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Driven to distraction

April 11, 2011

A second from Tumblr, this one posted just a little while ago.

Could Your Body Dissatisfaction be a Red Herring? (Change Your Thoughts, Not Your Thighs!)

The first post in a good entry-level series on mindfulness and self-compassion applied to our bodies, found via Womanist Musings.

As you can see, the underlying issue or precipitating event may have nothing to do with size and shape.  But this doesn’t stop us from feeling “fat” as a result.

Why is this?  For one, we may have difficulty identifying feelings other than “fat.”  Our culture does a real number on women, by urging us to express dissatisfaction with every aspect of our appearance, while dismissing our legitimate discontent about other areas of our lives (particularly those related to motherhood or family).  Because of this mixed message (Yes, you’re entitled to feel angry at your thighs!  No, you’re not entitled to feel angry about the monotony of motherhood!), we may not be comfortable identifying and articulating our dissatisfaction.  And we may not have a lot of practice.

Or perhaps we have harbored displeasure with our bodies for so long that we see them as the root of all problems.  “Of course I’m unhappy—I weigh too much,” becomes our ongoing script, the explanation for the state of our life.  Body dissatisfaction serves as a hook onto which all of our free-floating negative emotions attach.

Though destructive, this narrative may be rooted in an attempt at self-preservation. Our psyches tend to steer us toward things we can tolerate, and away from those which are messy, overwhelming, or threatening.  But even if body-hatred is relatively tolerable or familiar, it certainly isn’t pleasant.

Next time you find yourself stewing in vitriol about some imperfect aspect of your body, pause and take stock: What else are you feeling?  Could there be more going on?

This doesn’t just apply to body-related stuff, IME. I have had significant problems with similar.

Several of my close relatives have clinical OCD, and I have OCD tendencies. (How much of this pattern was learned and how much has to do with base neurology, I have no idea.) I am very prone to driving myself batshit crazy with looping worries and other intrusive thoughts. And, yes, some of the people around me were encouraging this. In the case of body-related worries, it’s a barrage from too many sources to count. And it all sucks energy and serves to distract us from what is really going on, both around us and in our own minds. (Which consumerism and other systems that want us vulnerable are counting on, to one extent or another. But I digress.)

When I was able to get enough distance from destabilizing situations to apply more mindfulness, it became obvious that multiple levels of things were going on. I was using what seemed to be more socially acceptable/encouraged looping worry and self-hatred scripts to distract myself from what was really bothering me more deeply. I will also feed that energy straight into anger, which seems more manageable if you’ve got certain PTSD reactions–but will burn you out like hot coals after a while. Learning to look more closely at the looping patterns, I could start seeing more of the underlying conflicts they were trying to obscure and start dealing with them.

Now, I still fall into these ingrained patterns more than occasionally. But, now I can usually recognize them for what they are and not take the nastiness so personally. They’re generally just there, like buzzing mosquitoes. And–contrary to what we usually hear–by not arguing with and trying to reject the looping scripts, they are less likely to be as persistent. (YMMV, of course!) I suspect being prone to loops in the first place helps with this; trying to counter them only adds more energy, and may create additional loops with weird interactive properties.

This sort of ties in with the gaslighting theme, too. That’s a good source of handy looping scripts to distract you from what’s really going on, pretty much by definition.

ETA: To summarize in a way that sounds less mystical–because it’s really not–developing and applying a good bullshit detector inside your own head is just as important as when dealing with other people. If not more so.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 2:37 pm

    Urocyon, thanks for linking to my post. I’ve enjoyed looking around your site and learning something about you. And I think you’re totally right that these distractions, our ongoing narratives about what is wrong in our lives, can be related to nearly anything–not just the body.

    • urocyon permalink
      April 12, 2011 3:27 pm

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

      This pattern definitely seems to be a common one with body dissatisfaction and hatred, as you pointed out. Rereading, I didn’t go into that very much in this short post, but the “fat”, “wrong-shaped”, etc. loops have been a persistent problem for me and so many people I know. (OCD tendencies not required.)

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