So excited to be finally getting back to Rosie Molinary’s wonderful book, Beautiful You. It feels like exactly what I need right now.
Today’s reading is about asking people if they’ve lost weight when you see them as your first response to how they look.
I remember when I started losing weight in 2005 and I was constantly asked if I’d lost weight. There was a sweet older woman who saw me on the elevator about once a week and each time, she asked me how much I’d lost and told me I was getting “prettier by the week” and to “keep up the hard work.”
I don’t believe it is intentional but whenever people have said to me, post-weight loss, “Wow, you look so great now,” my first thought is, How horrible did I look to you before?
And everyone seems to think you want to know what they thought about your “former” self. I was told by coworkers how I looked like the Unabomber in my black trench coat when I started walking at my heaviest and told things like, “I’m so glad you are doing this for yourself. You have such a pretty face.”
And after I lost a considerable amount of weight, I was damn near harassed by these same coworkers anytime I came into work in a new outfit or did something differently with my hair. “Look at you, girl. You look great. You must have you a man now or something.”
And when I regained the weight I lost, the compliments went away and all of my meals were critiqued and I was asked if I was going to go walk that day.
At home, it was criticism until I lost weight and being told I’d never keep it off and then silence once I lost the weight and kept it off for about 14 years. It was refuse to shop with me when I couldn’t wear clothes in “regular” sizes and then delight in shopping with me when I could.
Now that I’ve regained the weight, my dad says I need to “do something about it.” I went into a Lane Bryant outlet store last summer and though my mom had gone into every other clothing store with me in that outlet mall, she found an excuse not to go into this one with me.
When you ask someone if they have lost weight, unless they’ve told you they’re trying to lose weight, you don’t really know what is going on with them. Like, for example, my Aunt Debbie. About 5 years ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was a fat woman at the time, but as the disease progressed, she lost a significant amount of weight. It always made me cringe when I read comments under her photos on Facebook where people said things like, “You look so great now, Debbie!” even while she was dying from one of those worst, most painful cancers you can suffer from.
As a society, we are still so far from understanding that how someone looks does not require a comment and does not have to be attached to their size or weight or looks. We can find so many more things about people to compliment them on that do not have anything to do with these two things. When we sum up people by their size and weight, we are telling them that is all that matters about them even if that is not our intention. And since so many of us are still clawing our way out of the diet mentality, or are still drowning in it, it is hard for us to get out of this habit and so hard for us to separate our self-worth and self-validation from the observations of our own bodies by ourselves and others.
I like the suggestions in the photo I shared in this post. People are so much more than the size of their bodies so let’s find something else to compliment each other on. And like Rosie mentions below, if we think someone looks great, let’s say exactly that.
It is human nature to notice the differences in the sizes of our bodies and others’. Don’t shame yourself for that. However, keep that thought to yourself and if you feel compelled to compliment the person, find a way to do it that has nothing to do with that difference in size or shape. Let’s remind each other that we are way more than the bodies we carry our beautiful souls and personalities in.
Today: Make a commitment to banish “Have you lost weight?” from your vocabulary. Our weight shouldn’t be up for grabs in conversation-as either question or commentary. When you ask someone, out of the blue, “Have you lost weight?” you leave her wondering what you think of her and why. It’s one thing if your sister reveals to you that she wants to get healthier and hopes that you’ll help her on her journey. But it’s another thing entirely to ask such a loaded question of someone whose goals, insecurities, needs, and medical issues you know nothing about. If what you are thinking is really “You look great!” then just say that, with no qualifiers attached. By banishing weight loss comments from your vocabulary, you keep yourself from perpetuating the notion that someone’s weight and body size are fair game for discussion and up for both grabs and judgment.
As I try to understand self-care and intuitive eating for myself, one thing keeps coming up: Treat yourself as you would treat your daughter. // Be your own parent. // Treat the child within you the way you weren’t treated growing up.
It kind of sounds like psychobabble, but it also makes a lot of sense.
I love my mom very much, but if you’ve been reading long, you know we did not have a very healthy relationship growing up and there are still some potential hot zones I have to tip-toe around even now.
We both grew up in the deep dysfunction of my grandmother June, great-grandparents Lib and Brophy, and uncles Robert and Charles. Any vulnerabilities we allowed ourselves to show were used against us and especially used to shame us. Our bodies and how/what we ate were constantly policed. Brophy, Robert, and Charles all said inappropriate things about our bodies, touched us inappropriately, and made us feel gross and ashamed of our bodies. She was chubby until high school when she lost a lot of weight and her weight went up and down over the next few decades, and there has never really been a point where she has felt great in her body. And being around men who always talk shit about our bodies with their also not-perfect bodies doesn’t help.
Feelings, except anger, were wrong. Having needs meant we were weak. Crying was not allowed.
She learned how to shut off her emotions and needs, and I never did, and out of that experience, she found herself treating me the way she was treated because she saw her pain and shame for herself in me. Because of this, I have felt like such a disappointment and eyesore to my mom my whole life, and a lot of my own pain has come from trying to be a daughter she loves and isn’t ashamed of.
