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Healing a Poor Body Image

I am saddened when I hear the stream of negative, critical, unloving comments that clients, seminar attendees, and participants in my 12 Week Program often verbalize about their bodies.

“I can’t love and accept myself as is with these thunderous thighs.”
“I won’t go out in public in a sleeveless shirt; I hate my fat, flabby arms.”
“My calves are unattractive and stubby; I rarely wear dresses.”
“My skin is scarred from acne; I can’t make peace with it.”
“I have no real chin and my face is moon shaped; I hate it.”
“My stomach is really big and ugly; it makes me look pregnant.”
“I’ve never liked my rear end; it’s flat and unshapely.”

It’s difficult for most of us to accept and love ourselves unconditionally–flaws, bulges, inadequacies, scars, and all. We find it difficult to accept things like excess body fat, double chins, cellulite, acne, and body parts we believe to be too big, too small, or out of proportion. We long to have been born with different genetics. We compare ourselves to and envy those who have the bodies we would like to have. It seems nearly impossible to stop regularly disparaging ourselves with critical comments and judgments.

The problem with our constant self-rejection and condemnation is that it triggers both hopelessness and powerlessness. These states are not motivating and they lead to depression, loneliness, apathy, resignation, isolation, and emotional eating. When we lack self-love, we keep ourselves imprisoned by the image and sense we have of ourselves and our bodies. By constantly recycling negative self-talk, we deny ourselves the love and kindness that is our birthright.

Your relationship with food will remain imbalanced as long as you continue to shame and reject yourself and your body. You will use food to soothe, nurture, comfort, pleasure, distract, and even punish yourself.  It’s important that you learn to honor the parts of your body that you have neglected, disowned and discarded.

If you have spent a good portion of your life feeling ashamed and insecure about your body, you may need additional psychotherapeutic work to help you heal the wounds and shift the beliefs and attitudes that block you from accepting and loving yourself. In addition to traditional talk therapy, there are a number of therapeutic techniques and modalities that can be helpful for healing painfully negative or distorted body images.

One technique I use is a process I call healing-parts dialogues to help clients gain perspective and even gratitude for certain aspects of themselves that they dislike. The dialogues lead to a deeper therapeutic exploration of the disconnection from self, and they help to heal shame and move a person toward greater self-acceptance. I ask my clients to dialogue with the body part or perceived flaw they dislike. The goal is to go back and forth, talking to a body part until you come to some level of acceptance, even if temporary.  Here’s an example:

Susan: “Hello, big belly. I hate you. You’re huge and you make me feel super-self-conscious. You don’t fit well in clothes, you stick out, and you’re not attractive. No matter what I do, I can’t shrink you. You make me miserable.”

Susan’s belly: “Hello Susan. I’m the soft, flexible, curvy part of you that shrinks or expands depending on how you care for me. I know you wish I were smaller. But lately, you’ve been filling me up with a lot of food and negativity. How about feeding me more love and kindness?”

Susan: “Well, it’s hard for me to say nice things to you when you’re this big. But the truth is, hating you makes me want to binge. And that’s just a vicious cycle.”

Susan’s belly: “Big or small, I’m here to support you. Did you know I house very important organs for you?”

Susan: “Yes, you’re right, you are here to support me, and I’m totally unsupportive of you. I think I need to start appreciating all you do for me.”

Susan’s belly: “Amen, sister!”

You may need to have a healing dialogue many times before you are ready to more fully accept a particular aspect of yourself. Over time, you’ll find your attitude shifting towards this body part or flaw. When you’re ready, move on to another aspect of yourself that troubles you. You don’t need to wait until you lose weight, inject botox in your wrinkles or get your face and boobs lifted. Loving yourself means giving yourself the support, kindness, and compassion you need and deserve today.

Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for putting an End to Overeating and Dieting. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.

Image courtesy of marin /FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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