Monday, November 3, 2008

Body Image Blues- understanding the psychological factors that fuel personal insecurities

Body Image Blues
Understanding the psychological factors that fuel personal insecurities

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

Have you ever wondered why some people never seem happy with themselves, or are constantly comparing themselves to others to see if they measure up? I sure have and to be honest, I've been in situations where I did it too! Depending on the situation, we all can feel a little insecure at times, so here's a strategy to help you study what is going on around you to figure out where you fit, and more importantly how to be at peace with who you already are, instead of spending too much time, energy or money pretending to be someone that you're not.

Once people step back to see just how much personal insecurity actually steals away internal peace and confidence, they see that it's not usually as bad as they make it out to be. In fact, it can often be pretty funny because once we really get focused in on some element of our body image we often can twist it into a life or death drama as we try to do whatever it takes to fit in. Consider the silly scene in the film, "My Best Friend's Wedding" where Jules, (Julia Roberts) Michael's best friend, leans over and says to Kimmy, (Cameron Diaz), Michael's fiancé, "What Michael needs is Jello. What he wants is Jello... and you can never be Jello!" If you've seen the film you know that the very wealthy and beautiful Kimmy bursts into tears in an emotional attempt to prove that she could try to be as common as Jello, only to have Jules tell her that she actually is Crème brûlée and that she could NEVER be Jello!

Yes, I know it's a silly example from a romantic comedy, but you get the point. When you become completely self-absorbed with all the things that you believe are wrong with you, then you lose complete perspective about all of the things that are right about you. Unless you have a friend, mentor, pastor, counselor, coach, or family member who can hold you accountable to bring you back down to reality again, things in your life can get just about as dramatic and out of control as a 'chick flick'. That's why we have to be in connected relationships with healthy people who will help us reinforce healthy boundaries to keep the things that matter most in life in clear focus. What you or other people think about your body image isn't the most important thing in your life, and if it ever does become the most important thing, it can lead to some pretty serious issues like eating disorders, becoming obsessed with reconstructive surgery or steroid abuse.

Simple way to study Social Connection

If you don't believe that people worry a lot, and I mean A LOT, about their body image and spend a lot of time desperately trying to fit into their social group; then here's a coaching exercise to help you research the underlying psychological dynamics that can be done in any mall, school, church or workplace in America. Be very discreet as you pay attention to what factors seem to be the most are important to the people around you, and what is commonly accepted as being 'cool' by the majority of those in that particular environment.

At a mall on a Friday night, it may be who has on the most stylish outfit, but at a business meeting on a Monday morning, it may be who has on a blue power suit with freshly shined shoes. The main factors to study are the ones that impact you the most, especially the ones that might have stirred up feelings of being shy, embarrassed, ashamed, angry, anxiety and especially insecure. Those emotions are usually the ones that need some type of follow up attention to help you break out of the insecure mask of culture to being the real person God designed you to be through the power of His son Jesus Christ. He made you; He designed you and wants you to be real- no masks!

Social connection factors can come from many different places, so here's a list to get you started in noticing what drives other people to do, say, spend or whatever else it takes to fit in to their social group. I would prayerfully encourage you to do this exercise with the strong hope to notice issues that reveal weaknesses in you, and never to be critical or judgmental of others. This is because when you can see the insecurities happening around you, it often will really open your eyes and help you walk in the freedom of just being who God designed you to be, no more, no less. That way you can leave the body image blues, to get back to what really matters most, enjoying the life that God has given you with peace and contentment because you are you, instead of panic and insecurity because you falsely believe that you will never be tall enough, or pretty enough or rich enough or anything enough to feel peace inside. So, as you take this coaching exercise study what needs attention in your own life, and then you can sit down with a trusted friend in a safe place to just change it and get on with a good life.

Social Connection Factors to Consider:

Who are the powerful or cool people? (notice who is being noticed and then try to figure out why)

What gives them their power? (gender, age, financial status, cultural background, education, looks, etc)

Who are the popular people? (parents, little kids, girls, guys, young, old, short, tall, skinny, fat, etc)

Why are they popular? (looks, money, clothes, personality, IQ, athletic ability, friendly, religious, tech-toys, etc)

Who seems to be a 'poser' of acting cool, or faking it to fit in? (How do they do that, clothes, music, hair, etc?)

