Negative body image can be the result of many factors: external criticism, media standards, feelings of failure in other areas of life, social isolation – the list goes on. But when a therapist or counselor works with patients who have poor self-image esteem, some of those patients experience this negative self-image to an exceptionally extreme degree. As psychotherapist Jane Shure, PhD explains it, body image runs on a continuum, from extremely positive on one end to extremely negative on the other. It’s that extreme negative that many therapists and counselors identify as body shame.
It’s natural to have parts of our bodies that we would prefer were different: a little tighter here, a little less bulbous there, better complexion, more definition, etc. But when these feelings are constant, they start to get in the way of our relationships with ourselves and others. If you are constantly checking mirrors, inspecting yourself, wondering if other people think you’re unattractive, or thinking you’d be happy “if only I looked different,” then body shame may be a good way to describe what you’re going through.
The good news is that over time, you can learn to change the way you see yourself. Many therapists and counselors find that there are two parts to the “why” of body shame: the cause and the perpetuation. For many people, the roots of body shame lie in experiences long past: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can all contribute. Rejection and repeated criticism can also lay the groundwork for poor self esteem that manifests as body shame. But replaying negative thought patterns perpetuate hurtful ideas, growing a small seed into a fully bloomed problem. So to address very low self-image, you can do two things. To identify the cause, you can work with a therapist, counselor, or trusted mentor to identify any deep insecurities that have been weighing on you. To stop perpetuating those insecurities, you need to learn to change your internal monologue. Margarita Tartakovsky recommends some practical tips and exercises and advocates self ownership, advice that many people, regardless of how negative they see themselves, may find useful.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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