Ask the coach: Helping others and dealing with negative self image

Lina l. asks: “I have a question about helping a friend with self image problems. My friend is actually beautiful, but somewhat overweight. It has bothered her for years, and at one point she tried to diet but reached a point where she couldn’t lose weight any more. And her nutritionist insisted that the problem was in her body, and had her do some medical tests (all of which had normal results). Since then I don’t think she’s gone on a real diet, instead she’s resorted to more extreme measures, which failed (and left her worse off than before). After they failed, she was very down for a while, and we talked about it a lot at the time. I realized it’s something that she is completely obsessed with. She watches TV shows with the purpose of seeing the actresses and wishing to be like them. And I’d love to tell her those people are on TV and aren’t real, but in fact all her close friends are naturally thin and most of them are gorgeous. I understand how she feels, because she’s explained it to me… I really do get it, but until now it is beyond me why anyone would care so much about how they look.

To sum up, my friend has two problems:
1- Her weight causes her continuous depression, but she isn’t trying to lose any.
2- Even if she loses weight, she won’t be completely satisfied because her standards for normal beauty are too high.

What can I do to help her? I worry that her “extreme measures” will get more extreme with time.

Coach replies:

Thanks for reaching out Lina, I completely understand how when dear people to our hearts are struggling, we feel desperate to find a solution, especially if they seem to be putting themselves in danger (like you said going to extreme measures). I know also that it may feel like there must be something that you can say or DO that would change the way she feels about herself. I am going to separate this answer into two parts, one is about how you can really help (her or anyone else in your life) and the other is a bit about where lack of self acceptance (that most of us have some form of) is coming from.
First a question for you to reflect on:
I know you don’t understand why someone would care so much about her looks, still, this is were she is at the moment, even if you think its not right or shallow or even dangerous.
To understand this, can you think of something that you may like or was fond of that may appear (or have appeared before) to be “irrelevant or shallow in the eyes of someone else”?
Take your time to reflect on this question, it may not come to you right away but answering it will put you in the “State” that may be the most helpful to the people you love, it is a state of “acceptance and lack of judgment”, a state of really pure “compassion” that accepts the other “as is”, and comes from a trust that the other has it in them to find the truth, this trust is the true support that helps them figure it out.
Honestly Lina, this is something I need to constantly remind myself of doing, being in the helping profession, I sometimes want to force help on all the people in my life, I am tempted and do sometimes fall in this trap, but then again I am reminded that, all they really need is love and acceptance so they can find their own answers, they don’t really need my hard earned wisdom ;), you will also know this is happening, when they start to resist your help and appear not be listening, or the conversation becomes an argument and they seem to be resisting your “truth” even more.
Now to help you understand a bit about how this lack of self acceptance may have been created, here is some theoretical background :
  • Lack of self love originates from a combination of (self-hate, lack of gratitude, pride, jealousy, anger…etc), all these emotions are blocked at a very early age as we learned they are wrong and un-acceptable. This hate is turned to the self and is expressed in  a different way in each and every one of us.
  • For each emotion, there is a thought pattern that creates it, many of these thought patterns are unconscious and will appear to be un-logical when they surface, this is because these thoughts were created when our logic has not yet matured and
  • because they were too painful for the child to handle, the emotions got suppressed and the thoughts were hidden in our subconscious where they produce reactions that we cannot seem to reverse with logical thinking (this sounds a bit too technical I understand, please let me know if you would like to learn more about this, I can provide some reading material).
Now, the more aware we are of these thought patterns, the more we are able to sort what is still true and what is not (for example, the thought pattern behind wanting to be perfectly beautiful may be, “In order to be loved, I have to be perfect”, “without enough love, I will die”) these may be somewhat true to the one year old (because if they are not loved they have no way of surviving) but they are not relevant anymore to the adult (thus may cause the person some embarrassment when they surface), however only if we are aware of them are we able to change them.
One way of cultivating awareness would be through learning how to be in the moment (helps us notice our thoughts) and learning why we are not in the moment (avoidance mode signals there is something that we don’t want to feel)… this is something you need to personally start doing before it begins to inspire the people around you.
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