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Archive for the ‘Body Image’ Category

Woman with shining water behind herThis coming Sunday, August 8th, is my birthday. I will turn 44, which officially places me in my mid-forties.   There’s no denying it at this point; I’m now “middle-aged.” I don’t like the imagery evoked by that term, but I know intuitively that the term has no real intrinsic meaning. 

The labels we place on ourselves are what we make them, much like life itself. To quote an old Talk Talk song from the 80s (I don’t have to worry about “dating” myself since I already gave my age away!), “Baby, life’s what you make it.  Celebrate it!”

Embracing the Aging Process

Instead of fearing the aging process or denying it, I choose to embrace it and face it head-on. Although I have the requisite wrinkles and grey hairs which inevitably accompany middle-age, I feel that the positive points of having reached this milestone far outweigh the negatives.

I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my reflections at mid-life. What have I learned about myself and about life over the years?  What would I tell my younger self if I could be transported back in time to talk with her? What wisdom could I impart to her to help make her journey a bit less troubled and fraught with difficulties?

Key Points of Wisdom at Mid-Life

I can encapsulate my key words of wisdom into three main points, which I will address in detail below:

  1. Feeling good is more important than looking good.
  2. Life is more than accomplishments.
  3. Strive for balance in all things.

Feeling Good is More Important Than Looking Good

When I was in my teens and twenties (heck, even a large portion of my thirties), looking good was of the utmost importance. I risked my health in countless ways, all in the pursuit of my image of beauty and perfection.  I starved myself, exercised obsessively, binged and purged, and abused diet pills and other substances in order to achieve the unrealistic and unhealthy level of thinness that I felt was attractive.  My eating disorders pushed me to the brink of death on multiple occasions and I am extremely lucky to have survived and to be alive today.

My younger self lived for the moment and didn’t consider the potential lasting repercussions of her actions. I didn’t realize at the time that I would still be feeling the effects of my misguided behavior many years down the road, yet I am convinced that many of the health concerns which continue to plague me are rooted in the self-destructive behaviors of my earlier years.

Sadly, it is only in the absence of good health that many people come to value their physical well-being. It is all too true that vibrant health and vitality is our greatest blessing and that it is difficult to experience life happiness without it.  The old adage that without our health, we don’t really have anything is painfully true.

If I were granted the ability to speak with my young and troubled self, I would do my best to convince her just how important health is and that feeling good is more important than looking good. I would also strive to expand her view of beauty to include body types other than extreme thinness and to highlight the value of inner beauty.

I am not sure how much of an impact my pleas would have on the young me, as I was extremely depressed and devoid of any real sense of self-worth at the time, but perhaps my words will have a positive effect on some of my young readers.  If I could turn back the clock, I would embrace my youthful health and strive to be strong, vibrant and athletic instead of thin and unhealthy.

Life is More Than Accomplishments

When I was younger, my life was all about achievement. I wanted to graduate college with honors, do the same with graduate school, and climb the corporate ladder to what I thought was “success.”  As I’ve matured, my perspective on success and accomplishment has changed. The things that I thought would lead me to feel happy and satisfied did not produce that result.  I came to realize that true success consists of inner peace and being able to look in the mirror and be happy with the person you see staring back at you.

If you ask a person in his twenties or thirties about his goals for life, it’s likely he will speak about career aspirations and the “American Dream” of owning a home. Of course, he might also mention his dreams of marrying and starting a family, but chances are his initial statements will be career-related. 

If you ask a person in his fifties or sixties to share his goals, the response will generally be focused in a different direction. He will likely speak of spending more time with his family, pursuing a hobby, or traveling to other areas of the world.  The older person typically values experiences over accomplishments. This doesn’t invalidate career pursuits, but it does highlight the importance of balance in life.

A few years ago, I was out with a small group and we got to talking about success.  When I lamented my lack of success, I was met with surprise from my companions, who stated that they considered me to be quite successful. When I tried to argue with them, one woman enumerated the facets of my success:  a happy marriage, living in an area I love, my educational accomplishments, my freedom to set my own schedule and pursue passions, and my continued path toward self-improvement.  When I thought about it, I realized she was right.  Although I didn’t necessarily fit the societal definition of success, my life was quite successful indeed!

Truth be told, I still wrestle with my personal definition of success and grapple with feelings of failure and inadequacy.  However, my view of success has become more expansive in recent years.  It now includes more facets of my life besides career and money and is centered more on living a happy and balanced life.

