Dietitian and nutrition therapist Haley Goodrich works with clients with very different shapes and sizes. “[A]nd as unique as they are, many don’t feel comfortable in their own skin for a lot of the same reasons.” They tell her it’s because they’re not small enough or pretty enough. They say it’s because they take up too much space. They say their bodies are just wrong. They feel judged for their food choices, skin tone or rolls, said Goodrich, who’s passionate about helping others create flexible, joyful eating habits and cultivate a peaceful relationship with their body.
“[T]hey have memories of being bullied, or have been shamed for gaining weight or affirmed for losing weight.” And, ultimately, they feel uncomfortable because they don’t conform to our culture’s ideal image of beauty and health.
How we feel in our own skin also goes beyond our bodies. “[T]rue comfort with ourselves is a state of mind,” said Amanda E. White, LPC, a therapist, blogger and yoga teacher who specializes in working with women with addiction, eating disorders and trauma in Philadelphia.
White has observed that people feel uncomfortable because “their words, some of their beliefs, actions, values and goals are in direct competition with each other in some way.” She shared this example: A client says he wants to stop drinking. But when he and White determine where his drinking stems from, he refuses to work through these unresolved issues. Another client says she wants to feel closer and more intimate with her husband, but she won’t tell him about her infidelity.
We’re also uncomfortable because we try to dismiss or escape from our pain with wine, food, staying busy—and all sorts of other behaviors and habits. “As a result, the feeling never leaves us; it’s never processed and released,” White said. “Most of us are living our life with unresolved emotions from when we were 10 years old. No wonder we feel uncomfortable in our skin. And the more we try to fix things on the outside, the less satisfied we feel.”
Psychologist Deniz Ahmadinia, PsyD, also noted that we search for answers or solutions outside ourselves to fix our supposedly faulty or broken parts. “I often hear various scenarios from clients, such as ‘Once I get this job, once I lose the weight or if I could just make this much more money, then I’ll be happy.” Then I’ll feel better about myself. Then I won’t yearn to crawl out of my skin. Then I won’t feel so utterly uncomfortable.
We become truly comfortable in our own skin when we accept ourselves—even the dark spots we don’t want others to see, said Ahmadinia, who specializes in mindfulness, stress and trauma at the West Los Angeles VA. We “see ourselves completely, as we are, without trying to avoid, run away or resist.”
Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. But there are practical, meaningful ways you can start feeling more comfortable in your own skin—like the below.
Notice your internal landscape. “The irony is that our low tolerance for discomfort is actually causing us to feel permanently uncomfortable in our skin,” White said. “Only when we are able to be with and process life’s daily discomforts will we know true freedom and ease in our skin.”
To start, White suggested sitting still for 5 minutes, and noticing your thoughts and internal state. Try not to react to what you’re noticing. Let “yourself be taken over by the feeling and physical body sensation”—without trying to numb or escape it. If you can’t sit with the pain, try different physical activities as you’re processing what’s happening internally. Take a walk, practice yoga, clean or wash dishes, she said.
Ahmadinia stressed the importance of observing our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without judging or berating ourselves. Accept your internal experience as it is.
See what doesn’t add up. White suggested writing down your values, goals, habits and commitments to see what’s out of alignment. She shared this example: A client values family but when she examines her actions, she realizes she hasn’t spoken to her parents and siblings in a long time. Instead, she’s been working. A lot. Her “values, words and actions don’t line up with each other.” So this client reflects on whether family is really one of her values right now. And if it is, she starts exploring how she can spend time with her loved ones, and connect to them.
Pay attention to how you talk about your body—and change it if it’s unhelpful. The key is to revise hurtful language to self-compassionate, neutral language. According to Goodrich, this is an example of critical self-talk: “Everyone is watching me eat this scone. I must be gaining weight while eating it. What must they be thinking about my health and my body size?” And this is how you’d change it, she said: “I admire people who don’t sit and overanalyze scones. By eating this scone, I am practicing body kindness and understand that all foods can be utilized by my body. I can honor and respect my hunger, plus it tastes amazing and brings me joy!”
Care for your body, as it is. Instead of trying to change your appearance, and hoping you’ll feel better and more comfortable, start practicing compassionate self-care right now. Be “willing to take care of the body you have right now,” Goodrich said.
Ahmadinia suggested tending to your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational parts. For instance, you might schedule doctors’ appointments for the new year and return to reading mystery novels, which you love. You might listen to music and journal about how you’re feeling. You might pray and spend time in nature. You might spend time with loved ones and volunteer.
Set boundaries around body-shaming conversations. If someone comments on what you’re eating, Goodrich said, you might excuse yourself from the conversation and the room. “You never have to justify what you are eating or why (or your body) to anyone.” You also might kindly say that dieting isn’t a topic you talk about, she said.
If someone comments on your body, Goodrich suggested using these replies: “I’m happy and I feel great”; “This is the size my body is when I am best taking care of myself and engaging in healthful behaviors”; “I’m concerned with health, not my weight”; “That’s not an appropriate conversation for us to have.”
Evaluate your environment. Do your surroundings support you feeling comfortable? For instance, it’s hard to stop thinking that comfort (and happiness) lies in losing weight when you’re following people on social media who are steeped in diet culture. Which is why Goodrich suggested going “through your social media accounts and unfollow[ing] anyone who does not make you feel better about yourself.”
It’s also hard to shift your thinking when you own a scale, have diet books around your home, and hold onto clothes that don’t fit. It’s hard not to reach for a glass of wine or bottle of beer to ease your pain if both are in your fridge.
Think about how your environment can help you feel more at ease with yourself and about yourself. Think about how it can foster self-compassion and self-acceptance. Think about how it can foster feeling your feelings, and ultimately honoring yourself.
We can feel uncomfortable in our own skin for a variety of reasons. Try to pinpoint your personal reasons, and work through the above suggestions. And if you’re not sure and if you’re struggling, consider seeing a professional. Because your current discomfort is temporary. Because you deserve to feel better, to feel the range of your emotions and to build a fulfilling life. And because, with some practice and support, you can.