As I’ve written previously, I struggle a lot with body image. But much of the time these days I still manage to accept myself enough to not want to stomp all over myself until I’m a pulp, preferably invisible pulp.
I try and remember that I’m doing the best that I can do, with what I have. That’s all any of us can do, really. I’m not superhuman, nobody is. And I can’t force things to get better NOW because I’m so over the way things are. (If I could force things better, I would have been better a loooong time ago!)
The most important thing to me is to try and be a good person. To not hurt anyone – that comes first. One day I hope I can help people, but I know that at the moment I have very little to give. I try – because no matter how little we have, we can always listen, always care, always have a hug to give, a shoulder to lend someone. I can do those things. And they might not be changing the world, but they are something.
I try and be a kind person, too. I’m not always kind – I’m human there, too. I have thoughts that are angry, or mean, about others. But mostly I try and treat people and think about people with compassion – the same way I would hope people would treat me or think about me. I know that many people do not – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t either.
And yet, I hate myself. I always have. I know I’m not alone. I’ve met so many others who struggle with intense self-hatred. I’ve never found anything about them that’s hateful, either. Never.
It’s really hard to look after yourself when you hate yourself. Nothing you do is ever ‘good enough’. Everything is always ‘your fault’. Other people must secretly find you disgusting. They must be crazy for wanting to have anything to do with you, let alone LIKING you. You feel so guilty if you do anything nice or caring for yourself – including basic self-care.
My mother never really taught me basics of self care like looking after my finger and toe nails, how to properly care for my skin, etc – but even as an adult, having access to the information on the internet and in books and magazines, I struggle to allow myself these things. For years I didn’t bother moisturising my face, because moisturiser is an ‘indulgence’ to me. I don’t wear makeup unless it’s a special occasion and even that is once in a blue moon, maybe once every few years. I’ve had my hair cut by a hair dresser a few times in my life time – preferring to just let it be in a pony tail or have a friend/some unlucky person trim it (Many of my adult haircuts have been while in hospital – a good excuse to not have to consider going to a salon.) And I don’t bother with my fingernails or toenails. I keep them short, and neat as possible, and clean, but that’s it.
When it comes to clothes, I LOVE clothes. Love looking at them in fashion spreads. But they are, to me, something that other people can wear. I just am on the outside looking in, liking them, but clothing myself in op shop finds and plain shirts and jeans. As a child, I never had nice clothes like the other girls, but it was to the point that all I wanted really was a clean, unstained or torn t shirt and a clean, unstained or torn pair of shorts. And a pair of shoes that fit and weren’t breaking apart. Basic things. As an adult, I have far more than that – and I’m thankful. So although I love fashion, I don’t crave it. I also feel guilty and like mutton dressed as lamb if I try and wear it – I still feel like it’s not for ‘me’ because I’m so ‘different’ to others.
Other people are worthy. I’m not. That is how I have felt for my entire life. And that is what was instilled in me personally by my family as I grew up.
Where I’m going with this is, that as an adult, I still struggle with these messages of having no worth, despite the fact that I rationally know they are not true, and that I am as worthy as any other person on this planet. Old habits of thinking die hard.
CBT helps a little. My therapist gave me a list of questions to ask myself whenever I have thoughts like this. I write down the thought, so for example, I will write “I’m not worthy of having nice clothes, everyone will think I look silly in them and fake.” And I feel shameful, disgusted with myself – that’s the emotion that’s come up with this thought.
Then, I question my thoughts. What factual evidence to I have to back up this thought? Is there an alternative way to look at it? What might a friend of mine think in the same situation? And so on. I know that I have no evidence to back up not being worthy of nice clothes – and nobody is going to look at me any more than anyone else wearing the same clothing. An alternative way of seeing it might be to ask myself, would you prefer to assault the eyes of the public by wearing indecent clothing? Because they would most likely prefer you had nice clothes too. And I know that my friends, in this position, would probably not even think twice before buying the clothes for themselves – because that’s what people DO.
CBT is starting to help me with a lot of things – not just whether I’m worthy of nice clothes or not. But it’s something that requires me to do it every single day, like homework. Seriously. And it’s worth it.
