Self-Compassion as a Food Allergy Mom

“Self-compassion is key because when we’re able to be gentle with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect, and experience empathy.”

– Brene Brown

Mmmm. Reread those words and let it sink into your soul for a moment.

To this food allergy momma, that quote is a soft lullaby of hope to my wounded and exhausted heart.

Oh, how often I speak to myself critically! Many times it’s even unkind. I’ve internalized the voices of judgmental comments (sometimes downright mean ones) that have been spoken over me.

And because I believed them, it was equally hard for me to make vulnerable and genuine connections with others because I feared their potential judgments and rejection.

It’s taken a long time for me to recognize that I’ve allowed those lies to seep into my core being. I took those untruths and wore them heavily around my neck as part of my identity.

  • “You know a lot about food allergies. You should have known what to do in that situation.”
  • “You’re so particular about food allergies. Your daughter is going to dislike you when she’s older.”
  • “Why are you so sensitive about this? If you have time to be upset, you need to try harder.”
  • “It’s not that bad. Suck it up and power through.”
  • “Well, the kids probably have food allergies because of what you did in your pregnancy.”

Have you also heard similar critical sentiments from others? Did you internalize them into your own harmful voice?

How many times has your actual personality been criticized? What about your role as a mother? Has that been attacked? Did you believe it?

I certainly did.

The problem with dwelling on the harsh things that people say to us is that we are tempted to believe it is true.

And tragically, we sometimes start to speak those same cruel words to ourselves.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is something that I do not think we discuss enough in our American culture. In my experience, we tend to focus more on toughing things out and trying harder.

If trying harder worked, then none of us would need support. We’d already be nailing it in every scenario.

And let me just say that I am no expert on self-compassion. Not one bit. I will be the first to admit that I struggle in this area.

I want to be clear, this particular blog post is not intended to point fingers at anyone else.

It is a reflection of what I have learned, my own experience, and some resources that have helped me.

In fact, I have been so unfamiliar with self-compassion that it is a new concept for me this past year.

Compassion has always been (in my mind) an emotion that I feel for other’s suffering and hard experiences.

But to heck with my own pain, especially if it was concerning my children’s medical needs or food allergies. It’s okay for me to have compassion for them, but not for myself.

If I felt anxiety and grief about their allergies then it was because I just wasn’t working hard enough.

I wasn’t busy enough. I wasn’t strong enough. It meant that I wasn’t deserving of compassion, because I’m always supposed to know what I’m doing.

That misconception has been a long standing stronghold that I’ve applied to many areas of my life. It is just now starting to crumble.

Stone by stone, brick by brick, I am working on demolishing it for good.

So, what exactly is self-compassion?

Here is a definition from

“Self-compassion is the ability to turn understanding, acceptance, and love inward.”

-Good Therapy

You can read more from Good Therapy in their article about self-compassion HERE.

Basically, the goal is to treat ourselves with the same gentle kindness we would treat our children with.

When you think about your family’s journey with food allergies and the first few years after diagnosis, were you nice to yourself?

Did you acknowledge that you were suffering in any way? Did you have compassion for your own experience, or just your child’s experience?

If you struggle to be kind to yourself, but it’s easy for you to show kindness to your children when they are suffering, then you most likely struggle with self-compassion.

And the worst part about struggling with this is that it will actually backfire on us at some point.

If we want to continue to show up for our kids and be emotionally safe for them, we first need to focus that kindness inwards.

Undoubtedly, I struggle with inner grace, but I am making huge efforts to change in order to model this in a healthy way for my own children.

It’s Not a Quick Fix

My counselor has been working with me to see self-compassion in a different light for over a year.

Honestly, we weren’t making a ton of headway. I could recognize that I needed to be nicer to myself, but I didn’t understand why I was like that or how to act on it.

Really, it just wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

It wasn’t until I listened to two different podcasts that all the pieces really started to fall into place for me.

The podcasts were:
  • “In The Tall Grass” with the co-founders of Two Alpha Gals, Debbie and Candice. Their podcast with Dr. Paige Freeman really helped me understand the difference between self-care and self-compassion (episode 6). Their podcast focuses on living with Alpha-gal syndrome, which is a food allergy to red meat and mammal byproduct.
  • “The Place We Find Ourselves” with Adam Young. He discussed self-compassion with guest author Aundi Kolber. This particular episode blew my mind and helped me see myself more clearly. Especially in relation to trauma (episode 112).

