The other day in the midst of an argument with my husband, I admitted the reason I was so upset was because I wasn’t feeling very appreciated. The fact that I run my own business, am responsible for the majority of the household duties, and care for our children is a lot for one woman to handle. And although I wished my statement were met with a sympathetic hug, followed by an apology, and promise to do better at making me feel appreciated, I did not get such a response. Instead, my husband one-upped me by declaring how he didn’t feel appreciated either.
And this is where we’re stuck: with both of us feeling unappreciated and resentful toward each other.
While we are still in the process of working this one out as a couple (it’s really an ongoing process), I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to experience a similar battle within my own body.
Yet I see it in many of the clients I work with every single day.
And it’s not pretty…
For many people, living life day to day in a body engulfed in chronic pain, illness or disease, the scenario between me and my husband can seem like a broken record. Because your body doesn’t get better, subconsciously you conclude it’s not appreciating your efforts to be healthy and in return you resent, loathe, and eventually give up hope that your body will ever change or get better – so you stop appreciating it altogether. The act of not appreciating your body can show in many different actions, but typically it looks like throwing in the towel on healthy habits and behaviors, such as not following a prescribed diet by a professional, skipping life-saving medication because of the unwanted side effects, or even becoming addicted to prescription or recreational drugs.
Either way, the act of not appreciating your own body even when it feels like it’s not appreciating you can lead to serious health consequences and life-threatening problems.
So how can you learn to appreciate your body even when it’s not appreciating you?
As someone who has dealt with chronic pain in the form of a destructive relationship with my own body and body image via an eating disorder, I first have to say, I may speak from a different experience than yours. However, I can understand the feeling of being at odds within your own body. I also witness it in my clients’ stories, rants, and vents as a body-positive yoga instructor, personal trainer, and Pilates teacher.
Going back to the argument I had with my husband, it can be pretty impossible to show and practice appreciation or gratitude for my husband when I feel like I’m not getting any to begin with. Why should I give away what I want so desperately to receive? Why should I put in extra effort and reach out when I wish he was reaching out to me first? And what if I do reach out and extend my appreciation toward him but receive nothing in return? What if I made a huge effort and nothing changed? Then what?
When it comes to the relationship with my husband, the biggest reason I hold back from showing appreciation is fear: fear that I will not get what I want in return if I did show appreciation. And if I didn’t receive back what I so urgently want, I don’t know how I would cope. And it might send me further into feelings of resentment and anger. Sound familiar?
So really, in order to appreciate your body when it’s not appreciating you really comes down to moving toward and through the fear that you might not get what you want in return and realizing that it’s OK (even though it might not feel that way in the beginning).
Here are some things to remember and encourage you to move toward that fear.
Your Body is Doing the Best it Can
Understand that your body is doing the best it possibly can do to survive: your body does not have some evil vendetta against you nor is it looking to teach you some passive aggressive lesson. Your body is programmed to survive and everything it does, even when it’s sending you sensations of pain, is an effort to stay alive and thrive. So many of my clients have adopted the attitude that their body is broken (mainly from hearing it over and over from doctors) and this belief can be one of the biggest obstacles holding them back from making peace with their body and learning how to appreciate it. No matter what place your body is in, physically or mentally, your body is NEVER broken. I’m not saying you should never feel upset or frustrated with your body. All emotions are valid and deserve to be felt and this is very important to our overall health. But if you stay stuck on these negative emotions toward your body and never find a way to move through them, you will become your own worst enemy.
Pain is Just Another Form of Communication
Pain, fatigue, and any other sensation we have been taught to label as “bad” or unwanted is a form of communication, so don’t shoot the messenger. When babies are first born, crying is their only way of communicating to the world that their needs are not being met. And although, intellectually as a first time parent I understood this, I still defined my son’s crying as a sign I was failing as a parent and not only feared the possibility of a future crying fit, but also felt incredible horrible about myself when it happened. It wasn’t until I redefined what it meant when my son cried that I was able to detach from his reactions and refrain from allowing myself to feel like I was failing my child. The same can be said about the body. When your body is screaming in pain, your body is simply communicating with you. I know this may sound simplistic or possibly like I’m minimizing the intensity of pain you might be experiencing and believe me, that is not my intention. Just like when your body produces sweat on a hot summer day in an attempt to cool off, your body also sends messages of pain to let you know something is not OK and needs some attention. There is no passive aggressive, underlying meaning behind it; it’s simply a message. Just like I intellectually grasped the concept of how my son was crying to communicate, you too might already understand your body is simply attempting to get your attention though pain, and this is great. The difficult part of this concept is detaching from any self-judgment or negative meaning you’ve already given your pain. Which leads me into the final reminder.
Let go of Judgment and Detach from the Negative Meanings of Pain
We all attach different meanings to our pain. In western medicine we’re told we need to avoid pain at all costs because it’s bad and once the pain is numbed we can be free to go about our normal lives without addressing the reason behind the pain in the first place. And although this particular practice of pain management might be something we’ve grown up with, are familiar with and find comforting, it is not the best practice if you want to learn to appreciate your body. This may not mean to remove any and all medications you might be taking to manage pain. One of the reasons we avoid feeling pain is because we’ve been taught to label it as bad and unwanted. And depending on our life’s circumstances, we might have a whole slew of negative emotions or meanings attached to pain. Maybe pain is a sign of weakness or you’ve decided pain means you’re an ineffective parent, spouse or employee because so much of your mental real estate is spent dealing with and addressing your pain. Maybe you feel ashamed of your pain because you believe it was self-inflicted. Whatever meaning you’ve attached to your pain, it’s essential to detach from it if you’re ready to learn how to appreciate your body. Detaching from pain simply means you avoid attaching any meaning or emotion to your pain and see it as just your body giving you a message. This is much easier said than done, but with practice it is possible.
Learning to appreciate your body when it’s not appreciating you is not the easiest thing and the same can be said about husbands, but it is so worth it. A healthy relationship of any kind thrives when there is trust, gratitude, and appreciation. Trust that your body is doing the best it can, be grateful it can properly communicate with you, and appreciate the pain without allowing it to define you.
Robyn Baker is the owner and operator of Asteya Fitness, Southern California’s only body positive fitness studio. She is also the creator of Intuitive Exercise, an online program designed for those in eating disorder recovery hoping to heal their destructive relationship with exercise and body image. She is a recovered anorexic and exercise addict working to bring awareness and change within the exercise community. Connect with Robyn here or on Facebook.
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