Did you really eat that whole bag of chips? Did you choose healthy carbs, but eat way too many? Is it easy to commit to your health goals in-between-meals, but more difficult to follow through when it’s time to eat? Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake? Do you find it easy to show compassion to your friends, but more difficult to be kind to yourself?

As a diabetes educator, I find that many people are hard on themselves. They especially remember their failings. As we start a session, many patients say, “You’re going to be upset with me.” But I don’t need to scold. Usually my patients have already scolded themselves and are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. That’s why my goal is to encourage. Success comes when we focus on what we have done right, rather than ruminating on our failures.

We all know more than we can do. We struggle to bridge the gap between the health information in our heads and the practical application in our lives. I too struggle to make good health choices. It’s worse when I let myself feel guilty and discouraged. Yes, I make mistakes, but I can learn from each mistake and continue toward my goal.

Wikipedia defines self-compassion, as “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.” Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, has proposed three major components of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness: Showing warmth and acceptance to yourself when you encounter personal shortcomings, instead of ignoring them or hurting yourself with self-criticism.
  • Common humanity: Recognizing that suffering and personal failure are part of the shared human experience.
  • Mindfulness: Becoming more aware of your own emotions and negative thoughts without denying or judging them. It includes not focusing or ruminating on negative emotions, just acknowledging them.

Denial refuses to accept the reality of a situation and imagines that choices have no consequences. Self-compassion is not denial of the illness. It means accepting the diabetes but still treating yourself with kindness and love. This is the same kind of love and respect that you would freely give to a friend encountering the same problem.

It may be helpful to write down your self-talk. As you become more aware of what you’re saying to yourself, you can choose to change your degrading and belittling chatter to something encouraging and positive. Love and kindness are far better motivators than self-criticism.

“But I’m not perfect!” True. But you can become more skillful and aware. So what if you forgot to exercise, ate more than you planned, or skipped a blood glucose test? Say, “Yes, that was a poor choice; I can do better. There will be another chance to choose.”

You have already taken positive steps in managing your diabetes. You may congratulate yourself and look to the future. Every little step toward your goal can improve both your present health and your future prospects. You can set reasonable goals, make reasonable efforts to meet them, and practice self-compassion. You may find that love is the best motivator of all.


About the Author

Betty Jo Vercio, RN, MS, CDE

Betty Jo is a certified diabetes educator who has been interested in healthy living since high school. Her varied work experience has included community health nursing, school nursing, diabetes education, childbirth education, cooking schools, weight loss classes, and home-schooling her three boys. She presently serves as diabetes and childbirth educator at the Guam Clinic, where her husband is an ophthalmologist.

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