For the next two weeks, I'd like to focus on the things that can get in the way of a good relationship with your body. Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, now out to publishers. I've included the first two 'myths' we all have about having a good relationship with our bodies. Next week I'll finish it off with the final three!
I want to take a moment to address some of the resistances that might be coming up for you when you think about actually feeling better about yourself and your body. I saw them in myself and many of my clients. Let’s just call them the ‘myths’ of the good body relationship. Part of reviewing your relationship is examining the beliefs that may have held you back from what you’ve wanted. If you’ve been making excuses, or think you can’t begin to create a good relationship with your body yet, see if any of these sounds familiar to you.
MYTH #1: If I’m nice to my body and make peace with it, nothing will ever change…
If you’re used to operating from criticism and blame, it might feel uncomfortable and wrong to commit to a better relationship with your body. You might feel like you’re letting it ‘off the hook,’ and that if you love yourself the way you are now, you’ll be unmotivated to change. In fact, the exact opposite happens. The more loving and connected to our bodies we become, the more likely it is that we’ll naturally want to treat them well, to listen to them and to make choices that honor them. It’s practically impossible to be connected to your body on a deep level and act in any other way.
On the other hand, constant criticism and nagging often create a negative cycle that begets more of the same. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where someone was constantly criticizing you and telling you everything that was wrong with you, you’ve experienced this firsthand. Neither of you feel comfortable or happy. Frequently, if you’re on the receiving end of the negativity, you all also want to rebel and act out, just to get away from it all. Criticism and negativity often lead to self-destructive behaviors because we feel trapped. Choosing to be loving and connected opens up the possibility of change that comes from a deeper place.
A great deal of energy is wasted with the criticism too. Instead of getting to be on the same team as your body, you oppose each other and feel exhausted, like you can never be enough. It’s hard to accomplish much from that place, because there’s never any reward. Even if you fool yourself and your body into thinking you’ll be really nice and loving when you reach some external goal, that so rarely happens. Instead, the same fear and judgment that got you there stays with you, and instead of enjoying a goal weight, you’ll find yourself guarding it and fearful of putting weight back on. If there’s no change in the relationship, it’s likely you will.
Healing the relationship with the body gives you more than the possibility of lasting and positive physical changes. It also changes how you relate to yourself. A lot of your criticism of your body may mirror how you were treated in the past, or how you’ve felt in other relationships. When you choose to break that cycle—uncomfortable as it may be at first—you’ll be amazed at how much more freely you can move in your own life, knowing that you’re loved no matter what.
MYTH#2: I do have good reasons to not like my body.
We all have checklists in our heads of the way we’d like things to be: in our relationships, at work, the size of our bank accounts. It’s only natural to be disappointed when we don’t get what we want. The same is true with our bodies.
We can look at rolls of fat, cellulite, weight that won’t come off and decide that until those things change it just doesn’t make sense to be at peace with our bodies. They’re blowing it; they’re doing it wrong. They’re not matching our picture. But if we’re actually connected to our bodies and in relationship with them, the checklist by itself won’t work—just like it doesn’t really work in our relationships.
If your partner doesn’t do the dishes, you can decide that you don’t like him. But if you don’t talk about it, listen to his feelings and express your own, nothing’s going to change. When you decide that you have good reasons to not like your body, you’re doing the same thing. You’re treating it like something outside of you, rather than something you’re in relationship with. You’re not asking what might need to change inside both of you to make the relationship better. No problem gets solved any other way.
If you want to be attached to what your body is doing wrong, feel free. But without your participation and responsibility, there’s a good chance nothing will ever change. We can’t be so passive about how our bodies are, treating them like machines that aren’t performing the way we want them to. We have to acknowledge that we are a part of that dynamic too.
The other assumption that we make when we decide that our bodies are disappointing us is that they are somehow doing it on purpose. How many times do we make those same assumptions in our relationships? Often when we talk things through with a friend or a partner who disappointed us, we realize there were lots of other things going on that we just didn’t understand.
The same is true with our bodies. Somehow over the years we may have taken on some belief that says they’re out to get us, that they’ll never be the way we want them to be. Biology would tell us otherwise. Mostly our bodies actually want what we want: to be happy, healthy and vibrant. They’re biologically motivated to be trying to do whatever they can to create those qualities. The need to survive and thrive is in their DNA. If something is preventing that from happening, we both need to look at what’s going on and see what we can change.
This is a different way of approaching our bodies: assuming that they are doing the best we can and probably want the same things we do. In most relationships—no matter how dysfunctional—it becomes clear sooner or later that the both people also want the same things: love, respect, connection. Instead of deciding that there are reasons not to love, we can start focusing on creating what we both want and how we contributed together to where we are now.