Tag Archives: self-acceptance

Body Image Role Models

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Body Image Role ModelsA lot of attention is given to celebrities who have enviable figures.  We’ve all seen magazine articles with such titles as “The Hottest Hollywood Bodies,” “Body after Baby,” and a multitude of other stories chronicling celebrity weight loss and body ideals showcased by the stars.  Similarly, many of us know “real people” with amazing physiques and we may compare our own bodies to theirs and find ourselves coming up short.  Seeing beautiful bodies can either motivate us or deflate our spirits, depending upon our mindsets and how we feel about our chances for achieving our body goals.

While it can be helpful to have body role models, it is even better to have body image role models, especially for those of us who are working to rehabilitate a negative body concept.  This post will highlight a few of my personal body image role models and show what I’ve learned from the women in my life who embody healthy attitudes toward their bodies.

Role Model #1 – Refreshing Friend

For much of my twenties and thirties, I found it exceedingly rare to meet a woman who didn’t continuously expound upon her diet and weight loss pursuits.  As someone who was desperately trying to overcome a deadly eating disorder, it was not healthy for me to engage in such discourse.

This is why I found it so refreshing to find one friend who didn’t waste a single moment disparaging her body or discussing her battles with weight and food.  She didn’t have to make an effort to avoid such talk; it simply didn’t occur to her to worry about these things.  She embraced her body for what it was, ate what she wanted when she was hungry, and went about her life.  Yes, it helped that she was naturally slim, enjoyed exercise and outdoor activities, and had grown up eating natural, healthy food.  However, as she gained weight in her late thirties and early forties (as can often be the case), she continued to love and accept her body and treat it with honor and respect.

Wrong Clothes, Not Wrong Body

I am grateful to this friend for being a body image role model to me for close to twenty years.  She showed me an alternate way of thinking and behaving in regards to body image, and it was healthy for me to spend time with someone who refrained from negative body talk and obsessive diet and exercise activities.

I remember shopping for clothes with my friend on a number of occasions. When she would try on garments that didn’t fit, she didn’t blame her body, as is common for women to do.  She either grabbed the next size up or decided the particular clothing style didn’t suit her and moved on to something else.  She knew she was just fine the way she was, that garment manufacturers tailored their clothing to particular body types, and it was just a matter of finding the right brand and style for her body.  In short, the clothes were wrong (for her), not her body.  A powerful distinction that is important to remember!

Role Model #2 – Confident Family Member

Another body image role model is a relative who has fluctuated in weight quite a bit over the years.  She has vacillated between having a tight, taut and fit figure and being dramatically overweight, and I never know how she will look when I see her.  However, no matter what she weighs, she has never expressed any feelings of shame toward her body.

This woman has no problem getting changed in front of others and will proudly strut around in the buff regardless of whether she’s thin or heavy.  She has a freedom around her body that I truly envy and greatly admire.   She also doesn’t make her weight mean anything about herself as a person.  She knows she is intelligent, capable, lovable, and fabulous no matter where the needle on the scale may fall.  She doesn’t let her body image dictate her self-image.  Who she is consists of infinitely more than what she weighs.  I aspire to be more like her in this regard and I honor her for what she’s taught me about body pride over the years.

Role Model #3 – She Loves Her Curves!

I have a new friend who is also a body role model for me.  This woman is beautifully curvy with a figure similar to the wonderful Christina Hendricks.  She proudly showcases her curves in body conscious clothing that makes the statement, “I love my body and enjoy showing it off.”  Her outfits are always beautifully put together and give off a powerfully confident “bombshell” vibe.

I already admired this woman, but then I learned she used to be sixty pounds heavier.  Amazingly, when she started to accept her body, take more pride in her appearance, and dress the body she had, she was able to drop the excess weight.

I could tell her story, but she chronicles it so beautifully herself in her own words that I will let you read it for yourselves.  Of note is that she reveals both her highest weight and her current weight in her article.  There is absolutely no shame attached to either number for her.  I aspire to be more like this amazing (and young!) woman.  That she was able to overcome her body image issues at such a young age is a tribute to both her strength and fortitude.

Lessons from My Role Models

In closing, I would like to recap the lessons I have learned from the three body image role models I briefly introduced above.  These three magnificent women have taught me the following:

  • There is so much more to life than dieting and weight loss.
  • All bodies are worthy of love and acceptance.
  • Take pride in your body regardless of its shape and size.
  • It is normal and natural for our bodies to change as we age.
  • Dress for the body you have, not the body you wish you had.
  • If clothes don’t fit you, your body isn’t bad or wrong!
  • Your body image should not dictate your self-image. You are not your weight or shape!
  • We all have positive body attributes that are worthy of showing off.

The list could go on and on, but the items above capture the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from my personal body image role models.

Body Love and Acceptance

When you look around for role models related to your body, I encourage you to search for those who will help you feel better about your body instead of worse.  I urge you to find those women in your life who embody body love and acceptance and who can help you develop those same desirable qualities.   We can all find bodies to admire and envy, but real growth and empowerment come from emulating those who can push you toward the ultimate prize, true body acceptance!

Self-Acceptance

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I had intended to post much earlier in the week, but you know what they say about good intentions… This has been a difficult week for me, which probably means I should have been devoting more attention to my healing project, instead of virtually ignoring it for a number of days. In getting back on track today, I searched for an exercise from “You Can Heal Your Life” to complete and write about.  I was quickly drawn to the most appropriate exercise for me at this particularly point in time, the “Mirror Exercise” on page 35.