The weight I have gained has been even harder for me because it takes me back to the pain in how she treated me when I was this heavy before. She would feign stomach aches whenever I asked her to go shopping at Lane Bryant with me, and she would leave me to try on clothes alone and then return just as I was ready to buy the clothes I liked. She joined my brothers in calling me a whale and made fun of how I walk and how I carried myself. She said I smelled bad, would never be happy in my body as it was, and told me no “normal” man would love me.
I’ve been through several rounds of therapy over the past 20 years and in each of them, I’ve been told to accept that I will never have the mother-daughter relationship with my mom that I have always wanted and that my mom is a hurt person who hurt me out of that hurt.
In all of this, no one has really ever asked one question: What do/did you want/need out of a mother?
And that is what I am trying to figure out now because I have spent too much of my life hyper-focused on what I never had and what I will never have. I have sold myself short because of the worthlessness I’ve felt, because I could never measure up.
What do I wish I’d received from my mother growing up?
More positive attention, encouragement, and affection. Being told it was okay that I was sad or angry. Feeling like she was on my side. Not feeling like I was already sentenced as guilty before I even opened my mouth. Feeling safe to explore my thoughts and beliefs. Being supported in all I wanted to do. Feeling loved in my body no matter what it looked like. Being encouraged to intuitively eat and move my body in ways I enjoyed.
I know my mom didn’t know or have the capacity to do those things. Neither did my dad. And even as much as June doted on me and encouraged me in the things I enjoyed, like reading and my teenage obsession with the Backstreet Boys, she was still very shut off emotionally and didn’t have the best relationship with her body and food either. I don’t blame my mom or think she is a horrible person because she couldn’t do what she didn’t know or have for herself.
I also can’t just give her this grace and forgiveness and not give it to myself too. I can’t shame myself for needing what she wasn’t able to give me. I can’t keep holding on to the pain and shame I felt growing up and still feel now either.
Yesterday, when I was so upset, I cried in the shower and just asked God to let me let go. Allow me to have a voice of my own and to trust it. To hear it and respect it. To validate it. I am trying to listen to all of those critical thoughts and picture myself as a child or my own daughter telling me she feels this way. It feels so weird and awkward.
So I am starting small.
I wish in all of those times I cried to my mom about how ugly, stupid, and gross I felt in my body and as a person, she’d said, “Amy, I hear you and I am sorry you feel this way.” I wish she had hugged me and told me she loved me, asked me why I felt like that, and helped me understand that how other people talk to or about me is about them and not me.
I can do this for myself.
I wish my hunger had been honored and that I’d been given unconditional permission to eat and trusted that I could do this. I wish I hadn’t been made fun of for the shape of my body and instead encouraged to move it in ways that I enjoyed instead of dismissed because I was “uncoordinated.”
I can do this for myself.
I wish I had felt allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, to speak out and question things and not be shut down. To try new things and not have to be perfect at everything. I wish as her child, I would’ve been a higher priority to her.
I can do these for myself too.
I wish I could’ve been her child the whole time and not at some points, her mother, and most of the time, more like her sister.
There are two parts in all of this: forgiving my mom for not being the mother I needed growing up and giving myself the love and care I needed and also realizing my needs matter so much and are so valid and I am worth speaking up for them.
I have done so much work in the first part even if it doesn’t always sound like it, but I still struggle to do the work in the second half.
I can do it too and also realize that just as my mom couldn’t be the perfect mother to me, I cannot be the perfect mother to myself either.
For those of you reading this who have struggled in your relationships with your parents or who never had a relationship with your parents, what has helped you heal and give yourself the love and care you need?
Well, I didn’t go into writing about my need for better self-care with the intention of starting a series, but here we are.
And today, I am writing about my history (albeit a dysfunctional one) with intuitive eating.
“Intuitive Eating” has become quite a buzzword in the health community and on social media in the past several years as fat and body positivity circles have increased the awareness that diets don’t work and eating disorders are being seen in girls as young as 7 or 8 years old. It was a term first coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch back in the 1990s when they wrote the first edition of the book with the same title (note: not an affiliate link).
Intuitive eating involves trusting our bodies to tell us when we are hungry, how and when to eat, and when we are satisfied. Though the term “intuitive eating” has been hijacked and branded into another restrictive diet on social media, true intuitive eating has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with listening to and trusting our bodies.
The sad and hard truth of body trust is that many of us have been told from a very young age that we cannot trust our bodies, that we need someone else (i.e., parent, partner, doctor, etc.) to tell us what our bodies need. I think this is especially true for cis-women and anyone who has or has had a uterus, ovaries, and a vagina, as we see in the constant political battles over reproductive rights. Our society has told us from the very beginning that our bodies, sexuality, thoughts, behavior, and decisions cannot be trusted and need to be kept under lock and key, the key to that lock belonging to anyone else but us.
The constant monitoring of the female (whether cis or otherwise) form is a means of control in a patriarchal society and financial gain for the beauty and “wellness” industries.
I can remember being as young as 5 or 6 years old and being told I could not have dessert because I was getting fat even when I was maybe 10 pounds overweight as determined by my pediatrician. All I wanted was an ice cream cone or my Easter basket candy or a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. I watched over the years as my brothers were allowed to eat pretty much whatever they wanted, even when they were chubby, while my meals and body were constantly monitored and scrutinized, and where they were praised for being broad-shouldered and tall, I was made fun of and shamed.
Thus began my dysfunctional relationship with food and my body.
I know as deeply as my mom’s actions and words towards me hurt me, they were coming from her own pain, shame, and the same battles she faced in the same household – my maternal grandmother and great-grandparents and uncles – and her desperate desire to prevent me from experiencing what she experienced. But dysfunction breeds dysfunction if you just repeat the words and actions done to you.
I first learned about intuitive eating in the 1990s and even read the first edition of Evelyn and Elyse’s book back then. I mean, when you’ve been dieting since age 6 and you’re a voracious reader always looking for some way to improve yourself, you come across these things. Back then, it was still heavily steeped in diet talk because they were just learning and developing what intuitive eating meant and no one in healthcare or the media was ready to give any attention to anything that might lead to fewer buyers of all of the diet and “fitness” products.
I stumbled upon it again about 3 or 4 years ago when I first began following people like Jess Baker, Christy Harrison, Kelsey Miller, and other anti-diet bloggers, dietitians, and podcast hosts. At this point, I had kept off 50-60 pounds for about 10-12 years, but still felt like I was on shaky ground. I still tracked my food and exercise in MyFitnessPal nearly daily and was still absolutely terrified that if I ever stopped, I would regain all of the weight I’d lost and then some.
And then my fear came true.
I have felt like such a failure over the past 2 years now. And I am so exhausted from fighting with my body daily and trying to work through the noise in my head that tells me I am killing myself, I’ll get diabetes before long, probably die of a massive heart attack like my maternal grandmother, great-great grandmother, and great-great grandfather did, that John is probably disgusted by me, I’ll never be able to wear cute clothes again, how did I let this happen, all of the hard work I did is gone, etc.
I probably worry about dying every single day here lately, and I know so much of it is because it is so ingrained in me that being “obese” (or even “morbidly obese” by the bullshit BMI standards) means I will get diabetes, have a heart attack, and die by age 40 if not sooner.
I keep making half-assed attempts to log my food in MyFitnessPal again and weigh myself daily and all, but then I just stop because I get so angry at myself for knowing better and still buying into the diet mentality bullshit.
I am so tired of this.
I am tired of not trusting my body and my hunger and fullness levels. Tired of ignoring all of the ways my body talks to me like with my exhaustion and craving for sweets and when I turn to food when what I really need is to be heard and maybe hugged. Tired of feeling afraid to let go completely of my desperate desire to lose weight. Tired of still seeking a body that I am very likely never meant to have because my body is so set in how it wants to work and what it wants to weigh. I am tired of the shame in feeling like I’ve “ruined” or even “destroyed” my body when it actually works pretty fucking well every single day.
Intuitive eating feels like such a foreign concept for me because I don’t think I was ever allowed to eat intuitively, not even as a young child. I was forced to clean my plate, even threatened with a spanking if I didn’t (though finishing my plate has hardly ever been a problem for me).
I was told I could not have the sweets I wanted, so I learned how to sneak them. I got really good at muffling the sound of the cellophane housing an oatmeal creme pie by pressing it against my leg as I shuffled into the bathroom to damn near swallow it whole.
I overate as a big “fuck you” to my parents, grandmother, great-grandparents, and uncles who always had some critical comment about how and what I ate.
When I went to college, it turned into a food free-for-all because no one was there to tell me no. Too bad the shame didn’t stay back in Montgomery too when I moved to Mobile because this food freedom turned into a vicious binge then shame and self-loathing cycle until I was finally as fat as my family had been calling me my entire life.
I still moralize food and congratulate myself on the days I eat “well,” meaning within a certain calorie range or something along those lines. When this happens, I sabotage myself out of anger towards myself for still patting myself on the back for following the dieting mentality that has plagued me my whole life.
But like many of my dysfunctional habits – like being codependent and controlling – binge eating served a purpose in my teens and college years. I didn’t yet know how to process all of the trauma I was experiencing at the time and didn’t yet know that my being an empath and highly sensitive was a good, healthy thing, so I used food as a coping technique.
And now, at 36, I am in some ways thankful for that food but also really fucking confused with how to implement intuitive eating for myself.
Sometimes I have moments of clarity, like realizing I really like to eat egg sandwiches for dinner even when I have the makings for a salad or some kind of meat and veggies dinner. Sometimes self-care is making and eating an egg sandwich because I am too tired to stand at the stove and cook anything that is going to take any longer and I just need something easy and somewhat healthy to feed my body with. Or I understand now that with my thyroid being out of whack again over the past year and the exhaustion it, PCOS, and endometriosis bring, I will crave sugar for some kind of burst of energy. And on the backside of that, being insulin resistant means my body will struggle to process that sugar I am consuming for energy and my hunger levels will go haywire.
