What does Self-Compassion Mean?

Hi, this is Shelley Treacher from the Stress & Anxiety Recovery Podcast.

Today I’ll be talking about your relationship with yourself. This is probably the most important relationship you are ever going to have. I’ll talk about how to be compassionate with yourself.

This podcast is in two parts. The first part is a response to a question provided by a listener.


Part 1 – Q&A – How to Help a Child with Overeating

But first, I have a question that’s come in. It’s a good question. I’m so glad this one has come up because it’s a popular subject! Often my clients’ first concern is what they’re translating to their children or what they’re passing on to their children about eating. The question has come in of how to talk to a child who overeats.

This is such a great question because in answering it, it’s going to address some of the issues that we have as adults. It’s just there are a couple of more things that you can specifically do with children and in your family.

I’ll also recommend a couple of books on this subject in the information part of this podcast. But this is a subject that I’ll return to later in the podcast in a couple of weeks as well.


1. Understand what’s behind the eating

So, just as with you, the first thing to try and understand is what’s behind the eating. It might be something physical or physiological, but it’s also most likely to be something emotional. So as an ongoing question, keep being curious about what’s going on for your child that they might need to comfort eat.


2. Let go of portion control

You probably already know that I am anti-portion control, because it’s shaming, and it will make someone feel worse. This is no less with children. It’s our default mechanism to want to control and help our children, so sometimes we might panic and think, “I need to restrict how much they eat”.

But that’s the worst thing that you can do. I mean, you know what it’s like when you’ve been to the doctor or your trainer, or you’ve sat around the dining table with your parents, and somebody has said that you should eat less, or that you might want to eat less, or let’s help you eat less.

– That’s portion control, and it doesn’t feel good, does it? It never feels good. How do you feel when somebody says that? That’s how your child might feel if you tell them to eat less or that what they’re eating is too much. They’re going to feel shame and they will likely carry on eating, it’s just that you won’t see it because they’ll do it in secret.

The unfortunate consequence is you won’t be able to educate them anymore because they will have switched off to you. You’ll have much more chance of doing that if they’re sitting in front of you overeating.


3. Don’t make food ‘bad’. Slow down instead.

The third thing to do is not make food bad. Food is a good thing! We need food to survive, and it can be very pleasurable to eat. But that’s the point. You know as a binge eater you don’t take pleasure in overeating anymore, do you? It usually goes down quite quickly. The thing here is to start educating your child on eating slower. Perhaps as a family, eat more mindfully around the dinner table. This is also a subject that I’m going to talk about in a podcast later.


4. Talk about responding to hunger

The fourth thing is to start educating your child about when they might be responding to hunger or to something else. Educating yourself is the first thing to do. This might be something that you could learn together.

You can also educate your child and yourself about the fact that in this culture we rely on external substances or each other rather than our internal resources for reassurance and comfort. You can start to teach your child as an ongoing project that there are many ways to manage how you feel. I will talk more about this next week.

The best thing you can do is learn it yourself and then pass on that education. Trust me, once you start learning this, you won’t be able to help but pass it on. It’s difficult not to talk about this stuff once you start learning it!

So start with your child by explaining that this is what we all do, to some extent. We instinctively squash uncomfortable feelings with something else that makes it more tolerable. The more you say things like this, the more they’ll understand that they might have inner resources to deal with stuff.


5. Get to know what your child likes

But lastly, there’s another thing that you can try. When you notice that your child is about to overeat, about to ask for seconds, or wants more food, try introducing something else that might give them comfort. Get to know what your child enjoys, and what your child is enthusiastic about, what makes them happy, what makes them excited, what gets them motivated, and see if you can do that thing together instead of overeating.

You’ll likely both develop inner resources around doing this. And it’s, it’s also quite likely that what your child values most is time with you. So give that one a go.

I have an example from my own life in this. I won’t go into too much detail, but I have a couple of friends who I visit regularly, and we always eat. But we also always have seconds. This is something that I don’t do on my own at home. I never think to have seconds. And I started to get curious about why I do that when I’m with my friends who I’m close to. I realised that even in my life, it’s subtle how there still might be an emotional anxiety or an insecurity or something underneath that’s making me want to eat more.

With my friends, I decided not to eat seconds and to express how I felt instead. I’ve got to say it was really enjoyable! It’s none of my business that they still eat seconds. I might share my experience, but I would never expect them to change their habits. I’m not in the business of criticising anybody for overeating. It’s not even my place to say that is overeating! That’s completely individual, isn’t it? But I just thought it was interesting for me to recognise that there is still an emotional element to eating for me.

So this is something that you and your family might want to discover together. You might also want to be curious about your family’s habits around food, and what you might be communicating to your children about it. Then introduce this idea of getting to know each other better instead, especially with pleasurable things.

That’s it for the questions this week. You know I’m really happy to hear any more questions. I’d love to hear if you’ve got anything that you want to be answered.


07:59 Part 2 – What does Self-Compassion Mean?

