Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

When someone you know is struggling, upset, or depressed, it is human nature to feel compassion and empathy for them.  We often show this compassion and empathy through kind and encouraging words and being a good listener.  We would never intentionally say anything hurtful or damaging to someone we care about, especially when that person is in a fragile state…  So why are we okay with saying hurtful and damaging things to ourselves?

For some reason, we have the tendency to beat ourselves up and say things internally that we wouldn’t dream of saying to anyone else.  Think of the many harsh things we say to ourselves throughout the day.  Things like, “you look horrible today” and “you are such an idiot.”  Most of us can’t imagine saying those things to another person, yet these thoughts come so easily when we are speaking to ourselves.  This negative self talk can lead to serious issues that can be hard to resolve.  The more we talk to ourselves negatively, the more it becomes a pattern.  This pattern can turn into a dark cycle of self loathing, feelings of worthlessness, self harm, and eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.  It creates a cloud in our minds that makes us unable to see ourselves how other people see us- as a person of immense worth, unique talents, and unlimited potential.

How can we change this pattern of thinking?  For most people, it starts with recognizing it.  Many of the negative things we say to ourselves are so common we don’t notice we said them.  If we can catch a negative thought in the moment, we can correct ourselves and acknowledge that the thought was destructive.  We can replace the harmful thoughts with a more encouraging or positive thought such as, “Well, that wasn’t the greatest try but I can do better next time.”

We need to learn to show ourselves compassion and accept that not everything we do will be perfect.  Perfectionism can lead us to perform our best in our various responsibilities and activities but it can also take us to a place where nothing we do is ever good or perfect enough.  The constant need for perfection is often what drives our destructive thoughts and negative self talk, leading us down to feelings of frustration and worthlessness.  Having ambition, motivation, and the drive to excel are wonderful things as long as we are able to balance them with self compassion and the understanding that we will all make mistakes and have room for improvement.

One of the most important things we need to do is to stop comparing ourselves to other people.  We have all likely heard the phrase, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  How can we possibly be happy when we are constantly comparing our weaknesses to other peoples’ strengths?  All it does is bring our self esteem down and feelings of worthlessness up.  Some people are better at certain things than us and that’s okay.  We all have talents and abilities that other people may not have.  If we can learn to celebrate other peoples’ talents and abilities we will also be able to recognize and appreciate our own instead of wishing we were “as fun of a mom as Jennifer” or “a good cook like Rachel.”  It’s not healthy to expect yourself to outdo everyone you know at everything you can think of.  Be grateful for your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses-just don’t dwell on them.

Every person on this earth can be a little more kind and compassionate in the way that they talk to themselves.  Say the same things to yourself as you would to a friend or loved one who needs encouragement.  Be forgiving of your mistakes.  Acknowledge when you have set impossible standards for yourself.  Celebrate the diversity of people and talents in the world and accept that others may be strong in an area where you are weak.  Give yourself recognition for what you do well and allow yourself to feel good about what you have accomplished. No one is expected to be perfect and that includes you.  When you notice that you have had a destructive thought, change it immediately and don’t talk to yourself like that.

By Whitney Stevens
Lead Care Tech