Recently, I was in a FB conversation with Hugo Schwyzer and others regarding sharing pain about eating disorders and the benefits of getting out of one’s head. It was spurred by this wonderful article by talented writer, Kerry Cohen, and I agree that we have to be able to talk about such things. I think that pain is a real indicator of underlying issues yes? Things that need to be looked at, honored and dealt with.
But my initial reaction was “Do you talk and tell everyone about your pain or do you discuss it, address it and move into working on things outside of yourself that will actually make you feel better and make a difference in the world.”
It’s not that one should shut down the negative self talk, but learn how to reframe it and move it from such a self focused echo chamber into use of your energy into the external world. Like maybe instead of going from “I hate my thighs” to “I love myself” it’s more like…”My thighs are indeed round…now I”m gonna go do some volunteering at a CSA.”
Which is not to say this is easy to do necessarily, But I’ve found when I try it, I feel better much longer then either complaining about my body or trying to over affirm it. And at the very least, I do some good for someone else.
Pain is real. I’m not advocating ignoring it. I’m advocating noting it and taking action to heal it, but not wallowing in it which I think does happen, at least I know I’ve done it. I know it’s happened to me. And if wallowing is too strong a word, thing of an image of being stuck, or sitting still.
I’ve been in head spaces where I was overwhelmed by self loathing and anger and fixated on…ME. And guess what, the world kept turning, people still needed volunteers, things needed to be done no matter how internal my focus was. And the more I took myself out of that space and into the space of focusing on all that’s around me (using techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy) the more I could address personal issues AND actually live in the world and realize that my thighs or wrinkles or whathaveyou are actually not really important to the state of the world. My figure matters little to me when I’m fully engaged in something I love (art, work, activism) and making change. And that feels really, really good.
What I’m advocating here, aside from being able to be honest about feelings and honoring talk therapy, is action. It’s finding the times when you feel the absolute happiest in your body (and also those times when you don’t even think about your body) and do more of that then standing in dressing rooms hating on yourself. And realize that the real you is the one that’s engaged and happy and active, not in some dysphoric underland with bad mirrors and horrid lighting. (Also as an FYI? Sally McGraw of Already Pretty has a great tip from Amy Guth about dressing rooms. Don’t dress looking in the mirror until after you are dressed and decide how the clothes FEEL.)
I’m talking about a therapeutic approach that acknowledges real dynamics and issues (and with it real pain) and promotes reframing and creating new thinking and action patterns that help take the person from an entirely “me” and internalized focus into a state of action and living in the world.
Finding self confidence and competence in skills and connections rather than looks is a real boon. And that confidence and competance (and self compassion) helps during the periods of time when one realizes that yeah, your body doesn’t look exactly “right”.
I’ve spent plenty of time in my own head about Me Me Me Me my face, or my thighs or my stomach. And it’s toxic. For me at least. But that doesn’t mean the pain wasn’t real, it just means (to me) that it’s misdirected. And by finding ways to be IN the world I find I enjoy myself much more in life and as a person and feel much more compassionate to my imperfect but exceptionally hard working body.
And thus I joked at the end of my conversation, perhaps I should join the ranks of the self help writers and come up with some Volunteer For Your Figure campaign. And it’s not a half bad idea, really. Your thighs (or whatever part of your body you tend to dismiss and discourage) will thank you for doing good in the world and feeling good about yourself rather than hating on them. After all, what did they ever do to you?
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