We’ve just been talking about curiosity about yourself. This leads nicely to talking about your relationship with yourself and today’s topic. One of the questions I’ve been asked recently is what is compassion? To be able to answer that question, I believe we have to explore what your relationship is with yourself.

We need to look at what compassion is not, first of all. The kind of relationship you have with yourself determines whether you give up binge eating because the habit is all about how you treat yourself.

The first thing to say about this is that how you talk to yourself, and how you behave towards yourself, are largely unconscious and automatic. So become aware of how you’re talking to yourself internally. This is the point of many of my podcasts, making the unconscious slightly more conscious.

We all do this. We all have unconscious thoughts that we’re just running with all day, and we don’t notice them unless we call ourselves to do so. That’s what I’m asking you to do.


What self-compassion is NOT

Most people don’t realise when they put themselves down all day. Other people might say that you’re hard on yourself, but you might not even be aware that you’re doing it, because you’re so used to it.

So the thing to do is to start to watch how you talk to yourself, just in everyday life, with everything you try to do.
Then evaluate whether you’re being kind to yourself, or whether you’re being quite mean, self-critical, or even nasty.

Are you being stressed out with yourself? Are you frustrated with yourself? That’s the one that I see the most often. (I’ve talked a lot about the binge eater being frustrated with themselves for eating, and how this can lead to eating more!)

But it’s also highly likely that if you’re frustrated with yourself for eating, you’re frustrated with yourself for other things too.

The most common thing that I see with emotional eating is a constant frustration with yourself for being human, and for having feelings. A survey of two thousand women in the Mirror shows that we criticise ourselves on average about eight times each day.

The 20 most common self-criticisms

See how many that you say in a day or how many you recognise. See if you have more than the average woman.

  1. “I’m too fat”
  2. “I’m overweight”
  3. “My hair’s a mess”
  4. “My belly looks big”
  5. “I don’t exercise enough”
  6. “I feel scruffy next to other women”
  7. “I’m not earning enough money”
  8. “I’m having a fat day”
  9. “I can’t wear a certain item of clothing because I can’t pull it off. I wish I was photogenic”
  10. “I deflect compliments by saying something negative about myself”
  11. “I worry about people talking about me behind my back”
  12. “I’m underdressed”
  13. “I’m not stylish enough”
  14. “I don’t have enough sex with my partner”
  15. “I’m not as creative as other women”
  16. “My bum looks big”
  17. “I’m not as organised as other women”
  18. “I don’t spend as much time with my friends as I should”
  19. “I’m not wearing enough make-up”
  20. “I’m not as attractive as my partner”

Apologies to the men listening, this was a study done amongst women!


What self-compassion IS

Recovery is about finding the balance of self-care and responding to what your body needs to sustain it. So now let’s talk about what compassion is. The idea here is to imagine or to treat yourself the way you would other people, especially someone you love or a child, or how your best friend would treat you.

Your best friend would never criticise you for talking too much, being sensitive, being emotional, or wanting what you want. After having a problem with something, they wouldn’t push, control or criticise you. They would understand.

This is compassion. This is what you need to emulate. Your best friend would encourage you to buy that dress, take that holiday, and rest.


The Merriam-Webster definition of compassion

Compassion and empathy both refer to a caring response to someone else’s distress. While empathy refers to an active sharing in the emotional experience of the other person, compassion adds to that emotional experience a desire to alleviate the person’s distress.”

I love this definition because it speaks to how I feel we should treat ourselves. Self-compassion is to do the same thing; to be concerned about your distress and to want to help and support you so that you feel less distressed, and calmer.

Next, I’m going to quote two of my favourite experts on compassion, because they’ve made their life’s work about compassion so they can say it better than I can. My favorite people on this subject are Tara Brach and Kristen Neff. You’ll find lots of free meditations and lectures on compassion by these two if you just search.



Kristin Neff on Self-Compassion

“Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly…When you feel compassion for another rather than mere pity, it means that you realise that suffering, failure and imperfection is part of the human shared experience. Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time.

When you fail or when you notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a stiff upper lip mentality, you stop to tell yourself This is really difficult right now. How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.”



Tara Brach on Compassion

“There is a wonderful expression that says, Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard. It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.

Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice. It can be simple. As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question. What is life like for this person? What does this person most need?”



Final words on self-compassion

I would encourage you to ask that question of yourself. What is life like for you? What do you most need?

Compassion is about replacing the negativity we talked about with something kind and understanding, all day, every day, especially around overeating because there’s so much aggression, criticism and shame around it. But it also needs to be directed to how you feel.

That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening again. I’ll be back next week and I’ll be talking about inner resourcing, the strength you have inside and how to access and embody it so that you might feel good in your body.

As usual, I’m happy to hear any questions, so please keep in touch. Thank you for listening. See you next week.

If you want to explore your relationship with yourself a bit further, or learn how to be kinder to yourself, let me know.


Further resources

How do I Stop Self-Criticism?

Therapycat 30-second video on self-esteem
Therapycat video on self-criticism

What does SELF-COMPASSION mean?