My struggle with body image – Part 2

by Marlene Sexton LMFT

Date: January 11th, 2019

In my previous blog, I discussed the dynamics that lead to my “very diminished,” aka non-existent self-esteem and body image. Writing that blog was difficult because it meant going back to a time 45 years ago that was confusing and painful for me. You see, I have come a long way since then, and I worked hard to put it all behind me and make it just part of my story. However difficult it was, I am also proud of myself for creating a life I wantto lead, and I am here to tell you it can be done. 

Long ago, I saw a meme on Facebook that simply said, “Being overweight is hard, and losing weight is hard. Choose your hard.” I wish I had seen that decades earlier! I would have applied it to many of life’s difficulties, including those that were not weight related. 

Here is more of my story:

I was in my early twenties. I believed I was not good enough, and I should be grateful if anybody paid any attention to me. It did not matter to me how they conducted themselves, what their values or beliefs might be, or even what goals they had. If they liked me, I liked them and despite any red flags, I would fit them into my life. Looking back, I can see I had a high tolerance for poor behavior.  

What I know now but didn’t know then was “like attracts like.” To put it in more dynamic terms, we attract people who confirm our beliefs. In other words, if I don’t feel good about myself, I will attract people who (a) don’t feel good about themselves, thus giving us something in common or (b) they also don’t feel good about me; again, something in common! 

My self-loathing not only manifested in the company I kept, it prevented me from taking care of myself. Oh, I showered and dressed well (at least by 70s standards) but, frankly, that was so I would not offend others. I allowed “friends” to stand me up on commitments they had made, and it was “no problem” if they called for a favor (e.g., rides, bail, shoulder to cry on) at two o’clock in the morning. I skipped meals to help others, I ate junk food to appease, I put my own plans on hold to cover for co-workers so they could do something fun, and so on. There seemed to be no end to my “generosity” and need to please!  It felt good to be needed, but it came with a steep price. For starters, I was exhausted. Exhausted from taking care of others, but also exhausted from feeling so bad about myself.  

Honestly, I am not sure if I had a weight problem then or not. The number on the scale said I was “within the range” of a healthy weight and despite pictures that show otherwise, I was certain I was overweight and unattractive. (We now know BMI is not accurate in determining a healthy weight). But, back to being exhausted. 

I saw others feeling good about themselves and practicing self-care, but I didn’t know how they got there. Despite my early interest in psychology, I felt as if self-worth was out of reach. I believed profoundlythat we are products of our environment and we don’t have much control over our lives—things just happen. I thought others were “lucky” to have life go their way; I also held absolute beliefs, using words such as always, never, everybody, and nobody, to describe my life. I didn’t know I had options until one day I decided I could “try” to make improvements.  

I started reading articles on self-esteem, and I came to understand that what we say to ourselves matters. I made it a goal to stop criticizing myself. I listened to my self-talk and challenged my negative descriptions. This did not happen overnight, but with practice I could catch myself in a negative spin and challenge or stop my thoughts. My goal was to quit saying things to myself that I would not say to a friend. Then I decided that I would stop negating compliments and simply say, “Thank you.” 

Soon, I began augmenting compliments. If someone said they liked my blouse, I would get out of my comfort zone, risk being thought of as conceited, and say, “Thank you. I saw it and really liked the color.” I realized the world would not stop spinning if I were kind to myself. My confidence grew and, soon, my friendships changed. I started attracting more confident, functional people into my life, and I realized I could “keep up.”  I saw myself as more valuable and worthy of good things. And good things came.  

In the next blog, I will share with you how the subconscious works and how to tap into your strengths so good things come your way, too.

Stay tuned.

Peace and good health!

Marlene

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