Setbacks often have a tendency to be perceived as failure and this perception can initiate and intensify a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors which can be difficult to break. However, it’s necessary to identify there is a cycle so new strategies can be developed to address setbacks and further maintain your focus on moving forward in your recovery. Here are some tips to help you handle setbacks when they happen.
EXPECT SETBACKS No one is perfect! Setbacks happen to everyone. Anyone who wants to experience any type of growth or success will also experience setbacks. It goes hand in hand with trying new things. And since recovery is all about trying new things, setbacks are part of the process. Expect and accept them when they happen. It means that you are trying something different and/or doing something hard.
ACKNOWLEDGE SETBACKS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT If you have a setback, recognize what the problem is. This sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting it. Telling yourself, “this is what’s happened”, “this is where I’m at” or “this is what I am doing right now” can be ways of acknowledging it. It’s also important to try and acknowledge the setback without judgement, as judgement towards our setback may cause unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame. By doing this you can then move forward and continue doing recovery work rather than getting stuck in a negative mindset.
SET TIME LIMITS FOR DISAPPOINTMENT Allow yourself time to acknowledge your feelings of disappointment around having a setback. But try putting a time limit on how long you will focus on those feelings. You don’t want to get stuck in a negative mindset. Although you might still feel disappointment even after you’ve reached your time limit, try redirecting that emotional energy toward your next best recovery steps.
SETBACKS ARE TEMPORARY, NOT PERMANENT It’s important to remember that YOU have the power to take control and turn around any undesirable situation you find yourself in. You’ve done it before and, YES, you can do it again! Remind yourself that you are not starting from square one. Just because you had a setback, it does not invalidate all of the progress that you have made in your recovery so far.
MANAGE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK Setbacks, and the disappointment that comes with them, can create a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing. Try managing some of your internal thoughts by using cognitive reframes and affirmations. This will help you stay focused on your recovery goals. Praise yourself for doing important work in your recovery and take pride in challenging the eating disorder and trying new things.
ELIMINATE BLAME & PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION Practicing self-compassion and a nurturing kindness towards yourself is much healthier than trying to blame yourself or someone/something else for a setback. Try offering yourself the same kind and caring attention you would give to anyone else going through a difficult time. Remember, setbacks are a common humanity.
INVEST IN SELF-CARE Self-care helps to break up the negative cycle that setbacks can sometimes lead us down. Engage yourself in a values-based activity that you enjoy and create or find inspiration from the world and others around you to help get yourself back on track with recovery.
REMIND YOURSELF YOUR REASONS FOR RECOVERY Make a list of all the reasons why you have chosen recovery and keep adding to it as time goes on. These are your values. Put this list in a place that you will visibly see each day to help motivate you. Get creative with it! Make a vision board or placemat by drawing/painting pictures or using cut-out pictures/words from magazines of all the things that represent the importance of your recovery and what you really value in life.
BE PATIENT Allow yourself time to overcome your setback. Impatience sometimes makes the situation harder and last longer than it needs to be. If you are in a hurry you might miss out on important lessons that need to be learned. Otherwise, the same setback might just end up happening again.
VIEW YOUR SETBACK AS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY Instead of viewing your setback as a “failure”, see it as an opportunity to learn from. You may just find the insight you gain from it will make you stronger and help propel you even further ahead in your recovery than had you never encountered the setback in the first place. Setbacks have the ability to give us necessary insights into our own lives and the world around us. Try asking yourself how you can make sense of what’s happened and how what you’ve learned might change how you do things differently next time. By doing so, you are better able to manage any blindspots or warning signs that may have the potential to cause another setback. After all, “a setback is a setup for a comeback”.
GATHER FEEDBACK Sometimes talking with your friends and/or family about your situation can help bring new perspectives to it. They may have experienced similar circumstances and can suggest potential solutions to try and help get you back on track. If you find that the challenges around your setback persist or worsen, make sure to connect with professional support so that you can continue making progress in your recovery and experience freedom without an eating disorder.