This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme, much to our delight, is “kindness”.
This is a particularly touching and pertinent theme, not only given the context that we’re in – navigating significant adjustments and restrictive measures during lockdown – but also because for those suffering with eating disorders, nurturing and allowing ourselves to turn “kindness” inward can be quite a challenge…but it is a necessary part of recovery.
Why kindness is challenging
Simply put, kindness is challenging if something or someone has taught you that you deserve the opposite.
As we’ve said before, eating disorders develop as a means of coping with negative and overwhelming emotions that may stem from a past (or present/recurring) experience or situation. These experiences may have made you feel like you didn’t deserve kindness, and you may have internalised messages from these experiences. These messages may have dictated decisions and life choices and made it extremely hard to be loving and compassionate towards yourself.
“This voice may tell us that kindness is self-indulgent, unnecessary, boring or pointless. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Eating disorders help us to cope with day-to-day life by almost “numbing” the negative and overwhelming feelings, directing your attention towards things that are much more tangible and controllable – such as food or numbers.
Whilst they may help us to cope in the short-term, eating disorders are maladaptive in that they develop at the expense of your mental and physical health and the simple joys of day-to-day life. They also may tell us that kindness is self-indulgent, unnecessary, boring or pointless. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Why kindness is important
Eating disorders don’t allow for kindness because kindness would loosen the vice-like grip of the eating disorder. Being kind to ourselves would mean that we would respond to our needs in the moment, our hunger cues, our need to take a break or relax and not do that HIIT workout, etc.
“You deserve to do things “just because”.”
Kindness allows us to develop patience and compassion towards ourselves when things get tough. Rather than cracking the whip and forcing more and more energy, kindness would accept our fatigue and grant permission for us to take a break.
Kindness would allow us to engage with artwork, for instance, even if we aren’t artistically “talented” or doing it to be productive or for career purposes. Kindness would accept that we enjoy the simple act of creating art without any real “point”, other than the fact that we enjoy it.
You deserve to do things “just because”.
How does kindness play a role in recovery?
We asked our Senior Occupational Therapist, Kendra, how kindness plays a role in recovery:
“I believe kindness is a courageous act that one needs to embrace and utilise when engaging in recovery; kindness as a form of compassion allows us to open towards our vulnerabilities and helps us engage with the parts of ourselves that we struggle to show compassion and understanding towards.”
Kindness allows us to witness our personal vulnerabilities and respond to them with compassion and acceptance, rather than judgement and dismissal. We all feel and have vulnerabilities at different moments in our lives. It’s part of being human and allows us to navigate life whilst feeling the colour of life through emotion.
Continuing, Kendra said, “When we are able to engage openly with all the parts that make us who we are, we are able to build a greater whole, a more integrated picture of “self” which allows us to heal and recover in a more fluid and flexible way – helping us step away from resistance and suffering and into a space of open awareness.”
So how do we nurture kindness?
At Orri, Kendra helps our clients to nurture kindness using the acronym, RAIN:
“To nurture kindness, one needs to first Recognise what might be causing us pain or suffering, we then need to Acknowledge it in a gentle and open manner – seeing that that pain/suffering is part of what it is to be human. Once we have acknowledged whatever is happening for us we can gently and curiously engage with that part of ourselves that is struggling by Investigating where and what might have brought about our reactions or narratives. With this courageous wisdom and knowledge we are able then to Nourish ourselves with compassion, responding to that part of ourselves as if we were to a dear friend who might be struggling – helping us soften into our stories with gentleness and courage to help us move through and out of whatever we are finding as difficult or unmanageable.”
Can you give RAIN a go this week? We’re rooting for you.