A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.
A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
— Christopher K. Germer,
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
I am saddened when I hear the stream of invalidating, critical, judgmental, negative, unloving comments that my clients verbalize about themselves. Not a day goes by in my psychotherapy and life-coaching practice where I don’t hear a client say something like this:
“It’s ridiculous that I’m upset about this.”
“I know it’s wrong to feel this way.”
“It’s idiotic that I can’t stop a behavior that is clearly destroying my health.”
“It’s stupid to feel anxious about this at my age.”
“It’s silly to be so bothered by this person.”
“It’s insane that I’m holding on to this and making myself ill over it.”
How often do you say critical things like this to yourself? Be honest.
When you’re experiencing recurring unpleasant feelings or familiar unmet needs and self-defeating thoughts, are you generally kind and gentle with yourself? Do you unconditionally accept all of your emotions, sensations, needs, and thoughts? Do you give yourself the empathy, compassion, warmth, and understanding you’d offer a close friend or family member?
Are you patient with yourself? Or do you have a tendency to invalidate what you’re feeling, needing, and thinking by criticizing and ridiculing yourself?
Most of us have past or present situations, events, issues, and relationships that we find difficult to accept. It’s challenging to forgive ourselves for mistakes and perceived failures. Emotional states such as disappointment, frustration, shame, remorse, guilt, and regret are not easy to live with or process. We’re often hard on ourselves, not only for the states we find ourselves in, but also for not getting over them quickly enough.
Unfortunately, our self-invalidation doesn’t stop there. Most of us have aspects of our bodies and personalities that we would change if we could. It’s difficult for us to accept our excess body fat, double chin, wrinkles, cellulite, acne, or body parts we believe to be too big, too small, or out of proportion. We long to have been born with different genes. We might wish we were younger, smarter, funnier, or more entrepreneurial, driven, or athletic, and we find it hard to accept what we believe are our shortcomings.
We compare ourselves endlessly with others and envy those who have the traits and bodies we would like to have. We find it challenging to accept and love ourselves unconditionally — flaws, bulges, scars, inadequacies, and all. Like a 24/7 newsfeed, a stream of invalidating commentary plays in our heads:
“I’m unattractive and dumpy looking at this weight.”
“I’m just not smart enough to change careers.”
“I’m too old to find a partner.”
In addition to voicing these explicit self-criticisms, we invalidate ourselves in sneaky ways. We may deny that we’re upset about something, disregarding our true emotions and invalidating our feeling self with an assertion like “I’m not bothered by this at all.” We might minimize our feelings and needs: “It’s not really a big deal that I got passed over for the promotion.” We might ignore or disregard our feelings, needs, or thoughts by distracting ourselves with pleasurable pastimes like watching television or eating.
But whether or not we’re aware of the many ways we invalidate ourselves, our minds, bodies, and spirits register this lack of compassion. Our relationship with food will remain imbalanced as long as we continue to treat ourselves poorly.
Self-validation involves three distinct steps. First, our Inner Nurturer communicates unconditional acceptance of our internal experiences. This means that when you’re anxious about the presentation you’re about to give, worried that you’re going to blow it, and in need of reassurance, your Inner Nurturer makes space for you to be nervous. Rather than judging, ignoring, or denying your inner experience, or trying too quickly to cheerlead you out of it, she gently and compassionately acknowledges it and lets you know that it is real, valid, and okay to feel everything you’re feeling, and that it’s all right to have worrisome thoughts and need reassurance.
This means that when you’re beginning to raise your voice because of something your partner just said, rather than blaming, shaming, or judging you, your Inner Nurturer reminds you that it’s acceptable to feel anger and to experience agitation in your body when you feel misunderstood. Your Inner Nurturer reassures you that it’s okay to have angry thoughts and need quality listening from your partner.
Unconditional acceptance means that when you get annoyed, tense, and grumpy because your elderly mother asks you the same question for the fifth time in ten minutes, your Inner Nurturer, rather than criticizing and making you feel guilty, kindly acknowledges these feelings as acceptable, okay to feel, and a natural part of eldercare.
In the second step of self-validation, your Inner Nurturer offers understanding to your feeling self. When you’re nervous before the presentation, your Inner Nurturer not only reassures you that it’s okay to feel this way, but also lets you know that it makes sense to feel this way, that it’s normal to feel anxiety when making a presentation to a large group. When you’re angry with your partner, your Inner Nurturer reminds you that not only is it acceptable to feel anger when you don’t feel heard, but it’s also understandable. When you’re frustrated with your elderly mother, your Inner Nurturer offers you understanding by saying something like “Of course you’re feeling frustrated — it’s exhausting to repeat yourself so many times.”
In the third step of self-validation, you notice what you’re experiencing in your body when you practice kind and compassionate self-talk. You may notice that your anxiety subsides and the agitation in your body is reduced. Perhaps you notice that your shoulders are relaxing, the churning in your stomach has stopped, and the tension in your jaw is gone. By noticing the effect your loving self-talk has on your body, you are strengthening the association in your brain between your Inner Nurturer’s soothing and comforting words and the easing of your unpleasant emotions and sensations. In the future, you’ll be able to calm down quickly just through knowing that your Inner Nurturer is on the scene, the same way a baby is soothed when she sees her mother’s face.
