Body Image and Discovering Self Compassion, Part One.April 9, 2015
GUEST POST BY: Jodi Strock
When I was 6 years old I became aware that others were aware of my body shape. While there is a long story to accompany this beginning, for the sake of this blog I will leave it simply as: this was the beginning of what I remember being a long battle of efforting my body to look acceptable/lovable/beautiful. While my body image was a jumping off point for my lack of self-worth to spiral downward, I realize now that it was rooted in a much deeper anxiety of not being _________ enough. (Fill in the blank… most things have fit at one point in time or another.)
I would say that I equally tried as many things to change my body as I did to change my mind about wanting
to change my body. What does this mean? I tried TONS of diets, exercise, starvation, diet pills, all in attempts to change my body. I also tried outpatient therapy, Intensive outpatient eating disorder programs, dietitians, psychiatrists, medications and finally, inpatient therapy followed by ongoing outpatient therapy to change the thinking about how I felt about my body. And then there are the things I initially tried in attempt to achieve both outcomes: yoga, meditation, running, spinning, getting a degree in sports medicine as well as psychology in part to “outsmart” my distorted food/exercise beliefs. With the exception of the self-harming behaviors, many of those mentioned were helpful. The problem was, I was approaching these modes of change from a place of believing that I was a problem to be fixed.
About 8 years into my yoga practice I became increasingly interested in meditation. In my mid 20’s, I joined a weekly meditation/therapy group that ended up teaching me things about compassion that I never could have imagined. At a similar time, I met my, now, husband, Justin. He was attending the same group but on a different night. Justin’s family was also key in shifting my view of the world as it relates to compassion.
I initially approached my meditation practice from a very familiar place: “what do I need to do to get this right?” How can I become “Zen” and calm so that I can accept myself as I am?
The beauty of this practice, like yoga, is that this question was as good a place to begin as any. Only a week into meditating I “mastered” my posture… but my mind kept wondering, and man, did my back hurt. So, naturally, my mind would focus on wanting to move… which I did. And then my inner critic leaped onto the shaming train, telling me how much I will NEVER be able to be “Zen”. A bit further down my path I actually managed to sit still the entire meditation, only to find that my shoulders were slumped in the end. For years, I didn’t get the joke. I became frustrated that I wasn’t going into altered states and moving towards “enlightenment.” I was also frustrated that I was putting in all this time and practicing my yoga, yet, my anxiety was still there and I still got the urge to act out negatively towards myself at times. In other words, my critic screamed, “IT ISN”T WORKING!!!!”
However, while this “wasn’t working,” I found myself giving people the benefit of the doubt more often. I found myself being less reactive in difficult moments. I found myself eager to ask for help. Perhaps the biggest shift I noticed was realizing that I felt a sense of relief when I it became apparent that “I didn’t know” something. Not knowing in the past would have sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, fear and self-judgement.
And then it happened… one day I decided to meditate. I sat down. My mind was fluttering around, my back was too sore to sit straight, so I decided to lay down, and as I struggled to stay with a single breath, I felt joy and I smiled as I got the joke. FINALLY! I had gotten the joke. This was meditation. All of my straight back, slap me with a ruler when my mind wandered approaches were stepping stones to help me understand MY mind. MY mind was conditioned to believe that doing what was “right” was more important than doing what was needed. I needed to relax. But doing all the “right” things to achieve that relaxed state only caused more anxiety.
And that’s the joke. The laughter is a wise compassion.
Because the laughter understands that my conditioning is going to keep doing it… possibly forever and hopefully to a lesser degree over time.
Jodi Strock, L.M.F.T., Humanistic Spirituality Counselor is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist whose practice includes working with individuals, couples and families. Jodi is trained in the Humanistic Spirituality approach and has a private practice in West Los Angeles. She uses mindfulness, meditation, inquiry, and other modalities to help her clients deepen their personal development.