Libby Parks, MA, LMSW utilizes a compassionate and informed approach to support clients and families on the journey to full recovery in her role as Lead Therapist at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Westchester. In this week’s blog post, Libby discusses the idea of lovingkindness in eating disorder recovery.
Call to mind the biggest bully from your childhood. Look at their face, hear their words, and feel their overwhelming presence. Now, imagine that instead of being able to escape when the bell rang, you had to take them home. Every action you took and thought you had would be criticized and ridiculed repeatedly.
Maybe this is where our current insecurities and negative self-talk come from. But maybe our biggest bullies weren’t kids from school and have been slowly forming over time from within ourselves. Either way, many of us engage in this bullying on a daily basis and it can become so familiar that we don’t even question its validity.
Often, when I ask my clients for evidence that their negative self-talk is true, they look at me bewildered. This might be the first time that they have questioned these statements. They may be in disbelief that anyone would think anything different about them apart from what they have been repeating for so many years.
I learned pretty quickly that simply telling a client that they are worthy of being loved, both by others and themselves, would be met with a polite smile and an immediate objection. I saw this deficit of self-love and knew the solution but getting clients on board was the challenge. Just like most of what we do at Monte Nido, my job is to help clients realize the usefulness of this concept, rather than prescribing it to them.
Loving oneself is the foundation for our ability to love others. It allows for intimacy, compassion, and forgiveness. When we can see ourselves in our truest form, as our soul selves, we can realize our unbounded capacity to express and receive love with others. But too often we don’t allow space for that self. We instead focus on the regrettable things we have said or done and have gotten into a habit of bullying ourselves into being “better” people. Allowing compassion for ourselves does not give us carte blanche to act in destructive ways but it does give us the opportunity to see where we have strayed from our values and to bring us back in a gentler way.
Lovingkindness, or Metta as it’s known in Pali, is the practice of extending kindness to ourselves and others through the use of simple phrases in meditation. There are four classical phrases but I always encourage clients to find statements that feel most authentic to them. The phrases I recommend are:
“May I be happy.”
“May I be healthy.”
“May I be safe.”
“May I live with ease.”
These phrases are repeated, silently, in the mind to allow us the space to connect compassionately to ourselves. There is no expectation, nothing is forced, and the purpose is to simply allow what comes up. While the execution of this practice sounds simple, it is often quite difficult for those recovering from an eating disorder. The instinct may be to reject the part of themself that continues to struggle with urges or behaviors, believing that continued bullying will motivate them to change their actions. But with lovingkindness, our clients can connect with their healthy self to offer a gentle reminder of their worthiness to recover.