The mid-life me knows that at the end of my life journey, I won’t be wishing I spent more time at the office or engaged in the pursuit of career accolades or the financial trappings of success.  If I could, I would tell the younger me that she should invest as much energy in her relationships and passions as in her education and jobs and that she would be happier for this.

Strive for Balance in All Things

I touched on this point above, but it is worthy of repeating.  A balanced life is a happier and more fulfilling life. The young me would often focus on one aspect of life (such as career) to the exclusion of all other areas.   I would often work very long hours and sacrifice my relationships and health in my steadfast striving to reach certain milestones. 

The more mature me knows that it isn’t wise to allow any one area of life to occupy all or most of my time and attention. I now make sure to devote energy to all key facets of my life.  I don’t necessarily dedicate the same amount of time to all areas, but I no longer neglect any area completely.

There is a lot more that I would say to my younger self if I were given the chance.  I would speak to her about the importance of gratitude, self-awareness, growth, self-respect, kindness, and many other values and traits. I would also illuminate the subject of balance further, which will be the topic of a future post.  For now, I will simply state that I am extremely grateful to be reaching my 44th birthday and to be on the important and rewarding path toward healing my life!

My next post will mark the halfway point in my journey to heal myself and my life in one year.  In this post, I will share what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown during the first half of the Healing Project.  Until then, I thank those who are accompanying me on my journey and I wish you happiness, joy, and peace!

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Stack of booksIn addition to “You Can Heal Your Life,” the main text for “The Healing Project,” I’ve mentioned a number of other books in my posts. I thought it might be helpful to compile a reading list to help guide my readers through their own personal healing projects.

The books on this list are all part of my personal library and I feel comfortable recommending them to others. For each book, I have included a brief summary (mostly from Amazon.com descriptions) and a link to access more information or purchase the book.

I have done my best to categorize the books by their primary subject matter.  Some of the books might logically belong in more than one category, of course, but I only placed each book into one section for the sake of clarity. 

I welcome suggestions from readers for other books to add to the Reading List. If you would like to send me your recommendations, please complete the comment form at the bottom of this page or below any of my blog posts.

Our Sister Blog, “Body Image Rehab”

I started “The Healing Project” in February 2010 to chronicle my journey to heal my life in one year through working through the concepts and exercises in “You Can Heal Your Life” and related texts.  As I’ve been deepening both my self-awareness and my focus on healing, I’ve noticed that body image issues are still highly prevalent in my life. To address these issues and to finally learn to love and accept my body, I have started a second blog, Body Image Rehab.

Woman by Ocean with Arms OutstretchedThe focus of “Body Image Rehab” is on healing my feelings toward and perceptions of my body. As with “The Healing Project,” I have targeted a time frame of one year for this process.  To do this, I will explore all relevant issues related to my body and my physical appearance.   

To guide me in my body image rehab, I will be using a book titled “200 Ways to Love the Body You Have” by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson. This book consists of 200 pleasurable exercises from which you can choose at random, letting the Universe guide your choice. I will be completing exercises from this book and sharing my thoughts, experiences, and insights. I will use exercises and passages from the other books from time to time as well.

My Hopes for This New Blog…

It is my hope that this new blog will not only serve to heal my body image.  My heartfelt wish is that my writings will help countless other women (and perhaps some men as well) who are engaged in battles with their own bodies. I feel that we all deserve to love ourselves and our bodies. We are all worthy of feeling free to be ourselves and proud of who we are and what we look like.

I invite anyone who suffers from body image issues to visit “Body Image Rehab” and work on healing your negative body image along with me. I encourage you to join me on my path toward empowerment, self-love, and freedom.

Upcoming Topics

Here is a “sneak preview” of some upcoming post topics for “The Healing Project”:

  • Disconnectedness
  • What is the Real Problem?
  • Failure and Self-Image
  • Guilt
  • Self-Worth
  • Releasing the Past
  • Worrying About What Others Think
  • Law of Attraction
  • Accessing Our Higher Selves
  • Self-Criticism
  • Fearful Emotions

As always, I am open to topic suggestions, as well as feedback on my blog posts. I want this blog to be as helpful as possible to my readers!  Although I write a lot about my personal journey in my posts, my objective is to help others as well as myself through my insights and experiences.

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Fear is a normal emotion and a natural part of life.  We all have things which we’re afraid of, and many of our fears are actually healthy and adaptive.  Fear can help us to steer clear of dangerous situations and it can help us to navigate safely through treacherous encounters.  While some fears can be healthy and helpful, other fears are actually detrimental to our happiness and well-being.