After listening to these 2 episodes, I realized that I did have a deep desire to be kinder to myself. I do long for compassion.

But my past trauma, my critical inner voice, and my current medical trauma around caring for my children with food allergies has been a barrier to my healing.

My responses in the midst of active trauma, reactivated trauma, or perceived threats, directly impacts my ability to regulate my emotions and be kind to myself in those moments.

It’s hard for me to view my heart through the lens of compassion.

And once I do recognize that I’m in the middle of a panic attack, or that I feel anxiety about food, or after my child has had an allergic reaction, I don’t want to see myself as worthy of comfort.

Honestly, I sometimes feel the temptation to not take care of myself or I don’t want to take steps to come back to neutral.

Because Shouldn’t My Concern Only Be for My Children?

If I do take a moment to re-regulate, or show love to myself, then doesn’t that mean I emotionally abandoned my child after their moment of medical need?

Won’t it mean that I didn’t take their food allergies as seriously as I should have? Or that I’m letting my guard down? If I’m not continually feeling anxiety, then how do I prepare myself for the next reaction or emergency?

None of those thoughts are accurate (or kind) but I tend to think them nonetheless.

The truth is that I am terrified of failing my children. Because failure with food allergies has steep consequences. Potentially life-threatening consequences. Because if something happens, it’s hard to not feel like its my fault somehow.

And that feeling spirals me quickly into emotional dysregulation, which doesn’t serve me, or my children, well.

As Adam Young puts it so eloquently in his podcast, “The issue is not ‘I don’t know what to do.’ The issue is ‘I don’t want to be kind to myself when I’m dysregulated.’”

Self-Compassion’s Relationship with Food Allergy Trauma

Additionally, in Adam Young’s podcast with Aundi Kolber, one thing I learned that I thought was a vital piece of information was that most people have a “window of tolerance” on what they can handle.

We have to be aware of what is happening in our bodies and actively trying to name our emotions to remain within our “window of tolerance” before we become unregulated.

When I am unregulated, that means that I am not fully in control of my emotions or responses. Something has triggered me and I’m in the middle of a trauma response.

The triggers might have been:
  • Seeing my child break out in hives
  • My child having an allergic reaction
  • Noticing my children’s allergens when we are out somewhere
  • Encountering people that are unkind about food allergies
  • Feeling cornered or isolated at a public event due to food allergies
  • Watching my child struggle with food allergy related situations (bullying, questions, being left out, etc.)

Once a food allergy trigger occurs, I find myself automatically responding. Over time, and with training, I am better at recognizing what I’m feeling, what triggered me, and which trauma response I’m leaning into.

For more on our experiences with trauma in relation to food allergies, check out this POST.

However, recognizing that we are feeling a certain way after a food allergy scare, or an actual medical emergency, and regulating our emotional responses requires self-compassion.

The first step to self-compassion as food allergy mommas is to gently embrace our own experiences around caring for children with food allergies.

We have to first admit, then HONOR, the experience(s) that we have had.

No degrading. No downplaying or minimizing.

Admitting our various emotions brings truth and light to our personal stories. Honoring our feelings and experiences brings validation into our core being.

It took a long time before I was emotionally and mentally ready to take this first step.

Practicing Self-Compassion

Instead of continuing the past abusive pattern of negative self-talk, I choose to turn those lies that people spoke over me upside down.

Instead, I now speak truth over myself when tempted to continue the cycle of lies OR when I’m confronted with unkind words from others.

Here’s what it sounds like:
  • “You know a lot about food allergies. You should have known what to do in that situation.” —> “I know a lot about food allergies. I did the best I could in that situation and will continue to learn.”
  • “You’re so particular about food allergies. Your daughter is going to dislike you when she’s older.” —> “No, that’s not true. I am protecting and educating my children about their life-threatening medical needs. They are allowed to have feelings about their food allergies.”
  • “Why are you so sensitive about this? If you have time to be upset, you need to try harder.” —> “I have a lot of emotions about food allergies and that is okay. I am working very hard and I choose to give myself grace in this moment.”
  • “It’s not that bad. Suck it up and power through.” —> “This feels really hard right now because it is really hard. I am doing hard things. My kids are doing hard things. I can tell them (and myself) that it is okay to take time to process our feelings.”
  • “Well, the kids probably have food allergies because of what you did in your pregnancy.” —> “I did not cause my children’s food allergies. There is no way I would have chosen this for them. I am a good mom and I’ll continue to educate and empower my children.”