Does it seem to work for them and if so in what ways? (Power, popularity, confidence, seduction, etc?)

Who seems to be a 'player' of manipulating others for power or pleasure? (men, women, kids, teen girls or guys)

How do the posers or players seem to get away with this type of manipulation without being caught?

What general differences do you notice between those who are popular and those who aren't?

What benefits are there to being popular as well as what difficulties does that seem to bring? (if any)

What commonalities do you notice between the 'cool' crowd? (hair style, zip code- remember 90210?, shared interest in same sports, living in the same community, name brand of clothing, type of automobile, etc)

Do the common factors seem to be an indicator in how well connected they are in all relationships?
Which adults seem well connected and how do they leverage that connection to benefit themselves or their ___? (business, religious or political agendas, young kids, big families, etc)

Who seems to really be friendly and looking for people to connect with regardless of the external factors above?

Identify the 'cliques' in girls/guys, young/old, rich/poor and what key indicators are needed to 'join' that clique?

In terms of numbers, which group has the most, as well as least social connections of friends or relationships?

Which group or cliques seem to be the happiest, friendliest, coolest, meanest, accepting, judgmental, etc?

Finally, what do any of the above issues have to do with the Master teacher Jesus Christ, who continually hung out with the type of people that confused or angered the 'fake it-till you make it' crowd. He accepted people for who they were on the inside, and didn't seem to focus much at all on what they looked like on the outside. In fact there is a biblical principle that teaches- people almost always look on the outside to make a judgment about you, but don't worry, God always looks at your heart.

God sees the real you, and as you get better at paying attention to the real matters of the soul, you won't worry so much about other people's stuff, what I refer to as 'skin', or the style of clothes that covers their skin nearly as much as you begin to experience God's peace deep inside of your soul. Did you catch the switch? As you mature in this area, you stop worrying so much about what other people say, think, or do, to just become real inside. Your perspective stops being about others opinions, to change and focus on how your life is in alignment with God's design for you. Your goal is to keep you on track, and growing, instead of running ragged to please other people. Remember- a spiritual connection beats a social connection every time because you can't mess it up or lose it if you spill soup in your lap! God's love for you is forever, even if you are a klutz sometimes and spill stuff, (like me)!

To reconnect into healthy relationships and become a stronger person of faith, you need to build these five elements that can shatter an unhealthy obsession with body image. These are areas anyone can focus on to gain spiritual insight and personal peace while breaking an unhealthy pattern of panic and insecurity.

1) Acceptance- From the people closest to you, no matter what may have happened in the past. Consequences for wrong choice can take a while to sort through, but the choice to love unconditionally is one of the most powerful spiritual and social connection points.

2) Approval- In spite of any insecurities, imperfections, fears and failures you might struggle with, it's important to have a few safe places where everybody knows your name, and likes you just the same.

3) Affection- Gentle, tender, kindness and safe hugs from the safe people in your life. Healthy touch is a healing part of healthy relationships. (Non-sexual touch is what we are talking about on this point, basically the kind of hugs that you could give to anyone and not feel uncomfortable).

4) Authority- Giving up control of what you don't like about your life to God, so that He can lead you toward His purpose in His timing, as well as knowing that God is there for you as the ultimate source of guidance, love and support.

5) Accountable- Making wise decisions because you know that your actions or attitudes will be held accountable by other healthy individuals, pastors, mentors, counselors or coaches who are committed to see you reach your potential while developing strength and character.

Remember, whatever steps you take to build a better awareness and understanding of how God sees you, the more likely you will be to break out of the body image blues, and to break into dancing because you will be so busy counting blessings, that you won't have time to count problems. As you begin to change your view from looking at your skin, to digging into the deeper matters of the soul, your life will take on more meaning because you will have matured past defining your self worth from wearing the latest styles to finding your true identity in God's design and purpose for your journey. This will help you to make mature and responsible choices which will take you to better places than you ever thought possible as you move past trying to act 'cool' in a culture that doesn't care about you, to experiencing the freedom of just being real and drawing closer to the one who would rather die than to live without you- Jesus Christ.

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About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 150 complimentary articles and special reports at