Body Image Shame And Personal PowerBody Image Shame And Personal Power

Body image issues are an element of one's overall somatic perception, an important domain of personal power. The way we perceive and relate to our body colors many aspects of our daily lives including our interactions with others. If we maintain a primarily negative view of ourselves, we give up much personal power in our relationships and other human encounters. Many people think body image is primarily an issue for people who aren't stereotypically thin, or who have an eating disorder. In actuality, body image is more about how you see yourself, what you tell yourself about your body, how you describe your body and how you think, feel & behave toward your body. There are many classically trim people who daily struggle with discomfort, shame, embarrassment and hatred about their bodies. Body image is not necessarily about dieting or what you eat, though that may be an important aspect; however you can still change your body image without dieting or controlling what you eat.

Disturbed body image can derive from a variety of sources. Simply being repeatedly shamed or scolded by your parents about your eating habits, or hearing comments about your tendency towards obesity, can instill a sense that your body, and you, are pretty shameful entities. Other more damaging history may also be at play. Physical and or sexual abuse in your past can be a potent source of warped body image. Individuals with whom I've worked who share the experience of physical and sexual victimization report similar reactions. Many of them feel repulsed by or fearful of sexuality and suppress any trace of seductiveness or flirtatiousness within themselves. A frequent compensation is to view themselves as non-sexual or androgynous beings and alter their view of themselves accordingly. Others isolate socially and interpersonally, transforming themselves into something undesirable for human contact (in their own transformed consciousness at least). Others have different experiences that space doesn't allow exploiting, however, the point is this: to reclaim your personal power, once having been violently assaulted or invaded, you will have to muster considerable courage and step into it rather than retreating further. You only have to push far enough here to have some small success in addition to adequate supports to begin implementing other empowerment strategies and then allow the leveraging effects of these to begin propelling you forward.

Survivors of accidents, surgeries and other disfiguring events often have similar experiences as those described above. You may need to make special physical and rehabilitative accommodations for your particular challenge but the same principle applies: you have to get moving forward ? make at least a small persistent effort and you will be able to implement other empowerment strategies, most importantly enhancing your collective identity and psychospiritual orientation, which will deepen your commitment as well as provide expanded support to addressing somatic perception. As a critical contribution to repairing your somatic perception, and ultimately restoring personal power to your life, it is essential that you address your body image; otherwise, you will only have half a victory, regardless of what other gains you make. The bottom line here is that regardless of the unfairness and unjustness of the particular experiences that propelled you into physical self-loathing, it is now your responsibility to make the changes. It may well be that releasing and forgiving will be a big part of moving on. Changing body image will involve addressing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors - a rather radical transformation on the surface. However, you will find once you get started that what you need here is just what you wanted all along. The following are some tasks specific to changing body image. These can serve as a beginning point in your change efforts and the first steps on your path to recovering your desired, and realistic self image:

1) Take an inventory of your relationship to your physical being. This may sound strange but it is imperative that you become informed about the ideas, beliefs and attitudes that are the basis of your assumptions about yourself. For example, people with body-image issues typically have a shameful attitude toward their body. Shame is a power-draining emotion and very non-productive. If this dynamic fits you, that would be useful information to possess in beginning to reinvent yourself would it not? You may also need to take note of any settings, circumstances or feeling-states that appear to be related to increased negative thoughts about your body. Does it happen when you're nervous, around members of the opposite sex or in a group? Become aware of these things; it is all data you will use to your benefit. Hopefully you get the idea here - the first step is identifying the problem and your part in maintaining it. Once you get started, the rest becomes somewhat easier. So go at this assignment with some sense of purpose and the excitement of discovery. The worst that can happen is that nothing will change, but the chances are, that it will.

2) Learn to stop negative thought patterns in the present. This is actually a behavioral intervention that can pay great dividends. Thoughts typically precede emotions and actions. If you can learn to disregard, deflect or otherwise stop these old ideas, you are making a great stride. When you detect that your negative thought spiral is starting, say "get out of here-be gone with you" and laugh at it. This takes the power out of it. Stopping thoughts before you attach emotional significance to them and trigger the shame spiral is essential here. Your old dynamic is to get in one of these loops and take it to the extreme. This happens automatically and you likely aren't aware of it since you've done it so long. This simple interruption technique begins to radically transform your power as you begin feeling confident that your life is not "out of control" as you may have thought. Another further aspect of this is to replace the negative with positive messages and thoughts about your body. These are affirmations of course and are another weapon in your arsenal; use them often, affirmations will not only replace old thoughts, they will become your new automatic thought process about your body.

3) If you have an eating disorder, or otherwise suffer some condition that affects your actual weight and appearance, you will probably need to change how you feel about yourself before you can commit to a dietary or exercise regime. The dynamic at play is that the shame spiral often takes us into a region of hopelessness and despair where we eventually say, "why try, its no use, nothing will change anyway". And guess what, you are right. Whether you think you can or you think you can't - you are right. So take the other approach. Address your perceptions about and relationship to your body first. When you can view you self with acceptance and love, you will naturally want to engage in healthy behaviors that perpetuate and advance these good feelings. You will value and nurture those things you love and care about. Let that be you and your body.

4) Setting some goals and planning the objectives to meet them will be helpful in the long run. I would stay away from concrete and self-defeating steps like" I'll lose ten pounds next month", rather stay a little more amorphous while selecting things you have passion about; I want to go to the beach with___ this summer and I'll do whatever is necessary to feel good about being out there half-clad. Now there's something to sink your teeth into! You can also employ some visualization to help get into the feeling and experiential state of actually being there. This can be quite powerful. Another application of visualization is to use it to call up a time in your life when everything was going well and you were feeling on top of it all. It will be good if you can think of times when you felt good about your body and re-experience those feelings in your visualized future and present. I have used these approaches in my practice with great results.

I can't tell you how long this will take, but I can tell you it will take. The importance of using your psychospiritual supports along the way is that it imparts a sense of faith in yourself and your future. It helps to know that you are not alone in this journey. The universe doesn't want you to suffer - at worst it doesn't care, and leaves it to you to decide what your course will be. Give yourself a huge gift and choose the course of fulfillment and personal empowerment.

by Douglas Frans
References and Bibliography

Douglas Frans, Ph.D. Has been a mental health practitioner, educator, lecturer and researcher over a 30 year professional career. His primary clinical work has focused on personal empowerment and compulsive disorders including: addiction and eating disorders. He has worked in private practice settings and also directed mental health, addiction and eating disorder recovery programs. He has practiced primarily from a competency-based perspective. Dr. Frans consults and writes about water quality issues and water filtration as well.

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