My struggle with body image – Part 3

By Marlene Sexton LMFT

Date: January 16th, 2019

My last blog left off with a promise to describe how I learned to value myself and change my life. But first, I must explain how the subconscious can help you achieve your goals or keep you from them. 

As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I work on the theory that our thoughts create our emotions and then behavior follows. To simplify this theory, picture the brain wanting to keep all things congruent and “in line”—thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example, when you have a thought, the subconscious gives you the appropriatefeeling for the thought. It won’t argue with you, it just says, “Okay, here’s the appropriate feeling.” 

So, if I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “Today is going to suck! I have so much to do and not enough time to do it,” my subconscious says, “Okay, here is a feeling of dread.” It does notsay, “It’s cool, you really don’t have much to do and you can get it all done.” Dread would be the appropriate feeling for my original thought. 

But, the subconscious does not stop there! It now wants me to be “right,” and it narrows my focus and attention to that which confirms my belief, whatever it is. I might start seeing other things that need to be done that I don’t have time for, rather than the things I have already accomplished. Thanks to my subconscious, I only focus on what confirms my belief and then a behavior follows.  

We have to understand that behaviors are usually learned and are dependent on our personalities, our values, or how we were raised. In my case, I used to get overwhelmed and suffer “paralysis by analysis” and just give up, confirming my belief that I am incapable of success. Others might compensate by working harder and faster, and some might break things down into smaller chunks, prioritize, or ask others for help.   

So, if I tell myself that I am not worthy of good things, my subconscious says, “Ok, here’s some shame or self-disgust that goes with your thought.” The shame or self-disgust then leads me to behave in ways that are congruent with those thoughts and feelings. For example, I may accept poor behavior from others as well as myself, which makes for more negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The good newsis it works the other way, too. I have learned that if I give myself positive subconscious feedback, all of a sudden I change the way I think, and my behaviors then affirm those messages and change the way I react to others’ behaviors, as well.

Once I started listening for, and challenging, negative thoughts, I was surprised how often I was berating myself. It was constant! I also found that most of my thoughts were based on “faulty information.” For example, my weight did not determine my character. I did not have to “buy into” what others said about my body. I had a voice, and over time (not over night) I learned to use it. I started to read about and practice setting boundaries and limits. Again, big changes in whom I attracted into my life. More importantly, I started feeling better about myself!  

One of the ironies is that I believed it was “wrong” to feel good about myself. I feared people would see me as conceited or self-absorbed. Many people, especially women, believe this and yet they want their children to feel good about themselves. How can it be wrongfor me to feel good about myself, yet make this a goal for my daughters? I decided it was o.k., even desirable, for me to feel good about myself. And guess what? The world is still spinning just fine!

Again, as I felt better about myself, I started attracting more functional, confident people into my life, and one of those people was my husband. After more than 40 years together, I can say with confidence, he would have never put up with a person who put herself down constantly or did not treat herself well. He said it would break his heart to hear me say negative things about myself. I can understand how he feels because it would break my heart to see my daughters stand in front of a mirror and say hateful things about themselves.  

After practicing self-care, self-awareness, boundary setting, assertiveness, and limits for many years, I am now faced with a dilemma! In the next blog I will talk about the TRUE need to lose weight. This desire is not based on what others want for me, but what I want for myself—the desire to maintain my good health. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Take care and be kind to yourself, 

Marlene 

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