It’s important to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery. It’s vital for our loved ones to be able to show empathy for us as we journey towards recovery. It’s also vital to be able to show empathy for ourselves because empathy will help to keep us in eating disorder recovery. Here’s how to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery.
What Is Empathy?
So, what is empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand or share the feelings of others. It’s putting yourself in their shoes. As Brené Brown says, “Empathy is feeling with people.” (Brené Brown on Empathy )
Why Show Empathy to Yourself and Others in Eating Disorder Recovery?
In our culture, it tends to be a point of pride to give advice, to help someone fix their problems, to make everything better, or to tell someone all the reasons why they shouldn’t feel that way. We are taught this as children, to do things to make uncomfortable emotions better.
The problem with this unconscious training is that it feeds directly into the development of any eating disorder or addiction because the motto is “Numb out every uncomfortable feeling.”
If we can learn to have empathy for ourselves we will be better able to sit with uncomfortable feelings without having to numb them out with unhealthy addictive patterns.
How to Show Empathy to Others in Eating Disorder Recovery
- Remember everyone is doing the best they can. I repeat: Everyone is doing the best they can.
- Listen. Just listen. Don’t listen to respond, give advice, or talk them out of their emotion. Most people are incredibly smart and usually know what they “should” do. Most people are not taught how to listen and hold a safe space for others to share themselves.
- Say “okay.” If a loved one tells you that they’re struggling, say, “Okay.” Often we want to talk a person off the metaphorical emotional ledge, but the person usually comes down when someone listens to them. When the jumper feels heard, they usually don’t jump. Another form of “Okay,” could be to “mmm” or some sound to let the person know you’re following what they’re sharing without having to interrupt.
- Make it about him or her. Do not share the time, followed by a long story, of when something similar happened to you. Even if you have/had an eating disorder it doesn’t mean you know exactly what someone else with an eating disorder is going through. Something I say is, “I have my version of that and I remember feeling (fill in an emotion), too.” Then let the person go back to sharing. Right now, it’s about his or her story, not yours.
- Give hugs. If appropriate, ask the person if they would like, or need, a hug. Hugs, for 20 seconds or more, release oxytocin and help us feel more grounded and safe.
How to Show Empathy to Yourself in Eating Disorder Recovery
- Remember you are doing the best you can. Recovery is difficult and you’re doing a great job. Sometimes you’ll be brave and sometimes you’ll be scared and sometimes you’ll be in between and all of that is okay. You’re allowed to be a person that is figuring it out. You are doing your best.
- Identify your feelings. A lot of people have only a few main feelings that they identify with such as happy, sad, angry, or tired. However, there are other feelings that occur when our needs are not being met, such as shown on this feelings chart. Once we can identify our feelings they become less scary and we can find ways to support ourselves in healthy ways.
- Say the feeling out loud to yourself. For example, “I feel unseen. I feel invisible. I feel trapped. I feel joyful.” You are allowed to have feelings.
- Encourage yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself. Tell yourself that you are brave. Tell yourself that you will commit to treating yourself with the kindness we so often extend to other people.
- Ask yourself what is needed right now. For example, “Okay, so I know I feel sad and I know that I’m needing connection. How can I get that in a healthy way instead of reaching for my addiction?” Then call a safe friend, take a walk, play with your pet, or engage in any of the ways you feel connected.
Something I learned about recovery during a few traumatic times in my life is that the most healing thing you can ever do for someone is simply to listen to them, to hold a safe space for them to share, and to extend love. Doing those things, for ourselves and others, is a vital part of healing and staying recovered.