Giving Yourself Grace

May 13, 2022

Disappointment is a part of the recovery process. In fact, it is a BIG part of it. How to handle it when you disappoint yourself, others; when you make a mistake, big or small; when you try something and you fail; when you don’t reach the often stratospherically high standards you set for yourself. We can read blog after blog about self-compassion, but sometimes, it is much easier said than done. But if we don’t learn how to deal with our disappointment, it leads to shame, guilt, hiding, isolation, and sometimes, right back into the arms of the eating disorder. Therefore, how do we feel, and then release this emotion when it comes? Because it is not a matter of if, but when.

When we first set out on the road to recovery, and start feeling a sense of victory, the feelings of pride, accomplishment, and motivation can be enormous. We may feel that nothing can stop us now; we’re on our way to full freedom. With no mistakes or slip-ups, and no disappointments. However, that isn’t reality. Everyone messes up recovery along the way. And even beyond recovery, in both our personal and professional lives, we will make mistakes. Despite our earnest efforts to “do things right,” we will oversleep our alarm, hit reply-all, say the wrong thing at the wrong time, unintentionally hurt people we love, miss deadlines, give in to urges, and just plain fail at things.

How will you respond? In the eating disorder, you knew how to respond. With punishment, self-condemnation; escape, numb, and retreat. But in recovery, you’ve discovered new values. A new sense of self, and have recognized that these techniques do not work.

Even so, how to offer yourself grace in those moments of deep disappointment? What does self-compassion truly look like? How do you stop the cycle of avoiding, and learn to tolerate this difficult emotional state?

To begin, it takes practice. Self-compassion is not a practice designed to make you feel bad about yourself for not doing it well. It is a skill that takes time to develop! Just like every other recovery skill. Therefore, give yourself grace, even when you feel like you failed at giving yourself grace.

Physical techniques – take care of the physical first. When we feel adverse emotions, especially disappointment, we long to feel comforted. What helps to calm your nervous system, and to feel warm, soothed, and relaxed? For everyone this is different, but some helpful tools may be wrapping your arms around yourself in a hug, closing your eyes and breathing deep, wrapping something soft around you, listening to calming music, drinking something warm, or lighting a fragrant candle. Self-soothing, physically first, can help your mind to do the work of grace.

A New Thought Vocabulary – be honest with yourself. The words we speak to ourselves in our head are often much harsher and cruel than we would ever speak to another person, or allow another to speak to us. Therefore, in order to soothe disappointment, we must work on changing our inner vocabulary, which takes time. Speak to yourself, either in your head or out loud (truly; you’re not crazy, it works wonders!), with love and compassion. Even use your own name, and literally talk to and encourage yourself as you would a younger version of yourself, or a dear loved one. Speak grace and acceptance to yourself. You may not “feel” like it at first, but constant practice and repetition begins to change our thought patterns over time.

Seek Support – there is only so much you can do on your own, however. Support is essential, especially when you’re facing a moment where you feel unable to self-soothe. This is why connection to a treatment team, to a support group, to a trusted friend or loved one, is so important. And do not hesitate to reach out. You’re not weak for seeking support, it makes you strong. Give others the chance to be there for you, just like you would cherish the opportunity to be there for them. Self-compassion and grace can be magnificently helped along and made easier with the support of your community.

Disappointment comes, but it will also go. True healing in recovery doesn’t mean that you’ll never fail, it means that when you do, you will know how to handle it. So today, even in some small way, give yourself grace. Replace judgment with acceptance. Choose thoughts of love rather than condemnation. Learn from mistakes, not so that you’ll “never do them again,” but so that you can learn more about who you are and grow in compassion for yourself and others. Give yourself grace. You deserve it.

Kirsten Haglund Müller-Daubermann
 is an international speaker, mental health advocate and digital media strategist. She serves as the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls and as Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation. She served as Miss America 2008. Kirsten is also the host of “Honest Talk,” Timberline Knolls’ Instagram LIVE interview series @timberlinetoday. Kirsten studied musical theatre performance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), and graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Political Science. She is currently based in Zürich, Switzerland.