18 Jan Play that Funky Music
People ask me a lot about what to do with the feelings of self-reproach and self-disdain that often accompany the desire to lose weight. Often clients come to counseling with a full litany of internal tapes that play loudly and repeatedly in their heads. You know the ones. . . I am too fat. . . I lack the willpower to change. . .I will never accomplish this, etc. There is a lot of literature that suggests that the most effective response to these tapes is to find some way to turn them off: to talk back to them, to ignore them, to distract yourself from them or to engage in any one of a number of cognitive exercises meant to turn down the volume. There is a lot to be said for any of these approaches, and I encourage you to try them out and to see what works best for you.
But I would also like to suggest an additional approach, and that is to let those tapes sing out loud and clear. Allow yourself the space to let them play. . . and play. . . and play. You hate your thighs? Then go ahead and hate them. You have the ugliest upper arms in the history of mankind? Call Guiness. I think that when we distract ourselves from the feelings that we are having, we send ourselves the message that these feelings are wrong or dangerous or illicit. I am suggesting that when we move away too quickly from the feelings of self-reproach, we lose an opportunity to allow ourselves to also find our way to self-love. I believe that there actually is an end to this playback loop and that when given the chance to fully express themselves, feelings of self-loathing can relax on their own into a more compassionate place.
This can be a scary idea because I think that many of us believe that if we give voice to the ugliness that we sometimes feel, it will overwhelm us. That this is a one way street that inevitably leaves us grabbing for the next cookie, or restricting even more desperately, or will leave us incapable of functioning in a productive way. My experience tells me something different. My experience has shown me time and again that when we allow ourselves to really feel a feeling, without putting the brakes on, that it passes. That it gets integrated into the larger picture of what we know about ourselves to be true. We learn that our internal narrative about our hips or our waists or our eating habits can get richer and more complex if we allow it to unfold. We find ourselves finding humor and compassion and forgiveness and lightness in those very areas that we also find shameful, ugly and scary.
So try this out. . .the next time you begin to hear your version of a tape getting started, just allow it to play out. Don’t try to stop it, or fight it, or judge it. If you need to do something, turn the volume up. Let it be. And watch what happens. (The critical exception here is if you find yourself experiencing a desire to hurt yourself or someone else and you do not feel in control of these feelings. In this case, you must let someone know and you must get immediate help). Otherwise. . . See what starts to happen. Does it lead to deeper feelings of guilt and shame? Does the litany start to feel repetitive, or dull, or irrelevant? Does it begin to feel silly? And do self-loving and protective feelings begin to show up? Remember. . . you are always in charge of when to turn it all off. Just let it play out a little longer than usual. You might hear something new and different in the tape and you might just hear a new melody, seeking expression.