Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting Rid of the Skeletons in the Closet: Other People's Voices About Your Body

Do you remember what kinds of things other people said about your body when you were younger? Ways they treated you that made you feel bad about your body? One step of the process I do with clients to reconnect them with their bodies is to do an inventory of the beliefs they took on about their body over the years. Like a couple reviewing the history of their relationship, we look at how you got to a place of negatively relating to your body. What happened in the past that brought you here?

One of the ways we take on beliefs about our bodies is through actual physical experiences: illnesses or injuries that make us feel like we're not sure we can trust our physical selves. But another way we can take on beliefs is through the way our body is treated or talked about by others. It's important to also take a look at the impact of those forces, because we may want to undo the beliefs we once took on--especially now, as we want a better relationship with our bodies moving into the future.

Looking back on the messages we got about our bodies, it's not hard to see where we may have abandoned a loving relationship with our bodies for someone else's criticism or judgment. One client I worked with was constantly 'scanned' by her mother and analyzed for how much she weighed. It was easy for her to lose a deeper connection with her body because it was always being examined from the outside, and her worth was associated with it. The belief she took on was something like, "My body is only worth something to me if it pleases my mother."

Another client lived through constant sexual harrassment by a stepfather who made lewd comments about her appearance and her attractiveness to boys--something she grew to be both desirous and afraid of. Her stepfather's voice made her feel that her body was something she couldn't control, that brought her unwanted attention. The belief she took on was something like, "I can't trust or control my body and the attention it brings; it's forcing me to experience things I don't want."

I urge many of my clients--and you too--to look closely at the actual beliefs you may have taken on about your body as a result of the observations and actions of others. Then ask yourself if you still want those beliefs. Sometimes we need to literally review our history in order to mine out the moments and patterns that created what are now beliefs we don't question. But we can begin to question them, to apologize for taking them on, and even to undo them.

One powerful exercise can be to write a letter now, from the desire to have a better relationship with your body, to anyone who treated or spoke about your body in a way that demeaned it, belittled it, or caused you to take on a negative belief about it. In that letter, you can say that you no longer accept (if you ever did) their behavior or their truth about your body and that you are now forging your own way with a body relationship that includes trust, respect and compassion.

Tell this person or group of people that you are learning to love your body no matter what, and that they no longer get to be right about how to treat or think about your own body. Sign the letter and date it, and make a note to yourself that from this moment on you're no longer living with other people's baggage about the way you relate to your body.

It's amazing how powerful this can be. You begin to realize that ultimately no one has the final word on your body and how it feels to be in it. And you begin to recognize and let go of the beliefs that may have accumulated over the years that take you out of a better relationship with your body. Realizing they never belonged to you and choosing to no longer carry them around makes you and your body both breathe a sigh of relief.

Take the skeletons out of the closet. Tell them you no longer need them.
Then when you're done with that letter, look at those old beliefs you may have taken on from others and see if you might reword them into new and beautiful ones, ones that make you and your body sing with delight and a deeper place of peace and self-love. It's your choice now, and no one else's.

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