Why are we so hard on ourselves?
I am currently in an unkind relationship with my body. I have put on weight over the last few months and it is all I can think about every moment of the day.
I can feel it when I’m lying in bed at night and my stomach bulges as I lie on my side.
The shower is a good reminder, as I can’t hide anything behind baggy clothes.
I also work in a place with lots of mirrors and so I am constantly checking to see what my body looks like. Not so that I can feel amazed at how it is improving—no. I’m checking to confirm that my self-deprecating thoughts are valid.
This last weekend, we went away to the beach with friends. Days before the trip, I was involved in inner turmoil at the thought of beachwear. How could I possibly expose so much of my body to the outside world? But on the other hand, should I just be brave, embrace life, and stick on a bikini? Won’t I regret it later, having not lived in these moments because of a bit of wobbly flesh?
So, I packed a bikini.
I also packed a full costume after that.
And swimming shorts.
When the time came to go down to the beach, I went to the bathroom to change. I had all of my options in my hand. I must have stood there for five minutes trying to decide what I was feeling. Brave? Comfortable? Shy? Self-conscious? The full costume with the swimming shorts won.
I quickly slipped my bikini back into my bag, embarrassed that I’d even brought it. I knew that if I put it on, I wouldn’t have the courage to take my clothes off to reveal it anyway. At least this way, I may enjoy a swim.
But that didn’t really work out. Once we were there, I felt ashamed about what I was wearing and so out of place—like the costume and shorts were more of a beacon for my body insecurities than a bikini would have been. Everyone could see I was trying to cover up my body shame, surely.
I stood in the shallows for a bit, trying to be present and enjoy a day out with friends. It was a beautiful day with plenty of potential to create fun memories, but even during good chats and laughter, I couldn’t quite silence the self-shaming voice inside me. I couldn’t wait to cover up with normal clothes.
The reality is that no one probably noticed my swimwear choice. No one was relieved that I hadn’t dared wear a bikini. And even if I had, would they have judged me? There were others on the beach with bodies just like mine and they were embracing life.
I think one of the main reasons that I’m so hard on myself is that my body is completely within my control. What I eat and the exercise I do is my choice. It’s no one else’s fault. So, I dislike my body but also dislike myself for allowing my body to get to this point. It’s a wonderfully negative cycle.
Unfortunately, allowing these negative thoughts to run freely through my mind only allows them to infect other areas as well. I feel negatively about my body. Then I notice I’m also negative toward my work, and then my writing. Why can’t I keep the house clean? Where is my life going?—I need to reign myself in quickly.
But today I read something that resonated with me. Something I needed to hear.
“A great deal of chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
We bring ourselves down, but encourage others. We focus on our failings, but seldom on our successes. We allow these negative thoughts to consume our minds and keep us from experiencing the beauty of being alive. Why are we so hard on ourselves?
I’ve realised that I need to learn to appreciate myself. And I need to give myself grace, to practice self-love.
This is what I’ve learnt so far:
Self-appreciation involves looking for the good in ourselves, acknowledging it, and then focusing on it. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we need to see them both with humility and kindness. Self-appreciation doesn’t have to be vanity and it doesn’t even have to be spoken aloud—it’s just an inner recognition of the credit we deserve. There are areas in my life in which I am doing well. There are obstacles that I have overcome to get to where I am today. I must not give in to self-destructive thoughts. I must stop looking for negative validation. I am more than just my body shape.
Grace is an acknowledgement that we are not perfect, and that no one else is either. Even when we have the best of intentions, we fall short. We overindulge, we exercise too little, we say mean words, and we let people down. But we are not meant to look at ourselves with shame and guilt. It’s not to say that our actions have no consequences, but how we respond is important. We must make amends when we have hurt others and ask for their forgiveness. But the love and kindness that we extend to them must also flow over into what we show ourselves. It is true, I have put on weight, but being hard on myself will not change that. I am where I am and the change I want will be a process.
Self-love is a popular concept at the moment but one that I am only now starting to understand. This quote really helped me:
“Self-love requires you to be honest about your current choices and thought patterns and undertake new practices that reflect self-worth.” ~ Caroline Kirk
My thought patterns have not reflected a feeling of self-worth. They have been of self-criticism and shame. The dislike for my body has some days led to a feeling of despondency, to eating rubbish because my body is already in an undesirable state.
Hate does not result in change, but love does. It sounds like a contradiction, but only in being able to accept myself as I am can I help bring about the change that I seek.
My body can change. I can lose weight and I can get stronger. But it is my mind and my thoughts that need to be strong, kind, and gentle regardless.
Author: Paula Foster
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron