Self-compassion in Anorexia Nervosa Patients

Why some patients do not view developing self-compassion as a worthwhile goal.

The capacity for self-compassion is valuable but can be a challenge for those with eating disorders.  Often people with an ED can feel great compassion for others but struggle to show the same compassion to themselves.  A recent study by Kelly and colleagues examines factors that may contribute to this (Brit J Psychology. 2020; 1).

The authors note that there is some prior work in this area, but the issues examined have perhaps been constrained by the use of pre-existing quantitative measures, which may not examine all factors that an individual views as relevant.  For this reason, the authors used a qualitative method in which 37 participants with AN were asked to write down the pros and cons of exhibiting self-compassion.  Members of the research team then analyzed the results to identify overarching themes.

Common “pros” of self-compassion included improved health, outlook, social relationships, and intrapersonal growth.  Commonly perceived “cons” were “personal shortcomings” (such as lowering of personal standards, low motivation, and failure) because of self-compassion; emotional stresses of developing self-compassion, and doubts about whether any degree of self-compassion would be helpful.

These are very useful results because they help clinicians understand why people with AN may not view efforts to develop self-compassion as a useful goal. Moreover, these may be factors to address in treatment in order to help people move toward greater self-compassion.

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