However – even though I have noticed an improvement in my thinking in that I am automatically asking myself the questions, automatically starting to correct my thoughts that way and tell myself “That isn’t true, that’s something you feel, but it’s not based on fact, the reality is..” I still find myself believing the old messages. I know I am worthy of nice things. I know I am worthy of self care. I know I am just as worthy as any other person.
But I don’t believe it.
It’s the same as when I’m telling myself that I look fine, I’m not fat at all, that’s the eating disorder lying to me, my eyes and perception lying to me – I’m not believing it, because my reality is the opposite.
Also, the way I’ve thought for so many years is my NORMAL. When I’m feeling sick, hungry, in pain, fatigued – that is not pleasant, but it is normal for me. And so things feel ‘secure’ in my world, in some tiny way (because they aren’t really secure.) When I’m feeling satiated, strong, healthy, awake – that is such a scary feeling. It feels alien and wrong to me. And I know this sounds so screwed up. It’s like I am wired backwards.
It’s like I am wired for self-deprivation.
Recently I was reading an email newsletter from Psychcentral.com, when I stumbled on a blog entry about compulsive self-deprivation. The author wrote about it in the context of being the silent partner to addiction. (This blog is about sex addiction – ignore that, unless you actually do have a sex addiction!)
These paragraphs grabbed me:
“Where does compulsive self-deprivation come from?
Self deprivation has to do with how you care for yourself. Most often .. addicts come from families in which they experienced a lack of appropriate nurturing. In adulthood, people tend to care for themselves the way their parents cared for them, or failed to care for them.
In other words you treat yourself the way your parents treated you. Growing up with less than adequate nurturance, you may have no idea of what good self care should look like. If your parents were rigid, distant or withholding caregivers you will learn that you are expected to “disappear,” and to disregard your own feelings and needs. By being compliant in this way you as a child hoped to please your caregivers and gain their love or approval.” (Source)
This is me. This is so true for me, for my history, for the people who brought me up. Another piece of the puzzle as to why I am the way I am – and understanding is a first step to being able to change that.
I related so much to the common features of compulsive self deprivation: (source)
Compulsive self-denial or self-deprivation can take many different forms. The behaviors can be superficially acceptable behaviors like religious asceticism and fasting or they can be extreme behaviors that qualify as mental disorders in their own right, like anorexia, workaholism and self-harm.
YES this is true for me
Not taking care of your basic needs
This includes neglecting all kinds of basic self care such as attending to medical needs and dental needs, neglecting hygiene, allowing garbage to pile up, not repairing things that break down, not paying bills or taxes and not reaching out to significant people in your life.
YES. I used to be so careful to take care of myself and do all the things I was meant to do – but for years now I have found it really hard to do these things, sort of like I am trying to let myself fall in as big and deep a hole as possible.
Denying yourself pleasure and tolerating pain:
This includes restricting food, going on unusual regimens and cleansing routines, compulsive exercise, excessive body piercing or tattooing, and cutting yourself. It also includes avoiding sex and other pleasurable activities, hoarding money instead of spending it on legitimate needs and becoming over-involved in religious or spiritual practices that demand excessive self-denial and withdrawal.
YES to the point that it’s terrifying to me to not feel really bad, painful hunger, it feels wrong to NOT feel that. It feels scary being ‘well’ again rather than feeling awful and sick, despite it being so awful. I do NOT ‘like’ the pain/unpleasantness/being sick – I just find it really alien to not feel it, it just feels too wrong. I only feel okay when I’m suffering.. if that makes any sense?
Avoiding success and abundance and living in fear
This includes avoiding opportunities for success, working for free or for too little, overwork, going into debt, living in minimal surroundings and with a lack of fulfilling relationships or activities, and letting go of previous recreational pursuits.
I want SO BADLY to have success, to achieve as I used to – and yet it does seem like I’ve gone out of my way to stop myself doing so. Right down to refusing to let them pay me when I used to volunteer because it just freaked me out and I felt too guilty.
Do any of you relate to this at all?
Compulsive self-deprivation is very much a strong part of my whole eating disorder – and I need to work at permitting myself to meet my basic needs, believing in my own worth as a person, believing that I deserve to feel okay physically and mentally – and to practice staying with feeling ‘okay’ until that becomes my normal instead.
Of course, it’s not all that simple, life never is – but it’s helpful to have an idea of why we feel the way we do.