgave myself

22. Shared my story with others

23. Gave a cat a forever home

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24. Sought support from counselors, spiritual directors, and pastors

25. Prayed for my “enemies”, those who despise me

26. Developed friendships deeper than I thought possible

27. Visited war memorials on Memorial Day

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28. Thanked a veteran on Veterans Day

29. Learned about the difference between healthy and unhealthy love

30. Went back to school…twice

31. Attended high school and college reunions

32. Nursed an injured cat back to health

33. Read my favorite novel out loud to my partner

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34. Practiced self-expression through creative arts

35. Remained close with my mom, dad, and brother

36. Let go of “what might be” in order to embrace “what is”

37. Learned the value of stillness

38. Lived alone

39. Loved and lost and loved and lost and loved…

As I review this list, I feel deeply satisfied and content. Sure, it would be nice to experience some of the things on that other list, but at (almost) 39 this feels like a great start.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

Developing Assertiveness

When I was in fifth grade, my “boyfriend” gave me his soccer photo. It was love at first sight. He was cute, athletic, and had a last name that fit nicely with my first (in other words, I could marry him!). However, our relationship lasted only a few weeks. It came to an abrupt and icy end when I refused to let him kiss me while we were at the movies on a double date. I not only refused, I got sick to my stomach! The next school day, it was clear I was no longer wanted. My ten year old self was devastated.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of my relationship history. Unfortunately, it did change my relationship dynamics for decades to come. In middle school, high school, college, grad school, and beyond, I was known by my partners for being “nice”, “sweet”, and “so giving”.

It wasn’t until ten years ago, following my divorce and at the start of my journey to recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, that I realized that “nice” was synonymous with “agreeable” which was synonymous with “conflict avoidant”. It all started to make sense. In fifth grade, I said “no” and lost a friend. After that, I avoided conflict at all costs. I never pushed back or disagreed. I adopted the interests of my partner. I sacrificed my own desires in order to satisfy my partner’s. I easily forgave injustices. I ignored emotional abuse. I said “yes” to sexual requests even when I didn’t want to. I did whatever it would take to avoid conflict. I did so because I couldn’t tolerate the potential consequences of saying “no” or disagreeing or individuating. I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want to evoke anger, or disappoint someone, or risk rejection.

But, in 2006, I found my voice. My counselor at the time introduced me to a book called, Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Living. The book was instrumental in helping me recognize my right to assert my feelings and needs. Developing assertiveness became a major step in my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder. I began by practicing with my inner critic, pushing back against its demands that I restrict calories and countering its negativity with positive self-talk. Over time, that became easier. As my body image and self-esteem improved, I learned to say, “I am okay” even if someone is mad at me, doesn’t agree with me, or chooses to no longer be my friend.

And with some additional help over the years, I’ve explored my underlying beliefs about conflict and learned skills to help me better tolerate anger (my own and others’). My work is not over. I still fall back into conflict avoidant behavior at times. I still struggle to feel and express my anger. But I know I have a right to assert myself. In fact, I have a responsibility to do so in order to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

If you’re struggling with assertiveness, consider talking to a professional or checking out the following resources:

Assertiveness

Assertiveness Training Institute

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan

 

“ERC Saved Our Son and Became Part of Our Family: A Parent’s Story”

On this final day leading up to the Eating Recovery Center’s first annual Eating Recovery Day, I share with you these words of gratitude from a mom whose son has benefited from the supportive environment and treatment at Eating Recovery Center: ERC Saved Our Son and Became Part of Our Family.

Over the past nine days, it has been my honor to be included in this “Recovery Roundup”, in which bloggers have shared their recovery wisdom with others. I’ve received more encouraging words for my own journey and have benefited from the reminder that we are never alone in our struggles. We need only to turn our heads and notice the supportive people around us and then open our hearts to receive that support, always taking it one moment at a time.

Recovery is, indeed, a journey not a destination. I’m blessed to have met some new friends who I now know journey with me.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan