Swap guilt and shame for hope and support

by Dr. Ellen Cullman, FLT Columnist

Say you are on a diet and you “blow it.” You did not intend to gorge and now you feel miserable. You know you will physically recover from this episode of “food abuse,” but how will you do emotionally? Eating issues usually carry large servings of guilt and shame that can seem to be endless. How do you recover from that kind of overdose? While you readily offer compassion to a friend in a similar situation, what do you say to yourself?

Psychologist Kristin Neff, Ph.D. (www.self-compassion.org) has found that mindful-self-compassion garners resilience when you catch yourself in the vice of self-judgment. Her research suggests three self-compassion skills.  he and another psychologist, Christopher Germer, Ph.D. (www.mindfulselfcompassion.org), have developed ways to teach it. Just think—you could learn to move quickly from your punishing inner conversation to one of hope and support. Let us look at the three self-compassion skills: mindful-awareness, loving-kindness and common humanity. 

First, calm yourself down and move into self-awareness. You do not need to push your negative feelings away. Instead, just observe them as if from a distance, paying attention in the “here and now” just as you are in that moment and without judgment. It is for those feelings that you offer to yourself compassion. 

The second ingredient is loving-kindness. This means treating yourself with love and kindness like you would a friend with similar feelings. This reminds me of the often-repeated Bible verse to “love your neighbor as you do yourself “ (Mark 12:31). So when you suffer, fail or feel inadequate, extend warmth and understanding to yourself as you soothe your negative feelings and nurture a caring relationship with yourself—just as you do with others.

Finally, while embracing your negative feelings with loving-kindness, consider that you are not alone in your suffering. We all share a common humanity and, therefore, have warts, moles and scars as well as wonderful attributes. Speak your wonderful attributes that you know you have to yourself, remembering that everyone suffers as you do (www.jeanfain.com). It is part of being human.      

This is a short review of mindful-self-compassion. For a fuller understanding, the websites I have noted above offer free online meditations and videos as well as suggested reading. I can also help you. My contact information is below. Just know you are not alone. You will discover that learning the skill of mindful-self-compassion teaches you resilience in the face of any belittling experience you may encounter.                 

See more of Dr. Cullman’s columns at www.firstlocaltoledo.com/columnists/dr-ellen-cullman. Email mindfuleatingcoach@gmail.com or call 419-494-7699 for information about how you can begin mindfully eating. Dr. Cullman is available for individual sessions, presentations and seminars.