Simple Yet Not Easy…

The Mirror Exercise is extremely simple, yet not at all easy.  The straightforward instructions are:  look in a mirror and into your own eyes, speak your name, and say, “I love and accept you exactly as you are.”

Louise Hay asks each of her clients to do this exercise during their initial session with her.   She states that she has rarely had a calm reaction to her simple request.  On the contrary, some clients were brought to tears, while others became angry and refused to do the exercise.  One client even threw the mirror across the room!  Needless to say, it isn’t easy to proclaim love and acceptance for ourselves.

My Experience with the Mirror Exercise

During the height of beating myself up for what I felt was an unproductive week and an overall stagnation in my life, I decided to do this powerful exercise.  As I walked up to the mirror, I felt my heart pound loudly and a tingling sensation crawled up the sides of my body.  I also felt flushed despite the relatively cool temperature in the room.  My eyes welled up with tears before I even opened my mouth to speak the requisite words.   However, when I actually spoke the words, I did not feel sad or angry.  Instead, I felt a sense of peace and calm wash over my body.

It was a relief to affirm my acceptance and love for myself today and it really felt good for me to do it.  I know that in the past, it would have been very difficult for me to speak Louise Hay’s simple statement. I used to be far more invested in making myself wrong than in wanting to feel good about myself and my life. Although I still have a long way to go in terms of self-esteem and acceptance, I have made some definite progress in these areas.  It’s taken a lot of hard work and self-examination for me to get to the point where I am ready to accept and love myself.

Self-Acceptance is Empowering

Why is it empowering to declare love and acceptance toward ourselves?  Louise Hay asserts that the root of all human problems lies in not loving ourselves. Even if we can give ourselves a tiny bit of love during a brief mirror exercise, this can go a long way toward counteracting the negative messages we send ourselves on a regular basis.

Positive messages are far more powerful than negative messages, and even irregular empowering messages can serve to inoculate us against an onslaught of self-effacing thoughts.  I know this is true because I’ve been inwardly affirming “I approve of myself” as often as I remember to do so in recent months.  This simple action has helped me to become stronger and I am finding myself less compromised by sadness and depression than before I began this practice.

Acceptance Doesn’t Mean We Don’t Want to Change

To clarify, stating that we love and accept ourselves exactly as we are in a given moment does not mean that we don’t want to change anything about our circumstances. We may have a number of things we wish to change, as well as some powerful goals for the future.  The truth is that we are far more likely to achieve our goals and make successful changes when we begin from a space of self-acceptance.

Lasting transformation cannot be accomplished through brow-beating and self-effacement. A good example of this relates to weight loss.  I can remember many times when I would look at myself in the mirror, pinch my stomach and thighs, and use colorful adjectives like disgusting, ugly, and weak to describe myself. These debasements only served to make me feel much worse about myself and propel me to comfort myself with food, an action that was counterproductive for my weight loss goals.

I have had far better luck when I’ve treated myself with kindness.  If I start with self-acceptance and then move forward toward change, I am much more likely to be successful. If, instead of beating myself up and calling myself awful names, I dress in flattering clothing and do my best to look and feel attractive, the likelihood of my exercising and making good food choices is much greater.

Power in the Present Moment

One of the key principles of Louise Hay and many other spiritual teachers is that the point of power is always in the present moment.  In the here and now, we have a choice.  We can criticize ourselves or we can love and accept ourselves. One choice will lead us to feel weak and dis-empowered; the other choice will uplift and empower us.

As I stared into my eyes in the mirror and proclaimed my acceptance of myself, I experienced an energetic boost.  I was infused with power and strength to face the challenges of the day, along with a sense of calm and assurance that I can accomplish my goals for the future. This is far better than the metaphorical “air out of the tires” feeling I encountered each time I criticized myself for not meeting my impossibly high standards for acceptability.

My Challenge Moving Forward

My challenge now is to show myself more love and compassion than disdain and criticism. My task is to stop myself mid-criticism and switch to affirming self- acceptance and love.  My commitment is to know that I am enough, that I don’t have to be perfect in order to be loved by others – or by myself.

I close with a portion of a “spiritual treatment” from Louise Hay:

“In the infinity of life where I am, all is perfect, whole and complete.  I am always divinely protected and guided… It is safe for me to enlarge my viewpoint of life.  I am far more than my personality – past, present, or future.  I now choose to rise above my personality problems to recognize the magnificence of my being.  I am totally willing to learn to love myself.  All is well in my world.”

Body Love, Self-Love

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Body Love and Self-AcceptanceNOTE: This article was originally posted to my previous blog, “The Healing Project,” in May 2010.

If someone were to ask you if you love yourself, how many of you would reply with an enthusiastic “Yes”?  How about if you were asked if you love your body?  I know that for most of my life, I would have found both questions absurd.  I definitely and unequivocally did not love myself or my body.

For years, I was my own worst critic.  I would unleash a torrent of criticism upon myself on a daily basis that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.  In fact, I was my own worst enemy.  Nothing I could do was ever good enough for me; my standards were impossibly high and there was no way I could reach them.  While my targets for accomplishment and success were virtually unachievable, my standards for my body and physical appearance surpassed them by leaps and bounds.

Specter in the Mirror

I would look in the mirror and pick myself apart mercilessly.  My hair was frizzy, my face was blotchy, my nose was too big, my hips were huge, and my thighs were completely unacceptable!  These are just a few of the criticisms that would play like a broken record inside my mind.  My self-criticism and overall negative attitude toward my body propelled me into a long battle with anorexia and bulimia, a struggle which almost killed me during my teens and twenties.  Even after I managed to pull myself out of the depths of that battle, the criticism did not end.  I was ruthless in the way that I’d pick myself apart, and all compliments from others would be quickly negated inside my mind.  I just wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, firm enough, or anything enough…

The Toll of Self-Abuse

The years of criticizing my body have taken a toll on my psyche and my health.  Although I have become decidedly more kind toward myself and my body in recent months (partly as a result of my healing project), the damage has been done. I am convinced that the laundry list of health issues from which I suffer can be attributed to the years of self-flagellation.

Think about it… How would you respond to a person who continuously berates you?  Would you thrive and shine in that person’s presence, or would you wither and fade?  The way in which my body has responded to my abuse is no surprise to me.  As Louise Hay and other wise spiritual teachers have written, our thoughts create our reality.  The reality of my physical body has been shaped by what I have continually thought over the years.

My husband has frequently commented on how mean I was to myself in my words.  Sadly, my unkind words paled in comparison to the ferocity of my internal dialogue.   I have created my poor health of the present time.  I take responsibility for that, as sad and defeated as it makes me feel today.

Learning to Love Myself

I am not an unkind person.  In fact, I believe I have a good and kind heart.  It is time for me to direct that kindness and compassion toward myself.  It is time for me to treat myself the way I would treat a person I deeply love.  In truth, I have learned to love myself in recent years.  I have learned to appreciate my uniqueness and my good qualities.  I am finally able to say – and mean – those simple but difficult words, “I love myself.”  I can even speak those words while staring into my own eyes in the mirror, yet tears always well up in those same eyes.   Likewise, I find myself becoming tearful as I express these sentiments today…

Ending the War with Self

The tears are for the years of self-hatred, for the wasted time during which I was at war with myself and my body. Although I would love to recapture those lost years and circumvent my current health challenges, I can only live in the moment and move forward.   Hopefully, I have many years ahead of me during which I can live peacefully with myself and my miraculous body which has survived despite years and years of punishing abuse.

Responsibility is Powerful

Some of you may identify with what I have written. I know that many people are tremendously hard on themselves and their bodies.  We can blame society and the unattainable standards that are set out for us by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.  But while society can and does play a role in our self-image and body image struggles, the ultimate responsibility falls upon us.  That is good news because it means that we have the power to transform our thoughts and attitudes.

Moving Forward…

How do we do that?  Let’s take some tips from Louise Hay (from “You Can Heal Your Life,” page 23):

“Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything.  Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.  Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

I Approve of Myself

I have been repeating the affirmation, “I approve of myself,” over and over inside my head for months now.  It is a simple affirmation that I think whenever it comes to mind.  I use this affirmation to cancel out self-criticism when I become aware that I am thinking negative thoughts about myself.  Although I know it will take time to undo the effects of my many years of self-abuse, affirming approval of myself is starting to have a positive effect on me.  I am beginning to notice my negative thoughts more readily and can more easily release them and replace them with more beneficial thoughts.  It is becoming easier for me to think kind and loving thoughts about myself.  I am experiencing small but noticeable “pockets” of inner peace in my days, and that gives me hope for the future.

Hope to Soldier On

The journey to heal my health and my life is a challenging and tumultuous road with many twists and turns.  I am humbled on a regular basis by the ebb and flow of my numerous health issues which only seem to crop up again just when I feel they may finally be behind me.  Yet I have hope and that allows me to soldier on with my healing project.

I believe that the key to healing is in self-acceptance.  In the spirit of hope, I close this post with another quote from Louise Hay, one which provides hope for us all for a peaceful and powerful future:

“I find that when we really love and accept and APPROVE OF OURSELVES EXACTLY AS WE ARE, then everything in life works.  It’s as if little miracles are everywhere.  Our health improves, we attract more money, our relationships become more fulfilling, and we begin to express ourselves in creatively fulfilling ways.  All this seems to happen without even trying.”

Missing Tile Syndrome

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Today’s post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I highly recommend this book as a concise and extremely informative book on the often elusive subject of happiness.  Dennis presents a number of life-changing philosophies in his book, but one of the best is the concept of the “missing tile syndrome.”

Imagine this Scenario…

Ceiling TilesImagine that you are in a dentist’s office having your teeth cleaned and are thus focused on the ceiling above you.  As you glance around the room, you notice that one of the ceiling tiles is missing.  Although the majority of the ceiling is pristine and perfect, you would likely be transfixed upon that one missing tile for the remainder of your visit.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  That is fine for ceilings, as they can be perfect.  The danger is when we apply the same focus and filter to our lives…

Even if we have a wonderful and full life, there are always areas which we feel can be better.  The positive side of this is that we continue to focus upon learning and growing and bettering our life circumstances.  The downside is that we may end up obsessing on that which is missing to such an extent that it detracts from our happiness.

Examples of “Missing Tiles”

A few examples will help to illustrate this point…  I had a friend who struggled with infertility issues a number of years ago.  She lamented to me that everywhere she went, all she saw were pregnant women and babies.  I also knew a divorced woman who would venture out on the weekends, only to notice couples kissing and holding hands all around her.  These two women were so completely focused on what they didn’t have, a baby or a partner; they felt as if they were the only ones in their respective positions.

I can think of a few personal instances of “missing tile syndrome” in my life.  I mentioned my obsession with straight, sleek hair in a previous post.  I used to feel that every woman I saw had beautiful, frizz-free hair and that I was the only one around who struggled with managing coarse, frizzy locks.  Similarly, I have often lamented my thick hips and thighs and felt they were out of proportion with the rest of my body.  When I would be out and about, all I would see would be slim-hipped women with model slim legs.

