Self Care

Self-Love in Recovery: Simple Steps are Often the Most Powerful

By Joanna Nolan

I am 4 years into my recovery from my eating disorder, yet self-compassion is still something that I have to mindfully practice. Why are we not taught; how to practice self-compassion or what that even looks like? Where were those episodes of Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow because I missed them. Here is what I've learned about a self-compassion practice - and how you can create your own.

As young kiddos we are taught, “Do onto others as you would have them do on to you." We are taught to treat others with respect, kindness, humility, and compassion. We are encouraged to give back to others. We are also subtly told that giving to ourselves should always come second.

Why are we not taught how to practice self-compassion or what that even looks like? Where were those episodes of Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow — because I missed them.

A hurt child inside of us

When I was a little girl, I was constantly bullied at school for being bigger than the other kids in my class. I was called names, teased, belittled and broken down for not being the same size as the other little girls — and I was teased for wearing glasses. It took years, but I finally absorbed some very painful messages:

  • “I am not enough.”
  • “I need to look like everyone else.”
  • “I’m not worthy in this skin I’m in.”

And so, I spiraled down the road to shame, self-doubt, and eventually an eating disorder.

How could a 6-year-old be such a burden to those around her simply by existing and being herself? Where was the compassion that we were all taught at a young age? Why was this little girl — who unconditionally showed compassion to others — not on the receiving end of it?

We can find self-love

In treatment, we are encouraged to give to ourselves — to fill our own cup — before we can give to others. Yet, this idea, of having self-compassion, has always been a foreign concept to me. I am a giver, by nature, and the idea of showering myself with understanding and affirmations makes me extremely uncomfortable. It often leaves me with a false sense of self-love and authenticity. But, after 24 years, 4 months of treatment, and 4 years of weekly outpatient therapy, I finally arrived at a place where this broken little girl finally got it. I was both encouraged and provided with the tools to practice self-compassion.

I realized that having compassion for yourself doesn’t mean you have to love yourself every moment of every day — but that you honor and accept your humanness. Things won’t always go to plan; life happens. You will encounter frustrations and you will make mistakes. This is what it means to be human. But, the more we open ourselves and our hearts to the reality of this, instead of fighting against it, the more we are able to feel compassion for ourselves.

Ways to practice self-compassion and self-love

I am 4 years into my recovery from my eating disorder, yet self-compassion is still something that I have to mindfully practice. We all need different things to feel loved, and we all have different “self-love” languages. It is important to know these may differ person to person, and that is OK! But I encourage you to find what resonates with you.

Words of Affirmation

Are you a person that feels fulfilled by words of affirmation like “You can do this!” or “It’s going to be OK”? If that is the case, use words to build yourself up. Be positive in the ways that you not only talk to yourself but how you talk about yourself. Try a daily affirmation. Choose a positive quote or mantra to be the focus of your day. Say it in the mirror or write yourself a love letter.

Acts of Service

Are you a person that feels content after doing something? For example, you come home from work and the last thing you want to do is ANYTHING that takes brain power or energy to complete, but the second that you do — you feel so much better. Maybe it’s making yourself a meal or a cup of tea or going for a mindful walk. Get up and give yourself what your body is telling you it needs in that moment.

Receiving Gifts

I like to call this, “Yay, me!” It’s OK to treat yourself! I am the first person to give to others, and the last person to give to myself. When it comes to those I love, giving gifts is my love language and is often without hesitation or question. But, when it comes to giving things to myself, there are a million reasons not to do it; shame often takes over the driver’s seat. Tell yourself “YES” to the little gifts! Treat yourself! Invest in yourself and never feel bad. Never apologize for nurturing your mind, body, and soul.

Quality Time

Give yourself the space and time to just “be,” however that looks for you. We often get distracted and use the chaos of life as an excuse to not give ourselves the space to slow down and reflect. Make time for being alone and for slowing down to get to know yourself, which in turn will help you to be more present in your life.

Physical Touch

Lastly, and, for me, one of the hardest things to do, is to be nice to your body. Our bodies are the vessels where our souls reside, and they deserve our love and kindness. They do not deserve to be punished for what we think they can’t do or what we believe they are not. Self-love for the body can be as simple as practicing yoga, getting a massage, or taking a bath.

What is your self-love language?

That little boy or girl still lives inside each of us. It is never too late to show them empathy, compassion, and love — they deserve it. Brené Brown said, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do." So, today, I encourage you to:

  • Own your story.
  • Be compassionate with yourself.
  • Nurture yourself.
  • Show empathy and love to that little child inside you.
  • Show yourself kindness and understanding.

Instead of ruthlessly judging and ridiculing ourselves for various failures and inadequacies, we can hold space for discomfort.

We can tenderly hold the hurt child inside of us.

We can always make a fresh start

We are told as young children that there is no re-do button in life. I beg to differ. Recovery is like being able to hit the reset button of your life. What an amazing thing, right!!?

We may not be able to change the past, but the past doesn’t have to dictate our futures. Recovery allows me to look at life through different glasses. It shows me that I am worthy of a life filled with connection, love, and adventure; and that I am more than enough simply by living my life authentically, honest, and aligned with my values.

We each still have that little hurt child inside of us. We can take their hand, walk beside them, and remind them that they are not alone.

What does that little child inside you look like? What have they been through and what do they need in this moment?

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joanna nolen
recovery ambassador
Written by

Joanna Nolan

After struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder, for the majority of her life, Joanna is driven to help de-stigmatize and educate her community through vulnerably and transparently sharing her…