We’ve all experienced the comforting and soothing effects of external validation. When someone unconditionally accepts our internal experiences and offers us understanding, we immediately feel less reactive. Empathy and compassion always feel good. Rather than having to explain, defend, or justify what we’re experiencing, we feel listened to, accepted, and understood. This allows us to relax and become more receptive so that we can think more clearly, access our upstairs brain for reason and logic, think before we act, and better regulate our behavior. This translates into more sensible food choices.
Self-validation, like external validation, is comforting and soothing, and it helps lower emotional reactivity. It allows you to do for yourself what you have sought from others, and from food. The wisest part of you, your Inner Nurturer, comforts and reassures your feeling self, reminding her that all emotions and sensations are valid and okay to feel, and that there are no wrong feelings. She reminds you that feelings are precious messengers from within — street signs pointing you in the direction of your needs. She reassures you that it’s okay to have needs, any needs, at any point in our lives. We’re never too old to have needs. She comforts you by letting you know that all thoughts, even self-defeating thoughts, are acceptable and make sense in a given context. She meets you right where you are, in this moment, without judgment.
Step 1. Express Unconditional Acceptance of Internal Experiences
Many of us fear that accepting ourselves unconditionally translates into giving up and giving in to our own mediocrity, allowing ourselves to eat anything we want, anytime, and to stay on the couch watching our favorite movies all day. We fear that if we’re too kind and accepting of ourselves, we’ll just buy bigger clothes while the needle on the scale moves higher. We believe that our self-criticism and self-rejection are keeping us motivated.
Actually, the opposite is true. Self-rejection and self-criticism trigger both hopelessness and powerlessness. These states are not motivating: instead they lead to depression, isolation, resignation, apathy, and emotional eating.
Self-acceptance does not represent resignation, because it is not a matter of giving up. Rather, it is an act of giving. You give yourself the gift of kindness and compassion, which is at the core of any loving relationship. You give yourself the acknowledgment and acceptance that you did not receive enough of as a child.
In this first step of self-validation, our Inner Nurturer uses kind, loving, compassionate phrases to reassure our feeling self that the feelings, needs, and thoughts we are experiencing are acceptable and valid. It’s important that we remind ourselves every day that it’s okay to feel all of our feelings, and that it’s okay to have needs and to struggle with self-defeating thoughts.
Step 2. Offer Understanding of Internal Experiences
It’s natural for us, even as adults, to seek understanding from others. Life can be confusing and challenging at times. It feels comforting and calming to get feedback that what we’re experiencing is normal and makes sense. Feeling understood is a powerful experience, and it strengthens our resilience and helps us access our willingness to persevere.
We must also be capable of giving to ourselves the understanding that we seek from others. The truth is, you are in the best position to offer yourself the understanding you yearn for — you know what you’re going through and what you need better than anyone else. And you have a kind, loving, and wise voice within that is instantly available to offer you understanding.
In this second step, your Inner Nurturer reminds you that not only is it acceptable to feel any feeling, have any need, and think any thought, but that all of your feelings, needs, and thoughts are understandable as well.
Step 3. Notice Any Changes in Your Emotions and Bodily Sensations
Pay attention to how you feel when you offer yourself unconditional acceptance and understanding of your internal experiences. Keep in mind that when you’re first practicing self-validation, it may not be all that comforting or soothing. You’re new to using your Inner Nurturer voice, and it still feels awkward. Truth be told, you’d prefer to have someone else offer you acceptance and understanding, and that’s understandable too!
Keep up your practice. Over time, you’ll find that your Inner Nurturer is your most trusted, accessible, and reliable source of validation. It’s a powerful feeling to know that you can offer yourself the support and care you need without having to turn to external sources or substances.
Validation is a gift you give yourself, especially when you’re feeling bad about your actions. By reminding yourself that all feelings and behaviors make sense in a given context, you make it okay to make mistakes. Self-validation is a compassionate act, and it leads to acceptance and forgiveness.
Copyright ©2018 by Julie M. Simon.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library
When Food Is Comfort: Nurture Yourself Mindfully, Rewire Your Brain, and End Emotional Eating
by Julie M. Simon
If you regularly eat when you’re not truly hungry, choose unhealthy comfort foods, or eat beyond fullness, something is out of balance. When Food Is Comfort presents a breakthrough mindfulness practice called Inner Nurturing, a comprehensive, step-by-step program developed by an author who was herself an emotional eater. You’ll learn how to nurture yourself with the loving-kindness you crave and handle stressors more easily so that you can stop turning to food for comfort. Improved health and self-esteem, more energy, and weight loss will naturally follow.
Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach with more than twenty-seven years of experience helping overeaters stop dieting, heal their relationships with themselves and their bodies, lose excess weight, and keep it off. She is the author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and the founder of the popular Twelve-Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program. For more information and inspiration, visit Julie's website at www.overeatingrecovery.com.