Irrational Fears…

Most of us have fears which could be considered irrational.  We can be deathly afraid of things which really cannot hurt us.  Some of these fears impact us in fairly minor ways.  For example, if you’re afraid of clowns, you may avoid the circus, but this fear likely won’t impact you to any large degree.  Likewise, if you are terrified of thunder but live in an area where it rarely even rains, you won’t have to face your fear on a regular basis.

Fear Makes Our Lives Smaller

Other fears really do have the effect of greatly limiting our life experience.  Our lives can become dramatically smaller as a result of our fears, whether rational or irrational.  Many people are horrified at the thought of public speaking.  In fact, this fear often places above the fear of death in many surveys.   There was a ring of truth to Jerry Seinfeld’s joke that most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy at a funeral!  While it’s true that we can all flub a presentation and appear foolish as a result, is this really a fate worse than death?

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for six years and I have seen the look of abject terror on the faces of guests and new members when they have to get up and speak for the first time, even to just say their names and answer a simple opening question.  Some of these people are able to overcome their speaking fears, while others let those worries stop them and we no longer see them at meetings.

I used to work with a woman who remained stuck in a dead-end job because moving to the next level would involve her giving presentations.  She was so terrified at the thought of speaking in front of others that she preferred to remain in a job which gave her little joy or fulfillment.

Lying to Ourselves

We often tell ourselves that our fears aren’t that big of a deal.  We lie to ourselves and say that these worries aren’t really limiting our lives.  Yet if we really look within, we may realize that we are indeed avoiding situations and opportunities so that we don’t have to face that which we fear.

Facing My Irrational Fear

I recently decided to face a fear which is not only irrational; it’s so ridiculous that I am embarrassed to write about it and thus “out” myself for being so silly.  Yet this blog is about healing myself and helping others to heal, so I will banish my embarrassment in service of the lesson!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I suffered from eating disorders for much of my life and was dangerously underweight on and off for a number of years. I used to be victim to the tyranny of the scale and would weigh myself on a daily basis (or even several times a day).  I would allow the number revealed by this electronic device to dictate my moods and emotions and would make it mean significant things about my character.  If the number was low, I was a strong, disciplined, and acceptable person.  If the number was high, I was weak and disgusting by comparison.

How a Win Became a Fear

standing on a scaleAs I recovered from anorexia, I gave up weighing myself because I found it difficult not to attribute meaning to the three digit number displayed by the scale.  I considered my abandonment of scales to be a great win and a powerful sign of my healing.  However, over the years, I actually developed a deep fear of the scale and would steer clear of weighing myself at virtually all costs.  I would even avoid going to the doctor for fear that I would be asked to step on the dreaded scale.  When I absolutely needed to visit a physician, I would either ask not to be weighed or I’d weigh backwards and request that they not tell me the number.

I recently realized that I had become just as much a victim of the scale by fearing it than when I used to step on it habitually.  I had again let this otherwise benign device dictate my moods and my behavior!  I had let a number – or the fear of a number – mean something about my worth as a human being.   Rationally, I know that I am so much more than a number, that I am a person of infinite worth, as we all are.  I also know that my weight is my weight regardless of whether or not I know the number.  Avoiding what’s so doesn’t make it not so…

A Powerful Decision

I decided a little over a week ago that this had to stop!   I decided to face my fear and weigh myself, something I hadn’t done in close to 2.5 years… As I prepared to step on the scale last week, I found myself shaking and filled with trepidation.  But you know what?  Even though I wasn’t thrilled with the number, the experience wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.  I actually felt much better about myself for facing a fear and my life expanded a bit from the act of doing something which scared me. I know that the next time I weigh myself, it will be easier, and eventually it will hold no more fear for me than brushing my teeth!

Do That Which You Fear

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

  • How much more aliveness would we experience if we heeded the words of this wise woman?
  • How much bigger would our lives be if we no longer allowed our fears, rational or irrational, to stop us?

Here’s something to try… Make a list of everything that scares you.  Write down the big things and the small things, the significant and the trivial.  Then decide which fears you are ready to wipe out.  If tackling one fear each day seems like too much, how about one per week or one per month?

By starting “The Healing Project,” I set the intention to heal myself and my life in one year.  I now understand that a big part of my healing lies in facing my fears, in exercising my strength and my power. I am stronger than I think I am – we are all stronger than we think we are!

