I'm becoming more and more aware of the ways in which women often punish and/or defend ourselves in situations where we feel we don't HAVE power or control or even basic rights.

I'm working with more and more women who have used food as a method of having control in their lives. They punish themselves for not being good enough by not eating. They over-eat to feel comforted and to fill an emotional void in their lives; they often become grossly overweight as a defense against rape and other sexual encounters they don't want to face.

We tell ourselves that we are not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not curvaceous enough, not smart enough, not accomplishing enough, not ENOUGH-- and in doing so, we limit ourselves so that nobody can do it to us. We don't want to give that power away, too. We don't want the criticism that women sometimes receive when we take risks, acknowledge our strengths and abilities, attempt change, rock the boat. There are enough critics in our lives already.

I'm learning that these patterns of behavior-- the self-criticism, and self-limiting; the over-eating and the starvation diet-- more and more, these are cropping up among men as well. And since these are "women's diseases" men often have an even harder time admitting that the problem exists, or understanding why, let alone seeking help to make positive changes and enact healthy patterns.

As a society, we cut ourselves off from feelings. From feeling too deeply, from recognizing our emotions and our reactions to our life experiences (especially the traumatic ones!). We ignore the messages our bodies try to send us in the form of felt aches, pains, and nausea. We get so caught up in trying to be smart and world-savvy that we ignore our own inner wisdom. We lose touch (if we ever found it to begin with) with our inner selves.

Sometimes we are so out of touch with our feelings that we fail to react in fight-or-flight situations; we don't get angry when we are mistreated, or we simply assume that we must have done SOMETHING to deserve the anger directed at us by another, the dismissal of our concerns and of our priorities.

And our internal criticism of our own not-enoughness becomes cruel. There is no pause to ask WHY we couldn't do 100 crunches at our twice-daily workout on Tuesday... after not eating for three days and then staying up all night to study for a class that we're taking after our 40-60-hour work week; caring for our households; caring for our families. Caring for everything but ourselves.

When is it time to care for ourselves? When do we pause and ask ourselves who has judged us-- where that criticism we are using as our measuring stick has come from... And then ask ourselves who has the right to determine our individual worth-- our individual definitions of a successful life. Most of the time, we begin by looking outside of ourselves for approval of our choices, our values, our style of dress and our sense of humor. We look outside of ourselves for clues about what we are supposed to do, who we are supposed to be, and what our reward for "getting it right" should look like. And none of it makes us very happy.

You see, until you have a good relationship with YOURSELF, until you like yourself and figure out what sort of a life would make YOU happy-- chances are, you won't be. It is a risk-- taking responsibility for our own choices and our own happiness. Back to the Cinderella Complex again, really. Hoping someone else will come along and save us from all this.

It's a risk to feel all those feelings that you've repressed or didn't even know you were having for so many years. What if they overwhelm you? Why are you suddenly getting ANGRY all the time?? Well... it's your body finally balancing out. All the emotions you ignored didn't go away-- they just got packed and compressed and repressed into this little box, and when you release the catch on the lid, it springs open and all the unfulfilled unhappy feelings come rushing out. ...But then, the box is empty. It no longer sits there oozing poison and secret shames, feeding your bodily illnesses and emotional instabilities and dependencies on people or on substances or on food-management.

There is finally space for you to learn new coping skills, to learn to recognize when you are having an emotion, and what emotion it is, and maybe even begin to recognize that there is probably a GOOD REASON for you to be having that emotion. Listening to yourself. Deciding how you want to act, now that you have all the information available to you. Befriending and trusting yourself. Accessing your inner wisdom. ...learning to love yourself as an imperfect and wonderful individual... Learning the joy of working toward a lifestyle and a decision-making process that will actually make you HAPPY!! Happy to be alive. Happy to be here, and do that, with people who appreciate you for YOU, and who share similar aspirations and a similar respect for you that you are learning to have yourself.

...If you don't learn to respect and love yourself-- to feel that your needs and your goals and your values and your decisions are important... nobody else will either. Make a different choice. And remember that even if the people you love and currently interact with don't support your goal of finding and appreciating yourself... someone else will. You are worth waiting for, worth searching for, worth working to find. Worth listening to. But this time, you get to do the waiting, working, listening and searching for yourself. It is deliciously empowering to put your energy and efforts to work in pursuit of your OWN GOALS-- and very few of the women I know have ever done this consciously. Intentionally.

So I invite you:
Live intentionally. Live joyfully. Live your own life.
Ask for help, expect respectful treatment.
Dance on top of the world.

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