Focus and Gratitude…

Of course, not all women are pregnant, not everyone is coupled up, and not all women have sleek hair or slim thighs.  However, when one is suffering from “missing tile syndrome,” the focus is only upon what is lacking, not on what is present.  When we focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right in our lives, we are generally less happy as a result.

As I’ve mentioned previously, gratitude is one of the primary keys to happiness and well-being. If we look for what’s right in our lives, we will surely find a number of things to celebrate.  Similarly, if we look for what’s wrong, we will be guaranteed to find those missing tiles.

Dealing with “Missing Tile Syndrome”

Awareness of “missing tile syndrome” is a first and powerful step, but Dennis Prager offers some additional suggestions for how to effectively deal with this problem.   He suggests that you do one of the following things in regards to your missing tile:

1. Get It

If you determine that your “missing tile” is absolutely essential to your happiness, you can find a way to get that which is missing in your life.  For example, if my friend with the infertility issue was unable to have a child of her own (fortunately for her, she was finally able to get pregnant…), she could have chosen to adopt a child.   Although her initial desire was to give birth to a child, adopting a child would have given her what she dearly wanted, a child to love and to raise.

2. Forget It

Although this option may not seem feasible, it is a viable solution in certain cases.  There are some missing tiles which cannot be gotten.  Dennis Prager wrote about sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife following his divorce.  Whereas he had previously gotten to spend each and every day with his child, that was no longer the case after his marriage ended.  He found himself seriously missing his son when they were apart, but he couldn’t change the fact that they now spent less time together.  Consequently, he had to dismiss the desire to be with his son all the time and instead focus on making their time together as enjoyable as possible.  When they were apart, Dennis would keep busy doing other things he enjoyed and he gradually came to accept the new situation.

3. Replace It

Sometimes, we are not able to get the exact things we want in life, but we can discover a viable replacement with which we can be satisfied.  A somewhat trivial example may concern a man who is fixated on buying a new Porsche but doesn’t have the money to make such a purchase.  This man may choose to either buy a used Porsche in good condition or he may end up purchasing a domestic sports car at a lower price.

A more serious example of replacing a missing tile may involve a woman who wanted to be an Olympic gymnast but never made it to the upper echelons of competition.   This woman may choose to open her own gymnastics studio or become a coach to young children.  By doing one of these things, she can still pursue her great passion for the sport even though her initial goal was not reached.

Personal Conclusions

Let’s get back to the personal examples which I mentioned above.  After my trauma following my recent attempt to obtain straight and sleek hair (see the post “Perspective and Appreciation”), I have decided that I need to forget about getting this missing tile.   I am choosing to accept the reality of my hair and to be grateful for what I have.  If I find myself feeling sad about the hair which I do not have, I will focus on the aspects of my appearance with which I am satisfied.  I will reflect upon my positive qualities and be grateful for those blessings instead of thinking about the “missing tile” of perfect hair.

The same is true for my thighs.  I have done all I am willing to do to make them slim and muscular.  I work out regularly and I eat well, but my thighs have not assumed the desired shape.  Since I am unwilling to pursue liposuction or extreme diet or exercise measures, I feel I need to forget the “tile” of perfect thighs.  I choose to focus on the fact that my legs are strong and effectively carry me through life.  I also choose clothing which puts less emphasis on my thighs and more emphasis on the body parts which I more readily embrace.

Self-acceptance and gratitude are key in terms of dealing with “missing tile syndrome.”   Be grateful for your blessings in life and put your focus there.  Work on accepting yourself and your life as they are, and stop lamenting your supposed “flaws” to the detriment of your happiness and inner peace.   Although I know these topics will continue to surface as I proceed with my “healing project,” I will close with the ever famous and always powerful Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

May we all live in peace and serenity and embrace our life challenges with courage and wisdom!

Uncovering Our Hidden Beliefs

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I recently completed an exercise on beliefs from Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”  The exercise was straightforward and consisted of sentence completion for nine topics.  The objective was to uncover hidden beliefs which may be holding me back in certain areas of my life.  In this blog entry, I will share some of the insights that I gained from completing the beliefs exercise.

The topics which were explored in the beliefs exercise were:  Men, Women, Love, Sex, Work, Money, Success, Failure, and God. For each word, I wrote the various thoughts which popped into my head.  I tried not to think too deeply about the “right” or “best” answers for any of the topics.   I spent about twenty minutes uncovering my beliefs and then took some additional time to review my answers and look for insights or “aha moments.”

Some Surprise Beliefs…

For some of the areas, there were no surprises.  I knew that I had issues regarding Work, Success and Failure, and I will be writing about those topics in a later post.  I also knew that my feelings about Love and God were basically positive in nature.   However, the biggest surprise for me in doing the beliefs exercise related to my feelings about men and women.  I learned that I have basically positive feelings about men and a lot of not so positive attitudes about women.   Because I am a woman, my attitudes about my own gender bear some exploration…

My Beliefs About Women and Men

Here are a few of my statements about women:

  • Women can be catty, petty and mean.
  • Women aren’t nice to each other.
  • Women can be too obsessed with appearance.
  • Women have fewer advantages in life.
  • Women don’t know what they want.
  • Women are too picky.

In contrast, here are some of my thoughts about men:

  • Men have more advantages in the world than women.
  • Men have more fun than women.
  • Men are easier to get along with than women.
  • Men generally feel better about their bodies.
  • Men are not to be feared or hated.

