Body Anxiety and Insecurity

“My confidence and feelings of self-worth are deeply rooted in the idea that I must be physically attractive.  When I put on weight, even one pound, I risk being unattractive, and I see my future as bleak and lonely.    .  I can feel confident in many ways, yet I hate my body and I can’t bear to look at it. I feel bloated and wobbly all over. My relationships suffer as a result as I find it difficult to be intimate. Why can’t I like myself?”

(Client’s story)

There will be many times in our lives that we all become vulnerable to issues with eating and difficulties with food often caused by stress or challenging life situations.   We may seek to attack our bodies as a way of coping with emotional discomfort such as by mechanisms of restriction/denial through hunger/starvation or over-compensating through compulsive eating or binging.  

Preoccupation with concerns about body weight and shape begin to take on a huge significance as a way of measuring our self-worth and how others view us and often dominates our lives especially as we are bombarded by messaging within the media thrusting us towards idealised bodies; pressuring us to conform to achieve the unobtainable and to evaluate ourselves from the outside.    

Seeing our body image as unacceptable and unvalued, we feel ourselves to be worthless and underserving.  This belief that our self-esteem  is dependent on the image that reflects back at us in a mirror  leads to distorted perceptions of ourselves.  This in turn can link to emotional triggers of shame, guilt, fear, worry, hopelessness, anger, frustration,  irritability, sadness and failure.  Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and other self-destructive and compensatory  behaviours can follow for e.g.:  self-harm, disordered eating, addiction, withdrawal from others,  a preoccupation with unrealistic ideals of self-optimisation and body transformation including plastic surgery, expensive cosmetics, beauty regimes and products and unrelenting exercise/activity.

Research over the years has identified that:

  • People place unrealistic goals in wanting to achieve their perceived perfect size; they want to be significantly smaller than they were – often half the size.

  • People of normal weight to want to be 10 per cent slimmer

  • People often overestimate their actual size

  • People have an unrealistically small ‘ideal’ size

The support I offer is a realistic notion of recovery and healing from body instability to body security  that offers acknowledgement and understanding of the difficulties with disordered eating habits as compensatory strategies for self-regulation and offers mindful exploration of our bodies as an extension of the many relationships we encountered in our early childhood relationships and primary cultural contexts and to see the body as a ‘relational body’.  

Our work together will focus on the following:

  • To review the history of the development of your own individual bodily sense of self by understanding and reviewing early familial relationships, including parental and grandparental relations to body, nutrition, eating patterns, nurturing, emotional regulation, cultural norms and expected social roles.  

  • To explore and reconstruct the beliefs and values about our body image in relation to cultural and societal representations of masculinity/femininity and sexual identity.

  • Re-examining our body comfortability around what is ideal, normal and healthy and moving away from the commercialisation, conformity and the externally imposed image of the body.

  • To uncover the conscious and unconscious meanings behind body size/shape, fat, thin, hunger, fullness, secrecy,  imperfection, restriction, denial, neediness and worthiness.

  • Learning to explore all parts of the self to reconnect with mind, body, thoughts and behaviours but importantly to reconnect with parts of self that have been banished for e.g. the wise and accepting parts of self.

  • Understanding of trauma responses within the body and body memory.

  • Development of coping and self-soothing strategies aimed at increasing self-regulation, emotional sustenance and embodiment enabling symptom reduction.

  • Development of compassion, self-respect to nurture the inner self; to counteract blaming, shame, guilt and unworthiness; to develop trust in nurturing relationships with others away from disconnection and isolation.