We don’t have to be in love with our bodies—our weight, shape or size—to treat ourselves well. In fact, we don’t even have to like our bodies. We don’t have to walk around loving or liking every inch in order to feel good in our own skin. Because often what helps us to feel good in our own skin are actions and practices. The small gestures. The gradual steps we take every day.
Below are three such steps. They are powerful (and not intimidating) actions or practices you can try to treat yourself with compassion. They’re written by one of my favorite people to interview: Lea Seigen Shinraku. I’ve interviewed Lea for a handful of pieces on self-compassion for our World of Psychology blog. Lea is a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco. She offers depth-oriented, self-compassion-based therapy, as well as workshops, groups, classes and trainings focused on self-compassion.
Learn more about Lea at her website. Plus, sign up at her site to receive her monthly self-compassion newsletter and a free e-book with 10 self-compassion practices (some of which were adapted for this piece).
Aware and Willing
If the story you’re telling yourself is: “I’ll only love myself when I weigh xxx, or when I’m a size __, or when I have a thigh gap or … (fill in the blank),” then you’re stuck. You never get to love yourself and your body, and you never feel lovable.
However, if you’re reading this article, you have some amount of willingness to relate to your body differently. It may only be 1 percent of you. Still, that willingness counts, even if you feel confused about how to be kinder to yourself. Your own willingness is a powerful force, and so is your awareness. When you are in a trance of self-judgment, two of the most important things you can do to break the trance are to name your experience accurately, and to remember your willingness.
Here’s a practice to try when you’re in a trance of self-judgment about your body or your appearance:
- Let it register. Inhale and exhale three times.
- Put your hand on your heart.
- Say: “I’m judging my body/appearance for ___________________, and I feel ___________________. And I’m willing to consider the possibility that I can love and accept my body/appearance as it is right now.”
Do you feel resistance? That’s fine. Just notice and name that, too:
“I’m judging my body/appearance for ________________, and I feel ________________. Right now a part of me feels resistant to loving and accepting my body/appearance. And another part is willing to try to love and accept my body/appearance as it is.”
Try saying it two more times. Notice how you feel as you acknowledge the different parts of your experience, including your willingness, and give them all attention. See if it helps you tap into other ways of relating to your experience of your body.
When you’re struggling with self-criticism, the prospect of meeting your experience with kindness and compassion can seem impossible. At those times, it can be helpful to remember that compassion is expressed in infinite ways, and curiosity can be a potent, more accessible form if you’re really judging yourself.
Genuine curiosity has no agenda. When you meet your experience from that place, you’re more open to possibility and discovery. You may think that you know all there is to know about your self-judgment. But there may be something valuable that you haven’t yet discovered. When you notice that you’re stuck in a trance of self-criticism, try to meet it with genuine curiosity. Ask yourself:
- What sensations am I experiencing in my body as I name this experience as self-judgment?
- What story am I telling myself about my body/appearance and my experience and what it means about me?
- What do I believe I would feel/experience/have if I had my ideal body/physical appearance?
- Am I certain that it’s actually true?
- Can I allow the story to be present without following it?
- If a friend was struggling in this way, what might I say to her/him/them?
In this way, you can begin to be more mindful of your experience, allow it to be what it is, and see what happens when you neither turn away from it, nor identify with it. When, instead, you meet yourself with awareness and curiosity.
Listening is Home
What does that mean ~ “Listening is Home”? Well, have you noticed that when you’re speaking with someone and you truly feel heard, that you tend to feel more at home in yourself?
In this practice, writing is a form of listening that you can offer yourself. Try it when you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, critical of your appearance, anxious, frustrated, sad, tired, overwhelmed, or when everything you do feels like it’s not quite right. It can help you practice being in relationship with this feeling, rather than feeling completely identified with it. You’ll need paper and a pen, or you can do this on a computer or tablet.
To start, take three breaths, close your eyes, and bring your attention inward. See what you notice: feelings, sensations, thoughts, images, memories.
At the top of the page, write a short description of what you notice. It might look something like this: “Scared, gooey fluttering in my chest, thinking I’ll never get it right. Or, perhaps, “Hating how I look and feeling powerless to change it.”
Or, you might sense that a certain “part” is present: inner critic, inner child, the perfectionist, etc. If so, write the name of that part at the top of the page.
Now that you’ve identified what you notice internally, you can experiment with giving this part or this experience your attention ~ really listening to it.
To help focus your listening, you can invite this aspect of yourself to come forward and communicate with you in some way. Below your description of it, write something like: “Hello, self-hate. I want to hear what you have to say.” How does it respond ~ in words, a memory, or maybe a shift in sensation? Write what you notice.
See if you have a specific question for this part of you, such as: “What do you need?” or “What are you trying to give me or teach me?” or “What would satisfy you?” Experiment with writing down your question, and see if the part responds. If it does, continue to write the dialog as it unfolds.
You might feel drawn to other questions or ways of communicating with this part. Maybe you want to draw, rather than write. Notice what feels right to you and follow that impulse.
When you come to a natural ending point, and you feel like you’ve gotten to know this part of yourself better, take three slow breaths. It can be illuminating to read over the words and dialog that you’ve written. Notice any shifts in how you feel, compared to when you first sat down with yourself. You may be surprised to see that some of the beliefs you had about this part of you have changed. See if you feel more of a sense of home within yourself.
Stay tuned for another piece that features three more powerful practices from Lea. Again, you can sign up for Lea’s wonderful newsletter at her website http://www.leaseigenshinraku.com.