If I read the above statements and didn’t know any better, I’d think they were written by a man!  I was definitely surprised to learn some of my hidden feelings about men and women, but what does this all mean?  I am still processing this information, but here are some of the insights I’ve gained thus far…

Beliefs About Women – Or About Myself?

Many of my statements about women were more about myself than about women in general.  I am picky and unsure as to what I really want in life.  I have a tendency to be obsessed with my appearance and I am often not very nice to myself.  I can be catty, petty and mean, particularly towards myself.  While I have many advantages in my life, I sometimes don’t appreciate what I have and times, I feel guilty for the privileges which I enjoy.   I question whether or not I deserve to have the many benefits with which I’ve been blessed.

I sometimes feel as if I’m not a “normal” woman.  After all, I’m not very maternal, I’ve never really wanted to have children, and my domestic skills are sorely lacking.  While I enjoy being pretty and feminine in terms of my appearance, I have often tried to develop more masculine personality characteristics.  I have believed that I should be more career-driven than is my natural tendency, especially since I was lacking the drive to bear and raise children.  I beat myself up on a regular basis for not achieving the societal vision of success, a goal which men traditionally feel more pressure to reach.

Strength – Masculine or Feminine?

While I know a number of strong women, I think I’ve always associated strength more with the masculine than the feminine.  Unlike many other women I know, I do not fear or distrust men.  I find that I easily build rapport with men and in general have positive feelings about them.  Before I got married, I had more male friends than female friends.

The women with whom I have bonded tended to be other women who don’t fit the traditional female mold.   I feel that more traditional women don’t “get” me and sometimes look at me as if I have two heads.  At times, I feel judged by other women for the choices I’ve made in life, particularly the decision not to have children.  I do not begrudge their decisions, but I feel that they begrudge mine.

Next Steps for Me

Of course, I don’t know that any of my suspicions about other women are true.  We often project our own beliefs onto others and are frequently unaware that we are doing this.  The Beliefs Exercise has helped to open my eyes regarding my beliefs about women.  Now that I am aware that some of my beliefs are not empowering and don’t really serve me, I have a choice and some additional work to do.  I need to decide what I want to believe about women and about myself.  I choose to adopt more loving and empowering beliefs about women in general and about myself as a woman.  As this process evolves, I will share my new insights, as well as the ways in which I am growing and learning in this area of life.

Follow-On Questions for Readers

  1. What are your attitudes about men and women?
  2. Do you find that you have more positive attitudes about your own gender or about the opposite gender?
  3. In what ways do your attitudes about men and women positively or negatively impact your life?
  4. Are there any dis-empowering beliefs which you would like to release?

I encourage you to take some time to explore your beliefs about Men, Women, Love, Sex, Work, Money, Success, Failure, and God.  Powerful change begins with awareness.  As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”   The Healing Project is all about self-awareness, empowerment and positive change.  Although some insights can be painful, they often serve as a springboard toward growth.  

Perspective and Appreciation

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Most of us have things about ourselves which we don’t like or even hate, and we often waste a lot of time and energy resisting or fighting these things.  For most of my life, one of my “hates” has been my hair.   I have very thick hair, so thick that hairstylists have often commented that I had enough hair for two or three people.  In addition, my hair is naturally wavy and predisposed to frizz, tendencies which are intensified by the humid Southern California weather.

My God-given hair was not the type of hair I wanted.  I wanted the straight, sleek hair of a Scandinavian girl – or Jennifer Aniston.  I have been fighting my hair texture for as long as I can remember with countless hair products, daily flat-ironing, and a multitude of chemical processes.  None of these armaments ever worked to my satisfaction, so I continually searched for the next best thing.

Magic Bullet or Nightmare?

This past November, I thought I had found it.  I spent about four hours and over $300 at the hair salon getting what is known as a “keratin smoothing treatment.”  The result was not the nirvana I had anticipated; instead it has been a nightmare which I couldn’t have imagined.  I experienced some serious breathing problems from the formaldehyde released by the chemical process, and since the product was bonded into my hair, I was unable to remove it despite repeated washings.  Consequently, I opted to cut off close to half of my hair in order to minimize the deleterious effects.

Just when I thought I was past the worst of my nightmare, a delayed side effect occurred.  I started to lose large amounts of hair on a daily basis.  By the time I realized what was going on, I had lost so much hair that I could see parts of my scalp at my hairline and my ponytail diameter was only about half of what it used to be.   Fortunately, I think the hair loss has subsided at this point, and because I had so much hair to begin with, it is not as noticeable as might be expected.  However, I am still planning to see a dermatologist to make sure I am able to salvage my hair.

Two Key Lessons…

This is surprisingly difficult for me to write about and I am not sharing this experience to garner sympathy.  I have learned a great deal from this particular struggle and the point of this post is to share my insights.  I have titled this post “Perspective and Appreciation” because those are the two key lessons I’ve gained from my hair experience.

I would love to be able to turn back the clock such that I had never gotten the so-called keratin smoothing treatment, but I have come to understand that I needed this experience to learn what I needed to learn.  The Universe has been trying to teach me the lesson of appreciation and self-acceptance for many years.  Instead of appreciating what I had, I continued to fight it and wish for something different.

Taking Things for Granted

My hair is only one aspect of myself which I would berate and negate. While I would often receive compliments on my thick and lustrous hair, I would never take them in.  I was filled with hatred for my hair because it wouldn’t bend to my will.  Because my hair wasn’t sleek and straight, I didn’t show any love or appreciation for it; all of the energy I gave to my hair was negative.

Now that my hair is no longer long, thick or lustrous, I have been given the gift of perspective.  How true it is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone.

How often do we take things – and people – for granted until they are no longer in our lives?

Declaring a Truce

I am declaring a truce in the war against my hair.  I am now treating my hair more lovingly and am showing appreciation for the hair that is left on my head.  I am affirming throughout the day, “I love and appreciate my hair.”  I believe that this love and appreciation will help me to save my hair.  It was not only the chemicals which destroyed my hair; it was also my negativity and distain.

How many of us treat ourselves worse than we would treat our worst enemy?  How many of us are our own worst enemy?  How much would we thrive if we were to begin to treat ourselves the way we treat our treasured pets or children?

New and Empowering Vows

From this moment on, I vow to treat myself with much more love and appreciation.  I vow to start looking more at what’s right about me instead of what’s wrong.  I know that I will stumble along the way, as old habits are hard to break.  However, the perspective I have gained from my hair trauma has shown me that I must break those old habits.  It’s time to stop beating myself up and start appreciating all of the wonderful characteristics which I know I possess.

Will you join me in my new and empowering vows?  Many of us wish and pray for peace in the world, but peace begins from within.   Stop fighting yourself and choose to love yourself instead.  I know it’s hard, but we can help each other to live a more peaceful and loving existence!

“Deservability”

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With this post, I begin working through the exercises in Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”  While you can definitely read my blog and benefit from my insights without doing the exercises yourself, I encourage you to follow along and gain and share your own insights.  Not all blog posts will be associated with YCHYL exercises, but these exercises are an integral part of the Healing Project.

Defining the Concept

We all want many things in our lives and we often wonder why we don’t get those things.  A big part of it has to do with the concept of deserving, or as Louise Hay terms it, “deservability.”  If, at the deepest core of our being, we don’t feel we deserve to have what we wish for, that belief will block those things from coming into our lives.  We end up settling for less than what we truly desire as a result of our limiting beliefs.  To achieve our goals in life, it is necessary to work on our beliefs as well as take concrete actions toward that which we want.

Deservability Exercise

The Deservability Exercise in the “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book” consists of seven questions which are designed to help us to better understand the power of this concept.  Below, I have included these questions (rephrased in a shorter and simpler format) as well as some key excerpts from my responses to the questions.  I feel that I have gained some valuable insights as a result of my introspection into the concept of “deservability.”  Now I invite you to answer these questions…

1. What do you want that you do not have now?

  • I want to have vibrant, good health.  I want to wake up feeling energetic, healthy and hopeful about the coming day.  I want to know that I will feel good instead of fearing or even expecting that I will feel bad.  I want to be able to make plans without fear of having to cancel because I don’t feel well or having to endure a headache or other pain while engaged in some type of social activity.
  • I want to feel like I’m making a positive difference in the world.  This difference doesn’t have to be on a grandiose scale, but I want to feel needed and important.
  • I want to feel as if I am utilizing my best gifts and strengths and that I am expressing my creativity.  I want to feel that I am expressing the best of myself in my endeavors and in my interactions.  The specific things that I do to use my gifts are not as important as the fact that I will be using my gifts in some sort of pursuit that matters to me.

2. What did you learn about deserving in your childhood?

I don’t know that I was told that I didn’t deserve, but I often did feel that I have to earn respect and praise.  I felt that I had to “tow the line” and do what was expected of me in order to win approval and love.

Earning would only work for me on a temporary basis. I would get approval in the moment, but it would be fleeting. I feel that I have continued this practice with myself.  I have to earn my own respect and approval and I often feel that I don’t do enough in order to be worthy of my own love or even like.

3. Do you feel that you are deserving of good things, or do you feel that you have to do something to earn them?  Are you good enough?

I feel more deserving than I did in the past, but there is a still a sense of feeling that I must earn things in life, including love and approval from myself and others.

My initial reaction to “are you good enough?” is that of course I am, but deep down I think I don’t feel good enough or worthy.  I feel as if I haven’t lived up to my full potential in life.  So much of my feelings of deservability are tied up in financial earnings and the societal definitions of success. I feel as if I don’t measure up in these ways.

I do feel that I can be good enough.  It will require an attitudinal shift more than an action shift because I know on some level that I am already good enough.

4. Do you deserve to live?  Why or why not?

I definitely feel that I deserve to live, no question.  This hasn’t always been the case, clearly, as I used to engage in such reckless and self-destructive behavior.

Now I feel that I am worthy of life and worthy of good things in life.  I shouldn’t have to earn the good things I have or feel guilty for what I have.  I want to be able to just be grateful and happy for my blessings and to trust that I have them because I deserve them!

5. What do you have to live for?  What is the purpose of your life?

I have many things to live for.  I have my wonderful husband, my adorable kitties, my family and my friends.  I feel that I have my potential to make a difference in the lives of many others.  I feel that I have my potential joy and future happiness to live for.

I am not entirely sure about the purpose of my life, but I feel that it has to do with inspiring and empowering others.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I wrote that, so I know that it’s true.  I feel that I can be a force for good and a person who can help others to release themselves from their bondage, the bondage of their own creation.  I feel that I can help others to be more free and to experience more joy and happiness in life.  I have yet to fully create this meaning or to realize my purpose, but I feel that I am on the precipice of this at this point in my life.  It’s as if I have to make it over just one more hill and I will be able to be more fully creative and expressive.

6. Whom do you need to forgive in order to deserve?

I feel that I have forgiven most of the other people in my life at this point.  I mostly need to forgive myself in order to feel more deserving.  I still feel guilt over things I’ve done in the past and I need to let that go.  I can’t go back and change what happened, so I need to release the past and move forward powerfully.  I also need to forgive myself for the fact that I have changed careers many times instead of sticking with one thing.  That is also something that I cannot change.

My choices and my actions have shaped me into the person I am today and I think that person is a good person.  Yes, I made some bad choices at times, but those choices were primarily motivated by my inner pain and my lack of self-confidence and trust in myself.  I was trying to escape my pain, so I did some bad and hurtful things.  I don’t excuse my actions, but I do need to forgive them.

7. What do you deserve?  Do you believe:  “I deserve love and joy and all good”? Or do you feel deep down that you deserve nothing?  Are you willing to let go of your limiting beliefs about deservability?

You know what?  I do believe that I deserve love and joy and all good!  It’s taken me many, many years to get to the point where I can write and say that.  I know that there are still some undeserving beliefs which need to be healed, but I basically believe that I am a good person who tries my best to be and do good.  I am willing to let go of my judgment and contempt towards myself.  I am willing to embody “I approve of myself.”  I am willing to awake with joy and live my life in joy and peace.  I am willing to change, I am willing to grow and I am willing to love and accept myself fully as I am while working to create the life of my dreams.

Some Affirmations to Try

Here are a few affirmations derived from Louise Hay’s “Deservability Treatment.”  It may be helpful to repeat these phrases either aloud or silently to yourself when you find yourself feeling down on yourself or discouraged about life in general.

  • I am deserving.
  • I deserve all good.
  • I now move past all negative, restricting thoughts.
  • I no longer identify with limitation of any kind.

Next we will delve into becoming more aware of our beliefs, both positive and negative, about various aspects and concepts of life.  We will identify those beliefs which serve us, as well as those which are holding us back from accomplishing our goal and realizing our dreams.  Then we will move into healing the various aspects of our lives, one step at a time…

Principles of Louise Hay – Part 4

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This post outlines the final three key principles from “You Can Heal Your Life.”

“We must be willing to learn to love ourselves.”

Many years ago, I first heard the saying, “You can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself first.” At the time, I despised this saying and vehemently disagreed with its sentiments.  Although I was clear that I didn’t love myself much back then, I believed that I was a loving person and fully capable of loving others.  Now I am much more open to the message, except that I would qualify the saying by adding the word fully, as in “one cannot love another fully unless he loves himself.” If we are mired in self-criticism and self-hatred, there is much less of ourselves to give to others, which makes us less able to love others to full capacity.

Yet, the ability to love others fully is only one reason for us to love ourselves.  When we treat ourselves with loving kindness, we experience a number of other benefits.   These benefits include:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased inner peace
  • Improved relationships
  • Enhanced health and well-being

Notice that this principle includes two key words, willing and learn.  For those of us who have not loved ourselves for many, many years, it probably won’t happy overnight.  We need to learn to treat ourselves more kindly, much like we would need to learn a new language or the tasks for a new job.  It’s a process and it takes time.  However, the key is to be willing to learn, whether it’s learning a new language or a new way of reacting toward oneself. If we are open and willing to a new way of being, the learning process will flow much more smoothly.

Louise Hay is a big advocate of the use of affirmations.  One affirmation which she uses often is, “I am willing to change.” A variant on this affirmation could be, “I am willing to learn to love myself” or simply, “I am willing to love myself.” Affirmations really do help!  When I find myself engaging in negativity, I often snap myself out of that mindset by repeating a simple affirmation several times inside my head.  Give it a try… You might not notice a difference overnight, but I promise you, it will help!

Start with the willingness to love yourself and build from there.  The first step is always the most difficult.  Take that first step and see how you grow and blossom over time.

“Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes.”

We have all made mistakes in the past.  None of us are perfect and I’m sure that if we could turn back the clock, knowing what we know now, we would make different decisions and act in alternate ways.  This key asks us to stop looking back and stop berating ourselves for our past failings.  It asks us to stand firmly in the now with an attitude of “I approve of myself” and “I am okay.” With this positive attitude, we are better prepared to move forward and to make the changes we want to make in our lives.

Would you feed yourself or your child a meal on one of last night’s dirty dishes?  Of course not!  Well, working on creating a new future on top of the “muck” of berating yourself for your past wrongs is akin to eating a delicious meal from a dirty dish.  It just wouldn’t taste as good!

We need to let go of the past and focus on what we want to create in our lives.  We cannot change the past, so it does virtually no good to ruminate upon it.  The only time when past reflection is productive is when we are looking for lessons to apply moving forward.  Otherwise, let the past go.  Embrace yourself and your life today, set powerful goals for yourself, and work on accomplishing them from a space of self-acceptance and self-approval.

I know this can be easier said than done, but as with the previous key, it begins from an attitude of willingness.  Be willing to approve of yourself and willing to accept yourself.   Use affirmations to help you along the way.  The exercises in “You Can Heal Your Life” and other related teachings will help tremendously.

Being able to accept, approve of, and love ourselves is an ongoing process.  I have definitely made a lot of progress in this regard, but I still have my days when I am highly self-critical.  It is at those times that I recommit to being willing to change, and I move forward as best I can.

I remember one of the powerful tenets from “The Four Agreements,” which is Always Do Your Best.  Our best isn’t always the same.  Some days our best means simply that we get out of bed, whereas our best on other days leads to tremendous accomplishments.  But if we commit to always doing our best and being willing to accept and love ourselves, all things are possible.

“When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.”

