Using Self-Compassion To Assist With Body Image Concerns

Self-compassion has become a bit of a buzz word. With the evidence growing showing it’s effectiveness for a wide range of issues, I chatted with Clinical Psychologist, Dr Kiera Buchanan, about how self-compassion can be used to assist with body image concerns.

Danielle McCarthy:  If somebody has identified that they are experiencing body image concerns and it’s having a negative impact on their life, how can self-compassion help them?

Dr. Kiera Buchanan:  We can use self-compassion whether it’s just a fleeting thought about our body image or when it is something that’s happening for us on a day-to-day basis. In terms of where I would come from to begin with, Kristin Neff, differentiates self-compassion from self-esteem by saying self-esteem is ‘what’s good about us’. So it’s all about how we’re better than other people and what are the things about us that are going well. This is really difficult when you say wake up feeling like crap and think that you don’t look very good in the mirror. Self-esteem is the one that packs up and abandons us in our time of need.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is about ‘what’s good for us’ as opposed to ‘what’s good about us.’

So self-compassion is there for us at all times, but particularly in those times when we’re struggling. Let’s use the example that you mentioned about waking up after a bad nights sleep and feeling like you look like crap. Self-esteem would say ‘Well you look like crap, you feel like crap, you’re going to perform like crap.’ So self-esteem is not helping in this situation.

Self-compassion would be like ‘Oh this is really tough. You’ve had a really hard night sleep. What do you need for yourself? How can you be kind to yourself in this moment while you’re struggling? What do you need to get through the day?’

So it’s about what’s good for you as opposed to what’s good about you.

Danielle McCarthy:  Yes, nice. So self-compassion, is this something you use a lot with people with body image concerns?

Dr. Kiera Buchanan:  Yes. Absolutely.

Danielle McCarthy:  And why is it something you might use versus say other strategies?

Dr. Kiera Buchanan:  Well I guess one of the underlying premises behind self-compassion is that not everything can be fixed. So we go through life and we all experience things that we don’t like, we all suffer, and we all have to encounter things that we didn’t choose for ourselves.

For a lot of these things there isn’t a solution. But they’re all the more bearable when we’ve got some support and some nurturance and kindness during these times.

Self-compassion doesn’t try to fix anything for us but it’s giving ourselves the support that we need during difficult times.