Random acts of kindness

I hear a lot about self-esteem in therapy. "Work on your self-esteem," they say. Do affirmations. Give yourself a manicure/pedicure. Take a bubble bath.

Um, okay.

Not that these things are bad at all. But they're not me.

I saw this article awhile ago, then, and was intrigued. "Be kind to yourself and cure your eating disorder." I have no illusions (never did) that being nice to myself would magically cure me of anorexia. If only!* However, ED professionals in the UK are pioneering a new therapy called Compassionate Mind Therapy (CMT) to help people "develop strategies to treat themselves in a compassionate way." CMT seems essentially a form of cognitive behavioral therapy; here, instead, you replace ineffective/harmful behaviors with ones that are more compassionate.

One of the psychologists using CMT with his patients had this to say:

[He] thought that this would be a good focus for the work he was doing with patients with eating disorders: “They experience high levels of shame and self-criticism, and CMT helps people to develop the ability to soothe themselves at times of emotional distress. For example, bingeing is often used as a way of promoting a positive or neutral emotional state to avoid anxiety, anger or shame. If people can activate the self-soothing system they won’t need to engage in bingeing to manage difficult feelings.”

Gilbert explains that it is a case of replacing one set of emotions with another. “So instead of self-anger or contempt, there is self-kindness and warmth. This is
the same as in therapy for anxiety in which people are taught relaxation
exercises because they can’t feel anxious and relaxed at the same

Interestingly, part of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT**) involves emotion regulation and self-soothing. And researchers at Duke found that self-compassion worked better at helping people deal with negative events.

Many people with eating disorders are perfectionists, people who tend to criticize themselves relentlessly. So even if therapies like CMT don't help you recover, per se, it can help you stay in recovery and learn better life skills to prevent relapse.

*I have major problems with this headline. When will they say "Food cures anorexia"?
**Don't you just love acronyms?

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mary said...

Compassion towards oneself may be a good start along with nourishment.
While we are all wired differently it does seem that there are definite traits that would make an ED more likely to thrive and be happy, and being displeased with oneself or too picky is certainly one of them. Save this for building bridges and other things where detail is relevant. Just make sure that you have a place to let your hair down on the off hours.
Words like "cure" may be misleading because changing ones patterns is work, sometimes hard work, sometimes fun work.(all perception) And of course because we know there's more to it than simply being kind to oneself. One can like themselves very much and still struggle with an ED. In a sick mind an ED may even seem rewarding and kind.
On the other hand the word "cure" is alluring and calls in everyone. We all love a "cure" and I know some people I'd love to "cure" including me at times.
I do like that support is being given to help learn to choose a different way to cope and perceive. It's good that they are looking for different ways to support this as there are many more illnesses besides ED's that it can be used with. It's so much better that they are directing towards kindness because I have a hunch that it would be easy to pummel everyone at times. ; O

Anonymous said...

This is very nice, Carrie. There's someone I want to pass this on to.

zubeldia said...

Hi Carrie, in Tibetan Buddhist meditation (which a lot of these new therapies borrow from, I believe), there is a loving-kindness meditation which sounds a lot like this. Part of it involves extending loving-kindness to self and to others. Another practice is called "tonglen', which again involves compassion and the cultivation of empathy. They have done brain scans on Buddhist monks which shows how brain chemistry and the part of the brain which registers compassion/empathy changes the more one practices.

There is so much for us to learn from traditional health modalities. I know that this form of practice has helped me a great deal.

take care,

Rachel said...

That's interesting that you should bring up Buddhism, Zubeldia. I credit Buddhism as a strong force in my own eating disorder recovery. I was attracted to Buddhism because it seemed to epitomize what I already believed, especially its emphasis on moral and cruelty-free living. It took a while, but eventually I began to apply the same principles I extended to others, to myself.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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