“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” By Claire El’Jor
Posted on October 24th, 2018
I had the pleasure of meeting Claire at UCL where we quickly bonded over our interests in the non-diet approach to nutrition, as well as Intuitive Eating. Claire wrote her student dissertation on self-compassion and how this intersects with health and body image, given these important topics I am so grateful Claire was interested in sharing her findings.
Over to Claire….
Self-compassion is a rather novel concept and has been researched in association with several psychosocial variables such as depression, stress, and overall psychological wellbeing. It has also been researched as a potential protective factor when it comes to body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders.
So what exactly is self-compassion?
This construct is described by Neff as giving ourselves the same kindness and care we would give to a friend and, in general, is involved with offering non-judgmental understanding to one’s own shortfalls and failures. In other words, being more kind, more forgiving, less blaming, and more empathetic to your own self.
My dissertation from my MSc in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition at UCL was a cross-sectional study looking into the role self-compassion plays in body image dissatisfaction among Lebanese university students.
The main results indicated that:
- Higher levels of body image dissatisfaction were significantly positively correlated with physical appearance comparison, depression, anxiety, and stress in addition to media influence.
- Higher levels of self-compassion were significantly negatively correlated with body image dissatisfaction.
- Participants with a positive ED risk had a higher levels of body image dissatisfaction and lower levels of self-compassion.
- Physical appearance comparison, anxiety, and media influence were all unique predictors of body image dissatisfaction.
- After controlling for the above variables, the self-compassion subscale of self-judgement was found to be a unique predictor of body image dissatisfaction.
What does this mean?
Body image is related to media, self-comparison, and negative emotional variables such as anger, guilt and sadness.
Higher levels of self-compassion are related to lower levels of body image dissatisfaction.
People at risk for EDs showed higher body image dissatisfaction and lower self-compassion.
Self-comparison, anxiety, and media were all stand-alone predictors of whether or not someone would have high body image dissatisfaction.
After controlling or keeping all other variables constant self-judgement was a stand-alone predictor of body image dissatisfaction.
Basically, my study just adds to a list of research that has found that self-compassion is related to a whole bunch of good things (you can find the literature on here).
Not only was finding these results super exciting for me since most of my hypotheses were confirmed, but it was also so interesting to see it all right in front of me from a study that I came up with myself showing what we all need to know … SELF-COMPASSION ROCKS!
So how is self-compassion related to body image?
Going back to the definition of self-compassion, it is easy to see why this construct is related to body image. When you treat yourself like you would a friend, you are more forgiving and less blaming, and you are less likely to be harsh on yourself when it comes to your appearance. In the context of social media which was also looked into in my study, self-compassion may act as a buffer between viewing highly edited media images and our feelings of body dissatisfaction.
For example, if I see a photoshopped picture of someone on the beach and I am high in self-compassion, I am more likely to tell myself “This is photoshopped, of course you don’t look like her!”, which is what one might tell a friend if they started comparisons with “Instagram models”.
So how does one practice self-compassion?
Becoming more self-compassionate isn’t something that can just happen overnight. It can take time and energy to change engrained thoughts so give yourself plenty of space to make mistakes as you go, this is the whole ethos of self-compassion after all.
Start by being kind to yourself and removing self-blame and stop putting yourself down.
Reframe your thoughts into forgiving ones. Forgive yourself. You’re only human.
In the context of body image…embrace your body for the way that it is. How would you talk to a friend who was worried about the way he or she looked? I’m sure you would not talk to them the same way you talk to yourself … you’d probably be nicer and less blaming!
Today, just for one day, I want you to pay attention to your thoughts. As soon as you notice negative self-talk, stop it in its tracks. First of all, acknowledge that these thoughts are there. Then think about how you would talk to a friend about the same thing. Reform the thought in that way.
This could look something like this:
Original thought: Arghh I’m so *insert insult here*. I look nothing like all my other friends! I wish I … (you know how this goes!)
Reformed thought: I may not look like all my friends, but no one in the world looks exactly alike. That’s what makes us all unique. We are all smart and nice people and we are lucky to have such a great group of friends!
It takes practice, but you are worthy of being loved by your own self! I’d also recommend Neff’s site for some brilliant resources and meditations.
Claire is a licensed dietitian, with a background in both psychology and nutrition, currently setting up her practice in Jounieh, Lebanon where she hopes to help clients with eating disorders and disordered eating. You can visit her site www.claire-eljor.com for more information. Her paper is currently under submission for publication so watch this space.