Though it seems simple enough, putting this into practice is quite difficult. If you are continually battling guilt and shame as a food allergy mom, then this will take some time to start implementing before it becomes a daily habit.

But I promise you that it is worth it.

Self-Compassion BEFORE Self-Care

If you’re anything like me, you might think that self-care as a food allergy mom is important. And it is!

But self-care actually holds no restorative power for us unless we first embrace self-compassion. It is the stepping stone that gets us to meaningful self-care.

When I first heard that sentiment in Debbie and Candice’s podcast with Dr. Paige Freeman, it completely shocked me. All this time I thought I was caring for myself by taking walks, watching my favorite shows, bubble baths, etc.

And those are all good things! But those activities weren’t actually getting to the root of my core needs as a food allergy mom, let alone me as a human being.

I needed to hear from MYSELF that my emotions were true, valid, and worthy of attention. I had to give myself permission to love all the parts of me, especially my vulnerable and weak parts.

Toughest of all, I needed to love the parts of me that failed in the past. I needed to forgive myself.

Beyond that, I needed to believe in my heart that I was actually worthy of care.

I had to dispel the lies that I caused my kids’ food allergies and deserved punishment. The negative self-talk needed to be kicked to the curb. Boundaries needed to be placed around my heart, time, and space to make it harder for unsafe people to hurt me.

All of those things had to happen as part of my self-compassion journey so that I could start practicing healthy self-care.

Moving Toward Self-Compassion

If you’ve been following us for awhile, you know that Lauren and I are avid advocates of mental health and therapy.

We have benefited greatly from finding a licensed counselor to help us manage our food allergy anxiety and past trauma.

Food Allergy Counselor is an additional fantastic resource. These are counselors who specialize in working with families experiencing food allergies. Check them out HERE.

If finances are a barrier for you to access counseling, there are many other avenues to help get you there.  

Here are a few places that might offer free counseling:
If you are employed, try these options:
  • using your HSA or FSA card to pay for counseling
  • your health insurance might actually cover the cost
  • EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) might offer free or affordable counseling – reach out to your Human Resource Department
  • some counseling offices offer a rate on a sliding scale based on your income (ask about this when you call)

There are also so many other wonderful resources out there that can help you learn and practice self-compassion in your life.

Here are a few that we love:
  • Crown of Hope Counseling has a wonderful article about understanding the differences between self-compassion and self-care. They even provide a step-by-step process of what actively pursuing self-compassion looks like. Check it out HERE.
  • Centre for Clinical Interventions – They have a wonderful workbook that you can print or work through online. And it is FREE! Take a look at it HERE.
  • Self-Compassion Journals – Amazon has so many of these. Make sure you type “self-compassion journal” and choose one that you think might fit your needs. HERE is one to check out.
  • Self-Compassion Workbooks – Again, Amazon is a great place to find these. HERE is one to take a look at.

We Have Been There

The difficulties and very real mental health struggles around food allergies and caring for children with medical needs is something that Lauren and I understand all too well.

Loving ourselves sounds easy, but for some of us, it is hard. And that is okay. I want us to be able to find a safe place to courageously admit that.

It really is okay, love.

But we don’t want you to stay in that place for long. You are precious and important. You are so worthy of self-compassion.

Food allergy mothers are warriors. You were thrown into this battle just like we were, but you are not alone. We rise up with you to stand defiantly in the face of lies that attack your identity in motherhood.

We will continue to speak truth to you and over you. Don’t let another day pass you by without lovingly speaking it over yourself as well. <3


What to Read Next: I’m Not Sorry for our Food Allergies

One response to “Self-Compassion as a Food Allergy Mom”

  1. Thank you for this. Everything you have said mirrors exactly what I have been going through. It’s not easy to be kind to yourself when you are always worried about every single detail of what your child consumes and the environment in which they may consume. I have been on the back burner for years.

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