Challenging Body Distortions Through the Eyes of the Body
Body image is the picture in our mind’s eye of how we look to ourselves. It reflects our beliefs about how we think others perceive us and captures how we experience the feeling of “living” in our bodies.
— Adrienne Ressler, MA, LMSW, CEDS
Everyone has a body image and it develops from the moment of our birth. It continues as we experience life and incorporate the messages of our personal and more global culture. Although we may strive to balance an inner image that is more positive than negative, we are all susceptible to finding fault with ourselves.
By feeding ourselves a steady diet of self-criticism, however, we pave the way for a deprecating self to take control. Sticking to us like glue, this negativity has an impact on our inner self, and we often feel very small, diminished and even shamed. In a sense, we become “centered” in these thoughts, causing all of our decisions and actions to take form from our distorted perspective. This imbalance has the power to paralyze us and usually does when we let it roam freely in our minds.
According to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are standing, as in what direction we are moving.” Consequently, when our distortions beckon our low self-esteem, it becomes necessary to challenge them in order to regain a more balanced perspective. It is also essential to examine what underlies these thoughts, so we can consciously decide to what degree we will allow their influence to threaten our functional mobility.
Megan, a patient at The Renfrew Center in Florida, described the struggle between her positive and negative body image this way:
Over the years, I have grown to see myself the way I believe others see me, as a failure, a disappointment, and a burden. These messages feel like a knot in my stomach that keeps tightening and never loosens. They are like a voice in my head that keeps repeating that I’m no good and nobody wants me around. They cause me to feel heavy and weighed down. I have become a very sad, introverted woman, afraid I will be rejected if I speak out. I hurt myself by not eating, overeating or purging. I make sure I never feel satisfied, and I make myself believe that my accomplishments are not real.
There is a small part of me, however, that does believe that I am a strong, independent, lovable human being, capable of experiencing emotions and trusting myself.
In order to develop a healthier body image, Megan will need to build on her strengths and rebalance her body image so that her negative thoughts are no longer dominant. In short, she will need to:
- Learn about how her perception of self takes form and lives in her body
- Explore how she expresses herself through her body language
- Identify how she sees herself and perceives how others see her
- Examine how her image of herself impacts on her life
- Explore and develop strategies to expand her ability to resolve her body-image issues
Megan participated in a special group called Body Image Experiential at The Renfrew Center of Florida. This group format was developed in order to provide an opportunity for our residential patients to explore their body image issues from the inside out. Since our body image programming centered mainly around the media’s impact on a person’s body image, it was believed that a format that focuses also on the person’s relationship with their body stemming from their internal perceptions of themselves would be helpful.
The Body Image Experiential format embraces a psychoeducational, experiential and psychodynamic format, lending itself to: