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Ashamed of Your Body?

Being ashamed of yourself is one of the most painful feelings to have, and as you might have already guessed, has a very destructive effect on your love-life. The opposite of shame is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance simply means, you are OK with yourself, regardless of what other people think.

What exactly is shame? Humiliation and distress over an awareness of something about yourself that is judged inadequate or below acceptability by both yourself and at least one other person. Whatever is being judged, whether it’s physical, emotional, or social, is considered inferior for some reason.

When you’re ashamed of yourself, you’re expecting rejection from other people. But that’s not all. Even more important than the rejection you are expecting is the rejection you are feeling toward yourself.

Ashamed of Her Body

Many years ago, I dated a young woman when I was myself a younger man, who could not show me her body before or after making love. During lovemaking the lights had to be out. After lovemaking she would run to the bathroom using a towel or some such cover so that I could not see her body.

I didn’t make a big deal out of it at the time because I knew instinctively that she was struggling with shame and probably quite distressed about it. For her, seeing and feeling were in separate domains? Meaning, I could touch her in the dark, but I couldn’t see her in the light.

She was not free to enjoy the sex we had and relax in the knowledge that her body was accepted by me and inherently beautiful. And by the way, to me she did have a gorgeous body, so it wasn’t about coping with a rejection, deformity, or other physical abnormality. Her sense of shame was purely in her self-judgment and and expectation of judgment from others.

Chicken or the Egg: Self-Judgment or Judgment of Others?

What comes first, the judgment of others or your judgment of yourself? I know it might seem as though your self-judgment comes first. But if you follow your history back to when you were younger, chances are you’ll find examples of when you felt unaccepted by someone, or more than one person, whose viewpoint you valued and looked up to.

He or she may or may not have intended to hurt you with his or her judgments. It could have been a passing comment or teasing. The point is, when you are young and vulnerable to criticism, you can hang onto something like this and make it bigger than what it was intended to be. Of course, there are plenty of people who remember growing up was emotionally traumatic precisely because they were always brutally criticized. Unfortunately, ‘shit’ like that has no where else to go but into your feelings about yourself.

Cure

I knew a man once who taught me that one of the most important tasks in adulthood is to make how you feel about yourself more important than how other people feel about you. Of course this was assuming that your feeling about yourself had been cleansed of all the negative or self-serving judgments, opinions, and feelings other people had toward you. I have come to understand this task as an important part of adult maturation. There’s a form of freedom you get when you’ve made progress doing this.

Your body is a valuable possession. It should be treated as such. It’s the carriage that was given to you to transport you around in this life of yours. I believe that someday you won’t need it anymore, but that’s for another post. The point here is that for a lot of people, their body determines the nature of their love-life.

Apart from all the media hype about what constitutes a ‘perfect body,’ there are plenty of personal reasons some people create for being uncomfortable with their bodies. Oh by the way, most of us gobble that media hype up by trying to live up to all the images fashion consultants try to sell us in the media.

If you’re suffering from something like this, the first step in your liberation is to begin taking the problem seriously. Next you’ve got to dedicate a little time and effort to doing some experiments with ‘risk.’ You are going to stop hiding yourself out of fear because you now know this is unhealthy. You’re going to convince yourself that you have a right to exist and there’s a good chance a lot of what you are afraid of is not realistic. The only way you’ll know for sure is to ‘expose’ yourself to what you’re afraid of.

The next step is going to be a little harder but you can handle it. If and when a rejection comes, and one will surely come, why? Because ‘nobody’ goes through life never being rejected. You’ll have a chance to practice sticking to what you know is true about you. Let me say that another way. No one goes through life always getting what he or she wants and needs. Sometimes you get a ‘no.’ How you handle this experience (cope with it) is the important part. Hanging onto what you know about yourself is the cure.

You’ll realize that just because someone rejects you does not make what he or she thinks or feels about you a ‘law’ about you. Furthermore, another person’s judgment of you is always more about them than you, in the final analysis. They have the right not to like or want to be with you. You have the right to see it as their ‘problem’ and move on with your life.

By the way, when people start recovering from shame, they usually find themselves starting to hang around with people who accept them for who they are. This is the ‘correction.’ Being criticized and the self-judgment you constructed as a consequence of that is being replaced by self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is an important part of our self-esteem. When you keep that healthy, your love-life automatically gets better. If I take good care of me, if I accept myself no matter what, it’ll be easier to accept and give the love I’m giving to myself, from and to someone else.

Ring a bell? Let us know. Dr. T. Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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