Closing Quotes

I will close this post with three powerful quotes, the first of which I’m sure you’ve seen before (but which bears repeating!):

  • “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson
  • “Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.” Marilyn Ferguson
  • “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it.  I want to have lived the width of it as well.” Diane Ackerman

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Woman on beach at sunsetIf someone were to ask you if you love yourself, how many of you would reply with an enthusiastic “Yes”?  How about if you were asked if you love your body?  I know that for most of my life, I would have found both questions absurd.  I definitely and unequivocally did not love myself or my body.

For years, I was my own worst critic.  I would unleash a torrent of criticism upon myself on a daily basis that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.  In fact, I was my own worst enemy.  Nothing I could do was ever good enough for me; my standards were impossibly high and there was no way I could reach them.  While my targets for accomplishment and success were virtually unachievable, my standards for my body and physical appearance surpassed them by leaps and bounds.

Specter in the Mirror

I would look in the mirror and pick myself apart mercilessly.  My hair was frizzy, my face was blotchy, my nose was too big, my hips were huge, and my thighs were completely unacceptable!  These are just a few of the criticisms that would play like a broken record inside my mind.  My self-criticism and overall negative attitude toward my body propelled me into a long battle with anorexia and bulimia, a struggle which almost killed me during my teens and twenties.  Even after I managed to pull myself out of the depths of that battle, the criticism did not end.  I was ruthless in the way that I’d pick myself apart, and all compliments from others would be quickly negated inside my mind.  I just wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, firm enough, or anything enough…

The Toll of Self-Abuse

The years of criticizing my body have taken a toll on my psyche and my health.  Although I have become decidedly more kind toward myself and my body in recent months (partly as a result of my healing project), the damage has been done. I am convinced that the laundry list of health issues from which I suffer can be attributed to the years of self-flagellation.

Think about it… How would you respond to a person who continuously berates you?  Would you thrive and shine in that person’s presence, or would you wither and fade?  The way in which my body has responded to my abuse is no surprise to me.  As Louise Hay and other wise spiritual teachers have written, our thoughts create our reality.  The reality of my physical body has been shaped by what I have continually thought over the years.

My husband has frequently commented on how mean I was to myself in my words.  Sadly, my unkind words paled in comparison to the ferocity of my internal dialogue.   I have created my poor health of the present time.  I take responsibility for that, as sad and defeated as it makes me feel today.

Learning to Love Myself

I am not an unkind person.  In fact, I believe I have a good and kind heart.  It is time for me to direct that kindness and compassion toward myself.  It is time for me to treat myself the way I would treat a person I deeply love.  In truth, I have learned to love myself in recent years.  I have learned to appreciate my uniqueness and my good qualities.  I am finally able to say – and mean – those simple but difficult words, “I love myself.”  I can even speak those words while staring into my own eyes in the mirror, yet tears always well up in those same eyes.   Likewise, I find myself becoming tearful as I express these sentiments today…

Ending the War with Self

The tears are for the years of self-hatred, for the wasted time during which I was at war with myself and my body. Although I would love to recapture those lost years and circumvent my current health challenges, I can only live in the moment and move forward.   Hopefully, I have many years ahead of me during which I can live peacefully with myself and my miraculous body which has survived despite years and years of punishing abuse.

Responsibility is Powerful

Some of you may identify with what I have written. I know that many people are tremendously hard on themselves and their bodies.  We can blame society and the unattainable standards that are set out for us by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.  But while society can and does play a role in our self-image and body image struggles, the ultimate responsibility falls upon us.  That is good news because it means that we have the power to transform our thoughts and attitudes.

Moving Forward…

How do we do that?  Let’s take some tips from Louise Hay (from “You Can Heal Your Life,” page 23):

“Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything.  Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.  Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

I Approve of Myself

I have been repeating the affirmation, “I approve of myself,” over and over inside my head for months now.  It is a simple affirmation that I think whenever it comes to mind.  I use this affirmation to cancel out self-criticism when I become aware that I am thinking negative thoughts about myself.  Although I know it will take time to undo the effects of my many years of self-abuse, affirming approval of myself is starting to have a positive effect on me.  I am beginning to notice my negative thoughts more readily and can more easily release them and replace them with more beneficial thoughts.  It is becoming easier for me to think kind and loving thoughts about myself.  I am experiencing small but noticeable “pockets” of inner peace in my days, and that gives me hope for the future.

Hope to Soldier On

The journey to heal my health and my life is a challenging and tumultuous road with many twists and turns.  I am humbled on a regular basis by the ebb and flow of my numerous health issues which only seem to crop up again just when I feel they may finally be behind me.  Yet I have hope and that allows me to soldier on with my healing project.

