By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
In a recent session with a client, we discussed the painful, insidious, incessant, and automatic nature of her bad body image thoughts. Since this particular woman loves to garden, I chose a metaphor I knew she would relate to. I told her that she is not responsible for the demeaning thoughts she has about her body because she did not plant the seeds in which those thoughts took root. Our culture did. And she doesn’t choose to have such hurtful thoughts sprout up on a regular basis; nobody would consciously decide to have such painful thoughts. I suggested that her negative body image thoughts are like weeds; they just pop up. It’s not her fault.
But there is something that she—and all of us who find such thoughts popping into our heads—can do to rid ourselves of these mental “weeds.” We can pull the weeds and then plant and nourish new thoughts that are self-loving and healthy.
When I suggested this remedy to my client, she replied, “It’s so hard! It’s just too much work to try to catch my thoughts and change them!” This from a woman who pushed human beings out of her body, is raising said beings, has a self-made business, a marriage, and elderly parents she often takes care of. This woman knows how to do hard!
Yes, weeding out self-critical thoughts and planting nurturing ones is hard. But so is walking around hating our precious bodies all the time. And so is dieting, overeating and all the behaviors we do as a result of that self-hatred. “You are already doing hard,” I told my client. “The self-hating hard is familiar; the unfamiliar challenge is to be aware of your automatic thoughts and choose ones that are kinder and more supportive.” It takes effort and practice to weed out deeply rooted beliefs that tell us: You are unworthy, unattractive and unlovable. You must do more, be more and try harder. You have to change the shape of your body in order to be okay. But we all have the power to pull the mental weeds that inhibit our growth and our health. And we all have it within us to plant new seeds.
So I asked this amazing woman, “When you are gardening and find yourself in an uncomfortable position—like maybe your knee is on a pebble or your back is aching—do you shift your body?” “Yes, of course.” she replied. I explained that she could treat her negative body image thoughts similarly. When she becomes aware of a bad body image thought, she can shift her position and choose thoughts that are kinder and more inspiring. Will it be challenging to make this shift? Sure. But think of how much stronger and better she’ll feel when she’s no longer beating herself up all the time.
The next time you notice a bad body image thought sprouting up, see if you can pull that mental weed and plant a new seed. One of kindness, compassion, acceptance, and dare I say, love.