But maybe that’s how it works. My brain thinks it’s all just supposed to click into place like the clarity and resolve that always comes in the first few days or weeks of a new diet.
I don’t want to approach intuitive eating with the diet mentality. I want to approach it with my desire to have a healthy relationship with my body. Just as I am still learning to trust John in our marriage because of my fears of repeating the dysfunction I was raised in, I know trusting my body will take time. I’m just not the most patient person, haha.
In my desire to practice better self-care, I have deleted the MyFitnessPal and Happy Scale apps off of my devices. I can’t say I will stop weighing myself completely, but I am weaning myself off of the scale. I have unfollowed all of the keto and weight loss Instagram accounts I’d been following in the hopes of having an “amazing” before and after transformation picture where I’m suddenly lean and talking about how I can finally be me and have the life I’ve held myself back from for so long. (EYE ROLL emoji here.) Instead, I am following intuitive eating, body positive, and health at every size accounts.
Yesterday, I had this thought that I need to feed myself how I wish I’d been fed as a child. Without the rules, shaming, and criticism. Some of my weight gain has been because I decided to stop restricting myself from eating ice cream and found myself eating it for dinner 2 or 3 nights a week. Now, I have it maybe once or twice a month because I’m finally starting to trust that it is never off-limits. I know if I had a little girl, I would want to treat her how I didn’t get treated, so maybe I need to treat myself like that little girl? It sounds very psychobabble, but maybe the key to being kinder to myself and more accepting and trusting of my body is to treat myself like I would treat my daughter.
This post isn’t meant to solve anything but to share that I understand how important feeding my body what it needs regardless of its nutritional or caloric value but also share why that is still so hard for me right now.
Self-care is not a familiar practice for me because I was raised to believe that I’m supposed to put others first, so it would make sense that this also means acknowledging, listening to, respecting, and trusting my own body would be difficult.
This post will also not be the last time I talk about my journey with intuitive eating, and I definitely won’t ever have it all “figured out.”
I started this blog to work through all of the stories I’ve told myself my entire life in order to either end the stories or change the plot. My story about my body is a lifelong one but it can be a better one. My brothers and I talk about how we learned what not to do in all of the dysfunction we grew up in. I have applied that in my marriage and finances and my constant striving to know myself better and help myself heal and become stronger and healthier.
I want to do this with my relationship with my body too. It feels like the final frontier which I guess it is because it is the relationship that will be with me until I take my final breath.
What do intuitive eating mean to you? Have you ever had a troubled relationship with food and your body? How do you handle the constant barrage of messages on how you should eat, exercise, look, and weight?
Yesterday, I wrote about how difficult self care is especially when you struggle with lifelong codependency issues. I mentioned how another difficult aspect of learning self care is how intertwined it can get with the diet mentality.
This is also another great struggle of mine. Self care and the diet mentality are tangled worse in my head (and I would guess, many others’) than the Christmas lights we retrieve from the attic after we just ripped them off the tree, bundled them up, and threw them carelessly into the attic.
The media often tells us being thin is self care because fat equals high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a slew of other things that, in reality, can happen to anyone of any size, age, weight, and etc.
We are told to eat a “clean diet” consisting of things like organic produce, whole grains, cage free eggs, pasture fed beef, and more. We are also told to exercise daily, drink water, take vitamins, and wear sunscreen.
There is nothing wrong with eating those foods, exercising, or any of the other on their own. They are good things to do if you are physically and emotionally able and have the financial means to do so.
But weight loss is not self-care. Or it is not the main focus. It can’t be. If it is, there will always be this unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves to have a body we may not be meant to have, and that in itself is not self-care. That can lead to self-loathing, low self-esteem, low self-compassion, and can severely affect our relationships with ourselves and those closest to us.
I am a lifelong member of the “When I’m thin…” club. I’ve been trying to cancel that membership for years, but it is worse than those emails you never subscribed to that still come to your inbox regardless of how many times you request to unsubscribe and report as spam.
Because of this, it is so hard for me not to connect taking care of myself with weight loss and dieting. This is especially so right now as I am close to my highest weight ever and being horribly triggered by it because of memories of how I was treated when I weighed this much 14 years ago. My impatience with my body to drop this weight runs hot and fast through my veins. I feel myself getting desperate and wanting to throw myself back in the world of dieting even though at the same time, that small voice I mentioned a couple of entries back is asking me, Why is it really bothering you so much to be this size? Why can’t you sit with those feelings for a few minutes instead of trying so hard to ignore your body and treat it pretty much how you fear others will treat it – like it’s temporary, with disgust and harsh criticism?
I am back here for a reason. Yes, I’m sure part of it is getting older, being more sedentary, having several hormonal imbalance issues, emotional eating, and allowing myself the foods I have told myself were bad for so long and restricted myself from having. But I think there is more to it. I believe we keep going through things until we really sit down and learn from them. The more we squirm and avoid what is really going on, the longer the issue will last.
And for me, it is that belief that started generations before me that I cannot be feminine, beautiful, sexy, desirable, and have the life I want in this body unless it is smaller. Where I am proud to have my mom’s soft round cheeks (facial cheeks here, haha) and my father’s strength and sturdy build, I am still struggling with the shame of also inheriting my dad’s big round belly and thick calves and my mom’s small breasts and flat butt even though I don’t feel ashamed of them for having them. Why am I ashamed? Because I’ve been told they’re wrong, gross, and ugly on my body, sometimes from the people I inherited them from.
Self-care, to me, has always been something that the thin version of me gets. She gets bubble baths in a tub she fits nicely in, nice soft clothes, beach trips, good sex, dance classes, and more. She deserves them. She worked hard for them. She is beautiful, lean, fit, strong, and sexy.
On the other side, I get calorie counting, zero sugar or bread, exercise that damn near kills me and that I dread, and disappointment with myself and my body every morning when I step on the scale and see it hasn’t budged, I’m still fat.
This doesn’t mean I’ve always treated myself like this. I eat ice cream and pizza. I have taken belly dance and Zumba classes and even performed in front of a crowd (though I’m scared to dance alone in front of John). I’ve even had some pretty good sex with a man who wants to leave the lights on and see and touch every part of me. But there’s still this part of me that feels wrong, like how do I get any of these things? It tells me sure, I guess you can have them but don’t enjoy them too much because the fat version of you doesn’t deserve any of these things. Or it tells me that John is picturing someone else or the thinner version of me and tells me I can’t speak up for myself because how dare I try to derive any pleasure from my fat body.
This sounds so awful, right? It feels awful too, and I have carried this feeling with me for most of my life. Being told not to enjoy the foods I love. Being told I have to exercise to make up for how I eat and there’s no enjoyment in it. Being belittled and having all of my insecurities being brought out in comments about how I walk and carry myself and told no “normal” man could ever love me unless I’m thin and that I could never truly be happy unless I am thin.
So how do I break up this connection in my mind? How do I stop connecting self-care to dieting and weight loss? How can I allow myself to be feeling loved and desired in my body as it is?
I think part of it is seeing everything I’ve recognized here as self-care. I am paying attention to my body and all of the pressure, resentment, disappointment, disgust, and fear I feel. I think it is actually noticing myself. Maybe not yet loving myself or even accepting my body as it is, but saying, “Hey, I see you.”
It is actually sitting with the discomfort I feel in my heavier body. Telling John what is going on when I start shutting down. Not dissociating during sex but actually allowing myself to feel him touching and connecting with me and the intimacy that is strengthened between us during that time. Moving my body when I want to. Catching myself when I start thinking about how much I’ve eaten that day and just acknowledging that I was hungry (or maybe I wasn’t, but something in me wanted whatever it was I ate).
It is definitely not being so critical of myself.
One of the things I think about a lot is how I don’t want to get to 80 years old and be like, Damn, I really spent my whole life worrying so much about my body and size that I didn’t really get to do or enjoy all of the things I wanted to do.
It is being present in my body.
It is going to an exercise class after a year-long sedentary period and seeing how tight my muscles are and how much my endurance has decreased and thinking, Okay, this is where I’m at right now. That’s okay. I can regain that flexibility and endurance. I can also, like I did, enjoy the class otherwise. I did my best last night and feel better for it.
I can’t pretend I will ever fully sever that well-worn neural pathway in my brain that equates self-care with thinness or as something I only deserve when dieting, but I can always acknowledge those thoughts and try to redirect them.
How do you define self-care? What are your favorite self-care things to do? How do you disconnect self care from the dieting mentality?
Last week, I signed up LA Fitness and went through the fitness evaluation. I did not sign up for personal training, but I told the guy who evaluated me that I would be coming to the gym and working out on my own.
I haven’t really started doing that yet.
Because I realized that if I go to the gym every night during the week immediately after work, the only days I will see John are Saturday, Sunday, and Monday because he leaves for work around 6:30p and gets home around 8:30a, after I have left for work.
And I felt guilty. Or felt like if I go, I am abandoning some part of my marriage by choosing to do something for myself over seeing my husband every night before he goes to work.
This is not even close to the only time I go through these thought cycles.
My issues and struggles in our marriage that come up every time we have a fight are that I am resentful because I am putting him first and trying to meet his needs and expect him to do the same, and he doesn’t and really, honestly, can’t. Not because he’s a terrible husband, but because a lot of my frustrations I am putting on myself. I do resent him at times for my perception of him as unavailable and closed off, but I mostly resent myself because I see myself as doing all of the work, getting nothing in return, and I am putting myself and my needs on the altar to be sacrificed for the sake of our marriage.
It has always been way easier for me to put all of my focus on my relationships and trying to make other people feel wanted and needed than to focus on my relationship with myself and my needs and desires. It is ingrained in me and has been from the very beginning.
In college, I saw my first therapist who listened to me tell her about my family history and everything I’d been through – and was still currently going through – and she listened, took notes, then recommended a book for me by Melody Beattie called Codependent No More.
I think I need to read it again now, some 17 years later.
Catching up on Shameless last night, I heard Fiona and Lip talking about the questions for Al-Anon, and one of them was about putting the needs of others before yourself. I went to see if I could find the actual questions online and I found Codependents Anonymous instead.
On their website, there is a list of patterns often seen in codependents, and I can check off quite a bit of them. Here are the ones that I know I do:
minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel
think they can take care of themselves without any help from others
mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation
express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways
label others with their negative traits
Low Self-Esteem Patterns:
have difficulty making decisions
judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough
are embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts
value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own
do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons
seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than
have difficulty admitting a mistake
need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and may even lie to look good
are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want
look to others to provide their sense of safety
have difficulty getting started, meeting deadlines, and completing projects
have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries
are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long
compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger
put aside their own interests in order to do what others want
are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings
are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others
accept sexual attention when they want love
give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change
have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others
demand that their needs be met by others
use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally
adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes
pretend to agree with others to get what they want
act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them
judge harshly what others think, say, or do
avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance
allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships
use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation
suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable
pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away
refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves
believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness
withhold expressions of appreciation
A lot, huh? And unfortunately, John bears the brunt of a lot of this behavior. When we had our fight and I finally said a lot of the things I had felt unable to say, he asked, “Why don’t you talk to me like this to begin with?”
Because I don’t know how to. Because I’ve never felt allowed to. Because I feel like I will be judged or rejected for it. Because I still feel like a burden and too much and like I can’t ask for what I want or express how I feel. I just expect eye rolls, heavy sighs, and projections of shame, resentment, and anger like I always received growing up. “You’re the one with something wrong with you, not me.” That sort of thing.
I don’t speak up soon enough when my feelings are hurt or when there is something I want or need. I want sex but I don’t initiate so the only time we have sex is when John initiates which isn’t as often as I’d like to have sex. My reasoning for not initiating is that I fear rejection and I struggle so much to feel like I deserve sex and pleasure or like I am desirable because I still have such deeply rooted issues with my body shape, size, and weight.
But yet, I push all of that down and continue seeking validation, affirmation, and acceptance from John. I also don’t talk about what I really think or feel with my mom because if any of it goes against how she thinks or feels, a fight ensues and I feel completely powerless and feel like I have to earn my way back into her good graces so I continue to feel loved and accepted by her.
I am someone who desires being known wholly, but who is also afraid of this if it means by doing so, I create conflict with the people who want me to be who they want me to be. To believe in God the way they do. To have the same political opinions. To go against this creates a backlash, and I find myself scrambling and pretending to agree and pretending to believe something I don’t so I’m not once again rejected and abandoned.
During our fight back in January, I told John I too often try to meet his needs and ignore what I want. That year and a half that I lived on my own before I met John was the one brief time in my life where I had only myself to worry about. I could move freely. Go where I wanted. Do what I wanted. Sit in my pajamas all day, all weekend long and not worry about being seen as lazy or unattractive or boring. I ate what I wanted. Went to bed when I wanted. It was quiet, I was alone, and I really grew to love it.
Being married with two small, very needy dogs, life is a lot different. I love both of our dogs (and I loved Louie, who recently passed), but oh my god, they need so much. Sometimes it is sweet, and I like being on the couch with them on each side of me. Other times, it feels like way too much, and I want to go into another room, and I can’t stand the idea of anyone or anything touching me.
So much of this is because I spend so much energy trying to meet others’ needs and keep others happy that I am overwhelmed. I know no one has asked me to do this. John doesn’t want me to be his mother. He knows he has a great one. I have dug into my maternal instinct for so long, I don’t know how to dial it back.
I know I’ve seen myself as a martyr and victim to this, I still do sometimes. I know why I do it. I know it can be manipulative as well as controlling. I also see how I use it to avoid taking care of myself.
Self-care is hard. It has always felt selfish and like I’m not supposed to do it but allow someone else to do it, though that is way too much to put on another person. I’m not saying I shouldn’t allow someone else to be there for me, listen to me, or help me. It’s not black or white, and John shows up in so many ways to do those things. I lose sight of it sometimes because I still carry a dysfunctional view from my dysfunctional family of what it means to be in a relationship with someone and to love and be loved by them.
I told John last night how I felt torn about going to the gym after work and not seeing him. He said, well, you can get up and go early in the morning. I said, yeah, no, I value my sleep and don’t want to go to bed early. He said, well, just go after work then. Simple as that, I guess.
I don’t think he worries about our marriage the way I do, but maybe he also knows I’m worrying so much about it he doesn’t have to. He also doesn’t seek validation or approval from me, which I just realized it this week.
I love John and want to be married to him, of course, but I also want to get back some of what I stopped doing (of my own volition) when he and the dogs moved in. I am not the sole guardian of our marriage nor the sole gatekeeper. I don’t have to do all of the work. I need to understand that I am safe to speak up and I will be heard even if I don’t always get the response I want. I am still figuring this out.
I’m going to go to the gym after work. I need some exercise for my self-care. I also need to learn to differentiate self-care from the diet mentality, but that’s another post of its own that is likely coming. I need to put my oxygen mask on.
I put in a request for that Melody Beattie book so I can read it again.
I know I need to try therapy again as well as see a HAES/IE nutritionist to help me work through my dysfunctional history with food and my body.
I know I need to work on my relationship with myself and stop doing my own projecting on others, especially John.
It feels so uncomfortable and difficult, but I know it is necessary. This is just another level of all of the work and healing I’ve already done. I guess the closer to the center of the pain I get, the harder the layer is to peel off. This feels like the hardest one thus far, but I guess so did all of them as I progressed through them. Healing is the hardest thing we can do in life.
The past several days have been really rough for me. I let my depression and anxiety and the negative thoughts that come with them destroy my peace of mind. I shut myself off from friends and John. I woke up crying yesterday and then really broke down when John pulled me out of bed and asked me what was wrong.
While thoroughly soaking the shoulder of John’s nice shirt with my tears (and snot, sorry), he told me about an article he read on a study of learned helplessness in dogs (it is so sad, I can’t even write it out here, but look it up if you’re curious) and how the only way the researchers could get them to get up and eat and move instead of cower in fear of being shocked over and over again was to grab them up by their back legs and pull them up.
When he finished telling me about the article, he said, “I’m not sure how this applies to you, but it came to mind.”
I replied, “Are you saying someone needs to grab me up by my legs and make me move?”
He responded (paraphrased because I can’t remember his exact words), “I think you feel like you can’t go anywhere or do anything because you don’t have a job yet or extra money so you wind up doing nothing and feel like shit.”
This is true. This is the story I’ve told myself over and over again. I don’t deserve to do anything. I can’t afford to do anything. I need to be applying for jobs 24/7.
This past week, I think I got dressed and left the house twice. My sleep schedule got all screwed up. John said when he left for work at 2p, I was in my PJs in my usual spot on the couch and when he got home at 4a, I was in the same PJs and in the same spot, and to him, that screams that I’ve given up even though he says he knows better. I don’t think he’s totally wrong though. In a lot of ways, I have given up lately.
This past week, I let the negative, critical, demeaning stories I tell myself break me and leave me sobbing in my husband’s arms for 30 minutes. (Progress though: I used to never be able to cry in front of anyone else, and John has grown in leaps and bounds at showing empathy instead of immediately trying to fix the situation.)
The crying helped though. Right before John pulled me out of bed, I was lying there picturing a town filling with water, flooding with no way for the water to escape. And as soon as I started crying, I saw the dam break and the waters flow out. Sometimes, no answers can be found, no relief can be felt until the tears come. This is something I wish I knew and honored growing up, but with my family, I understand why it took so long for me to know and honor.
From Beautiful You, by Rosie Molinary, the Day 12 prompt which plays into a lot of what I’ve been feeling most of my life:
TODAY: In your “Beautiful You” journal, consider that your dissatisfaction is not about your body. When you accept that thought, what comes to mind? What is your dissatisfaction really about? What is trying to tell you? What part of your life could you address to foster more overall contentment?
All right, let’s do this.
When you accept that thought, what comes to mind?
That I’ve made my body my excuse and scapegoat for most of my life and punished it for something it never did.
What is your dissatisfaction really about?
Fear. I often blame my weight and body for why I can’t do the things I love, like sing or dance in front of others. I blame it for an unsatisfying sex life. I blame it for not allowing me to be stylish and beautiful even though there are plenty of adorable clothes in my size. I blame it for not being able to do the physical activities I love without struggle, like hiking and running, even though I can definitely be athletic and fat because I was for the first 20 years of my life. I blame it for why I didn’t get to have fun in high school and have boyfriends and etc. and kept myself at home instead.
My dissatisfaction is in my fear of being seen, making mistakes, looking stupid, being a beginner and what others think of me. What’s crazy is, John told me yesterday that NOT doing what I want to do, and not my weight gain, is what causes him to be less attracted to me at times. No one wants to be around someone who lives like a bump on a log. I definitely don’t like me when I am being a bump on a log and can totally understand being unattractive to others for being this way.
What is it trying to tell you?
That it is not my body I often dislike, it is me. Because I know I am better than the person I allow the bullshit lies in my head make out to be. I know I am smart and capable. It’s telling me hiding myself with the idea that my life will finally be perfect and everyone will love me when I’m thin or out of debt or whatever is really what is wasting my life. It is telling me this is all I’ve got – this body and this life – and I can’t keep waiting for something that will never come.
What part of your life could you address to foster more overall contentment?
Like John told me yesterday, I GET to go outside. I have nothing keeping me from walking out the door and going wherever I want. I might not be able to afford the dance classes I want to take right now, but there’s YouTube and just putting on music and dancing in my living room. I want to work on realizing that there is so much I can do without a job or money and in my body as it is and to actually do it. Sitting in my dark apartment all day and night with no concept of time sure as shit isn’t cutting it for me and only adds to my greatest fear of wasting my life and not living it to the fullest.
You can read all of my other posts from Rosie Molinary’s Beautiful Youhere.
On Day 11 page of Rosie Molinary’s book Beautiful You, she writes about her struggles growing up with what others thought of her and how they defined her. In her twenties, she realized it was how she felt about herself – not how others felt about her – that defined her and helped her accept herself.
I wish I was there at 36, but I think I have made a lot of progress. Growing up, being thin seemed to equal being pretty, attractive, and feminine. With my broad shoulders and big belly, all the jokes were about how masculine I looked and carried myself and I was told I’d never be able or be loved by any “normal” man unless I was thin.
In my twenties, I learned how to dress myself better. My friend Sia taught me how to shop for clothes that flattered my body shape and showed me how to accessorize. I went from the teenage girl who went to class in overalls and a t-shirt, track pants and t-shirts, or jeans and t-shirts and who just wanted to be invisible to a woman who loves floral prints, loves dresses, and loves baring my shoulders which I see as beautiful and strong now. I don’t go out of my way to be visible – still don’t wear makeup or a lot of accessories – but I do try to present myself in a way that shows I care about myself and how I look even if I still struggle to feel beautiful and feminine in my body.
Rosie also talks about how a lot of our dissatisfaction comes from buying into the societal belief that we are our bodies, that all of our value lies in how we look. Like she writes, our bodies are simply vessels that take us through life, that allow us to experience the world. Our bodies change so much throughout our lives and can change significantly in one fell swoop that to put all of our eggs in one basket in regards to our value and self-acceptance is dangerous. How can we live fulfilling lives if we spend so much time trying to maintain a body type many of us were not born with and none of us can maintain throughout our lifetimes?
Like a lot of fat teenagers, I tried to focus more on being seen as funny, smart, and kind, someone people would “make an exception for” and “forgive” for not being all that aesthetically pleasing or able to fit in with a thin body. While it makes me sad how much I did this for the approval and acceptance of others instead of myself, it was a gift in that I developed a real personality and became a woman of great depth, introspection, empathy, and developed one hell of a sense of humor that has helped me survive so much of the trauma I’ve been through. And now those are things I appreciate, approve of, and love about myself even as I still worry too much at times about what others think of how I look.
Today: Embrace the notion that you are not your looks; that your value is greater than how you look. If you are at war with your body because you believe it should look different in order to fit some mainstream beauty standard, life will not be fulfilling. This not to say you shouldn’t care for your body and keep it in good operating order. In fact, you have a responsibility to do this. But if your project in life is to alter your looks, you are neglecting your purpose. In your “Beautiful You” journal, without mentioning your looks at all, explore what you really offer this world.
I am in the midst of a season of searching for a new job, my third in as many years, and the question of what I can offer has come up quite a bit as I write cover letters to convince an employer I am worth interviewing and hiring.
I have a tendency to sell myself short. As I look for jobs, I often find myself thinking, No way can I learn that or do that, like I didn’t teach myself Microsoft Office when I left my job with the State of Alabama where we were still in the Stone Age and using WordPerfect and Windows 95 and everyone else was using Office and at least Windows XP and like I didn’t get an administrative assistant job after a grueling in-basket assessment and four hours of brain draining behavioral “tell me about a time when…” interview questions.
What I offer this world is my open-mindedness and being teachable; my love for learning and the quick ability to do so; my transparency and honesty and self-awareness and willingness to be vulnerable at least on paper; my sense of humor and willingness to be goofy at my own expense but at the entertainment of others; my courage to keep digging at my struggles so openly in the hopes others feel less alone and like someone else understands what they’re going through; and my love for books, food (especially baking for others), singing, dancing, and traveling.
My mom calls me a “groundbreaker” and says no one can get people to open up and talk like I can (I say this is because I keep talking until they can’t take it anymore and start talking so I will shut up). John says I have helped him by calling him out on his shit as well as pushing him outside of his comfort zone. Where I was seen as too emotional growing up, I am now able to help others feel safe in showing their emotions by being unafraid to express mine. My mom now says my closeness to my emotions is a strength that everyone, including her, tried to break when I was growing up because they’d all been taught that to show emotion was weak and were overwhelmed by me having completely normal, healthy reactions to life (most of the time, anyway).
I hope I am seen as someone who wrings the most I can out of life even if I feel stifled by my financial situation, where I live, and sometimes my physical and mental health. I want to be as supportive, encouraging, gracious, and compassionate towards myself as I am towards others and to be as confident in myself and my abilities as I am of others.
I hope I am seen as authentic and genuine. I hope to grow in the courage to be more authentic, genuine, vulnerable, and trustworthy and to love myself as much as I love others. I don’t want to live the highlight reel where everyone thinks I have my shit together and I am perfect. The real life reel is hard, but it’s life, and I want to be relatable and to help people that way.
As the saying goes, “Life happens outside of our comfort zones,” and I am constantly hurtling myself way past my comfort zone so in the end, I at least know I tried everything I possibly could to make the most of my life. My offering to the world is the journey I take and who I become through it in the hopes someone else can learn and feel less alone from it.
You can read all of my other posts from Rosie Molinary’s Beautiful Youhere.