I believe that the key to healing is in self-acceptance.  In the spirit of hope, I close this post with another quote from Louise Hay, one which provides hope for us all for a peaceful and powerful future:

“I find that when we really love and accept and APPROVE OF OURSELVES EXACTLY AS WE ARE, then everything in life works.  It’s as if little miracles are everywhere.  Our health improves, we attract more money, our relationships become more fulfilling, and we begin to express ourselves in creatively fulfilling ways.  All this seems to happen without even trying.”

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In my last post, I had mentioned that my next blog entry would be about compulsive behaviors.  While I plan to do that post very soon, something else has been occupying my attention and awareness, so I decided to post on that topic today.

Most of us have things about ourselves which we don’t like or even hate, and we often waste a lot of time and energy resisting or fighting these things.  For most of my life, one of my “hates” has been my hair.   I have very thick hair, so thick that hairstylists have often commented that I had enough hair for two or three people.  In addition, my hair is naturally wavy and predisposed to frizz, tendencies which are intensified by the humid Southern California weather.

Resisting What Is

My God-given hair was not the type of hair I wanted.  I wanted the straight, sleek hair of a Scandinavian girl – or Jennifer Aniston.  I have been fighting my hair texture for as long as I can remember with countless hair products, daily flat-ironing, and a multitude of chemical processes.  None of these armaments ever worked to my satisfaction, so I continually searched for the next best thing.

Magic Bullet or Nightmare?

This past November, I thought I had found it.  I spent about four hours and over $300 at the hair salon getting what is known as a “keratin smoothing treatment.”  The result was not the nirvana I had anticipated; instead it has been a nightmare which I couldn’t have imagined.  I experienced some serious breathing problems from the formaldehyde released by the chemical process, and since the product was bonded into my hair, I was unable to remove it despite repeated washings.  Consequently, I opted to cut off close to half of my hair in order to minimize the deleterious effects.

Just when I thought I was past the worst of my nightmare, a delayed side effect occurred.  I started to lose large amounts of hair on a daily basis.  By the time I realized what was going on, I had lost so much hair that I could see parts of my scalp at my hairline and my ponytail diameter was only about half of what it used to be.   Fortunately, I think the hair loss has subsided at this point, and because I had so much hair to begin with, it is not as noticeable as might be expected.  However, I am still planning to see a dermatologist to make sure I am able to salvage my hair.

Two Key Lessons…

This is surprisingly difficult for me to write about and I am not sharing this experience to garner sympathy.  I have learned a great deal from this particular struggle and the point of this post is to share my insights.  I have titled this post “Perspective and Appreciation” because those are the two key lessons I’ve gained from my hair experience.

I would love to be able to turn back the clock such that I had never gotten the so-called keratin smoothing treatment, but I have come to understand that I needed this experience to learn what I needed to learn.  The Universe has been trying to teach me the lesson of appreciation and self-acceptance for many years.  Instead of appreciating what I had, I continued to fight it and wish for something different.

Taking Things for Granted

My hair is only one aspect of myself which I would berate and negate. While I would often receive compliments on my thick and lustrous hair, I would never take them in.  I was filled with hatred for my hair because it wouldn’t bend to my will.  Because my hair wasn’t sleek and straight, I didn’t show any love or appreciation for it; all of the energy I gave to my hair was negative.

Now that my hair is no longer long, thick or lustrous, I have been given the gift of perspective.  How true it is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. 

How often do we take things – and people – for granted until they are no longer in our lives?

Declaring a Truce

I am declaring a truce in the war against my hair.  I am now treating my hair more lovingly and am showing appreciation for the hair that is left on my head.  I am affirming throughout the day, “I love and appreciate my hair.”  I believe that this love and appreciation will help me to save my hair.  It was not only the chemicals which destroyed my hair; it was also my negativity and distain.

How many of us treat ourselves worse than we would treat our worst enemy?  How many of us are our own worst enemy?  How much would we thrive if we were to begin to treat ourselves the way we treat our treasured pets or children?

New and Empowering Vows

From this moment on, I vow to treat myself with much more love and appreciation.  I vow to start looking more at what’s right about me instead of what’s wrong.  I know that I will stumble along the way, as old habits are hard to break.  However, the perspective I have gained from my hair trauma has shown me that I must break those old habits.  It’s time to stop beating myself up and start appreciating all of the wonderful characteristics which I know I possess.

Will you join me in my new and empowering vows?  Many of us wish and pray for peace in the world, but peace begins from within.   Stop fighting yourself and choose to love yourself instead.  I know it’s hard, but we can help each other to live a more peaceful and loving existence!

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