If you feel as though you have a bad relationship with your body, reflect on this:
You and your body are in a relationship. It is the longest relationship you’ll ever have. It’s a relationship you have no choice over. People say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. This is true. However, you can choose not to be in a relationship with your family – some people do, but whether or not to be in a relationship with your body is not within your sphere of control unless you end your own life. What you do have control over, is what sort of relationship you’ll create with your body.
Given you and your body are really and truly in it till death doth part you, with no option of divorce, what will you choose to create?
The qualities of a successful relationship
Let’s look at what supports the development of a successful relationship (in no particular order). As you read these, reflect on them in terms of your current relationship with your body. How much would you say you cultivate these qualities?
Patience – think about how you respond to people who are patient or impatient with you. What’s it like? Do you feel more or less at ease with such a person?
Respect – do you respect your body’s limitations? Do you respect what it’s asking of you?
Loyalty – do you bad-mouth your body to yourself or others? Do you betray your body by coveting another’s?
Trust – do you trust what your body is telling you (about rest, movement, hunger, fullness and satisfaction?)
Fun – do you do fun things with your body? (Bodies love a good belly laugh!)
Kindness – are you gentle with your body? Do you speak to it or about it in a kind tone of voice?
Giving the other what they want or like.
Boundaries – do you respect your body’s boundaries – especially when it comes to tiredness, hunger and fullness?
Flexibility – it can help to have some rules when it comes to relationships, but when they are set in stone, this can add a layer of difficulty and stress.
Unconditional acceptance – this means not trying to change the other
Listening and communicating – how well do you pay attention to your body’s communication?
Spending quality time together – doing things you both enjoy in a way that is connecting.
Getting to know each other – understanding your body’s likes, dislikes and preferences.
Commitment – being there for the other, no matter what: in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, etc.
Appreciation – thanking the other for the big and little ways that person shows up for you, every day.
Forgiveness – if your body has an illness or disability of some kind, if it’s ageing, going through the menopause, has an injury, or if it’s simply not the shape you’d prefer it to be, will you forgive it?
Love – I would say this is not an essential element to every successful relationship (given there are many kinds of relationships). The requirement of love may come with high expectations that are difficult to quantify or meet. It’s loaded with meanings, to say the least! That said, you can absolutely adopt a loving attitude towards your body.
The elements of a stressed and painful relationship
Let’s think now about what makes relationships difficult. Reflect on these as you think about your relationship with your body. Try to think of these from the perspective of your body. What must it be like for your body if you’re doing these things?
Constantly criticising – how easy is it to be with someone who is constantly criticising you? Do you want to spend time with people like that? Do you want to show up for them?
Wishing the other were different – this is the opposite of peace, don’t you think? If you’re constantly wishing the other person to be different, can you really be with the one who’s right there in front of you? How can you get to know the one you’re with if no part of you can accept that person? Imagine how alienating it is for the other person if you’re constantly wishing that person were different?
Punishing – how do you feel around someone who punishes you? Do you feel relaxed? At ease? Do you feel frightened? How easily can you trust such a person?
Ignoring – when there’s no listening in a relationship – when you’re constantly discounted or ignored altogether, how do you think that feels?
Hurting – if you’re constantly being hurt by the other person – either physically or emotionally – how would you feel? How would you behave?
Being ashamed of the other – what do you think it’s like to be spending all your time with someone who is ashamed of you? Could you even bear it for a minute?
Mixed messages – think what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone who blows hot and cold, who sends conflicting messages about their regard for you. What do you think that’s like? Confusing?
Blame – what’s it like to be constantly blamed for everything that goes wrong in a person’s life? Think about how you blame your body’s size for your health, attractiveness, relationship status, job prospects, happiness and more. What do you think it’s like for your partner to be held responsible for everything you don’t like about your life?
As you’re reflecting on these aspects of what makes for a successful or stressed relationship, be kind to yourself! Remember that you weren’t born hating your body. You weren’t born believing your body was a problem that needed to be solved. You learned this from your family, teachers, doctors, peers, media and the capitalist marketing machine which feeds on your very human need for belonging. You didn’t set out to fight with your body. You didn’t intend to disown and discount it.
Now that you know all of this, you have some choices.
You can choose what sort of a relationship you want to build with your body.
The first thing you can do is to make a commitment to yourself and your body that you’ll stop the destructive and eroding ways of engaging with it. Download my free Peace Treaty With Your Body, print it, sign it and put it somewhere you can see it. Read it out loud to yourself. Daily, if necessary. By all means, make it your own. Use this as a starting point and add, subtract or change any aspects of it that fit for you, provided it aligns with creating a kind, respectful partnership with your body.
Then start to cultivate the qualities that support a successful relationship, slowly and steadily.
Let me know if you’d like some help. This can be hard to do alone!
Do you want to stop struggling with food and eating?
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