Self-love is a critical facet of “the Healing Project.”  As we move forward in healing our lives, we will work on learning to love ourselves more and on being more gentle and accepting toward ourselves.  As we look at the probable thought patterns for a host of common health challenges, we’ll notice that these patterns are highly negative and destructive.  When we are able to turn these thought patterns around and replace them with more empowering and positive thoughts, miracles will start to happen in our lives.  We will start to feel better physically, we’ll have a more genuinely cheerful disposition, we’ll have more “good days,” our relationships will improve, and we’ll attract better outcomes for our life endeavors.  Quite simply, our lives will work much better.

Don’t you want to have a life that works better?  I know I do.  I used to try to climb an uphill battle to a better life, all the while driving myself with all the sensitivity of a drill sergeant.  That approach didn’t get me what I wanted, so I’m willing to try another avenue.  I am willing to step into the belief that when I really love myself, everything in my life will work.

Principles of Louise Hay – Part 2

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This post is a continuation of the previous post and will cover more of the key principles of Louise Hay’s philosophy.  This post outlines four more of the points which are the basis for “You Can Heal Your Life.”

“Everyone suffers from self-hatred and guilt.”

I believe this principle is important for several reasons.  First, it’s always helpful and comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggles and pain.  Knowing that other people are experiencing the same difficulties as we are can help us to feel more normal and less dysfunctional.  Although I feel that some people struggle with self-hatred and guilt to a larger degree than others, I agree that this is an issue for everyone at some point in their lives. I believe that Louise Hay states this principle as a type of precursor to some of her later principles which work on transforming the painful feelings of self-hatred and guilt, as well as other harmful emotions and habits.

I have experienced a great deal of self-hatred and guilt over the course of my life.  To say that I am hard on myself is putting it mildly, so to speak.  I have a tendency to blame myself for anything that goes wrong and to hold myself to inordinately high standards which are virtually impossible to meet.  I feel guilty for the things which I have done wrong, as well for my poor judgments and missed opportunities.  Although I feel that I’ve improved greatly in terms of being less critical and mean toward myself, I still struggle with this issue.  I look forward to using Louise Hay’s principles to heal my self-critical tendencies.

“The bottom line for everyone is, ‘I’m not good enough’.”

This principle is directly related to the principle above.  We all struggle with feelings of inadequacy and set standards for ourselves which can be unreachable.  It’s common to look at what’s wrong in our lives and in ourselves instead of noticing what’s right.  It’s the proverbial “glass half empty” approach to life which is so prevalent in our society.  What we don’t realize, however, is how this approach to life impacts us.

Many of us are merely carrying on a legacy of thought patterns which were instilled in us from a young age.  We may have been raised by parents who criticized us more than they complimented us.  The tendency to look first for what’s wrong becomes a pattern which follows us throughout our lives.  It is likely that our critical parents were also raised by judgmental mothers and fathers, and the pattern continues from generation to generation.

It is difficult to thrive in the face of intense criticism and judgment.   It’s like going through life with a dark cloud over our heads, only we’re the ones who put the cloud there by our contention that we’re not good enough.  We need to learn that we don’t need to be perfect in order to be good enough; we can make mistakes and still be lovable and “okay.”

“It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.”

The feelings of self-hatred, guilt, and “not good enough” all spring from corresponding thoughts.  It isn’t true that we are bad or unworthy; we merely have beliefs that state such things as if they were grounded in fact.  As stated in the previous principle, “every thought we think is creating our future,” our thoughts create our reality.   Yet the wonderful thing is that WE are in control of our thoughts!  With a little practice, we can learn to notice our limiting thoughts and to replace them with empowering thoughts.

I have become a lot more adept at noticing when I am thinking negative thoughts, particularly about myself.  One key is to pay attention to your emotions.  If you are feeling bad, it’s a good sign that you are thinking negative thoughts.  If you notice yourself feeling sad or angry, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What was I just thinking?”  There’s a good chance that you were thinking something negative and maladaptive.   If you get into the habit of noticing your emotions and questioning your thoughts, you will become more and more aware of what you’re thinking.  Consequently, you’ll be able to replace your negative thoughts with more positive and affirming ones.  It just takes some practice!

“We create every so-called illness in our body.”

This can be a difficult principle for many to take on.   It is uncomfortable to feel bad physically and think that you are to blame for your discomfort.  This is especially difficult in the case of severe and life-threatening illnesses.  Yet it is helpful to remember that such illnesses do not come upon a person overnight. The more severe the disease, the more long-standing the pattern of negative thinking which has preceded its genesis.

I rebelled against this concept when I first read “You Can Heal Your Life.”  I didn’t want to believe that I had created the horrendous migraines which had plagued me since the age of eighteen.  However, when I read the probable thought pattern for migraines, as postulated by Louise Hay, it made sense:  dislike of being driven, resisting the flow of life.  I am what one would call a “control freak” and I hate it when things don’t go my way or when others try to control my actions or experiences.   It makes sense that perhaps my ongoing thought patterns had at least contributed to my migraines.  And although migraines run in my family, it’s likely that controlling and perfectionist tendencies have also been passed down through the generations.

If the word “create” in terms of thoughts and illnesses feels too strong for you to swallow, I suggest that you try on the word “contribute.”  It’s easier to accept that one’s negative thought patterns can contribute to the illnesses which he or she experiences.   Either way, the “remedy” is the same – adopt new thought patterns which better serve you.  Positive thoughts have the power to heal us.  Although I am riddled with a number of physical complaints as I write this, I believe that I have the power to heal my ailments.   Accepting that I have the power to create BOTH illness and health is a cornerstone of my healing project!