Before a fully formed theory comes a hunch.
Before a hunch comes a question.
Before a question comes curiosity.
I’m curious and I’ve got a question:
What if the same lack of self-worth that contributes to white men being violent towards others, women turn into violence against themselves?
A few disclaimers:
- These issues are multifaceted and any question I pose won’t illuminate some grand, pure truth. This stuff is messy and heavy with history and trauma and real-world impacts.
- I’m not excusing the racial violence perpetrated by white supremacists by drawing connections to poor self-esteem. Even if there is a connection it doesn’t make it okay. Not in any way.
- I’m not saying that white women aren’t also outwardly violent. They are.
- I’m not saying white men aren’t also inwardly violent. They are.
- I fully acknowledge that the way I’m framing this is rooted in the gender binary. I welcome your constructive critique and reframing.
What I want to get at is the thread of violence and othering. What I want to feel into is the ways in which what we are seeing out there that shocks us—in Charlotte, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, at the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Minnesota— also lives inside each of us. Not just in our implicit biases, unclaimed racism, or our white privilege, which it certainly does, but in how we are in relationship to ourselves.
When we aren’t connected to our innate enoughness and our place in the family of humans our pursuit of enoughness and belonging too often turns violent.
For some white men, this violence turns outward.
For too many women the violence turns inward, toward the self.
Through perfectionism, loathing of the body, suppression of hungers, silencing of voice, denial of pleasure, dismissal of intuition, resistance to rest, and constant comparison to others, we are violent to ourselves.
Yes, all of these behaviors are conditioned, encouraged and rewarded in a patriarchal society attempting to subdue the power of the feminine. After all, when a population of women is distracted and busy fighting a war against themselves they don’t have near as much fuel to resist and oppose real threats. AND our spiritual illusions foster us being complicit in this system.
This is the toxicity of the illusion of separateness. This is the danger in being asleep at the wheel of human living. Women must commit to stopping the inner violence and turn their peacemaking efforts not only outward but towards themselves. Women must take the anger and hatred that fuels self-criticism and redirect it to its rightful places.
So I ask us to explore these questions:
How are you violent towards yourself and what are the real-world implications of that?
What are the tools of violence you use towards yourself and do you know why you do it? Is it your tone? Your voice? Your words? Is it withholding permission? Is it physical torture?
When do you punish yourself?
When are you at war with yourself?
Where do you imprison yourself?
Where do you diminish yourself?
When do you starve yourself?
How do you beat yourself up and over what?
What within you do you denigrate?
What part of you do you guard yourself against?
Do you have such Stockholm Syndrome that self-inflicted violence feels comforting and safe? Do peace, softness, compassion, and kindness feel dangerous sometimes?
Are the ways that you’re violent towards yourself subtle? Are they easy to explain away? On the surface, do they appear benign and yet have impacts that tell of their harshness?
I realize I come to you with many questions and no answers. I’m not sure though that you benefit as much from my certain knowledge as you do from my directing you back to yourself as I go inward too.
What are your questions? What are you wondering? Where is your curiosity taking you and more importantly what actions are growing out of your questions?
As we see such horrific, intolerable incidents of violence I hope it inspires many things in us. I hope we are are raising our voices in whatever ways we can. I hope we’re talking to family members. I hope we’re physically showing up at vigils, rallies, protests, marches, the voting booth, and the offices of our representatives. I hope we are signal boosting non-white voices. I hope, if you’re white too, you’re doing the work to see all the ways you benefit from white privilege. I hope beyond anything that we are putting financial resources behind people and organizations that are on the frontlines of change.
In addition to these important responses, I’m adding that I hope we examine the places we have turned violence inward.
Over the past two weekends, I’ve gathered with some followers to share a bit more about some of my favorite topics. Here are the replays and some useful resources mentioned in each conversation. You can find future live sessions by following me on my Facebook page.
Self-Compassion & Sensitivity (7.8.17)
Self-Compassion Journal Prompts (we didn’t do all of these Live):
Describe your inner critic. What tone does it use? Does it sound like someone you know or knew in real life? What are it’s most common phrases or statement? What is it afraid of? What circumstances are most likely to incite your inner critic?
Describe your inner kind voice. What tone does it have? What are it’s most common phrases and statements? What circumstances invoke your inner kind voice and calm your inner critic?
Who if anyone serves as a role model to you for speaking to yourself with self-compassion?
Draw a circle. At the center of the circle draw a heart or a flame. On the inside of the circle jot down all the parts of yourself that you welcome, celebrate, accept, show to others and yourself.
On the outside jot down the parts you feel shame about, the parts you have not accepted, the parts you feel are inferior to other people.
What would it take for me to welcome in one of the pieces of me that I’m keeping in the cold into my heart? What would it take for me to accept that this part of me does not impede love? What part of my imperfect humanity could I welcome in just a bit more? What does that as yet unwelcome part of me need to hear me say?
Sensitivity Journal Prompts:
What were you told throughout your life about your sensitivity? Who told you that?
How have you been viewing your temperament? What shift would make it easier to be in your own skin?
What are you sensitive to? (music, noise, people, light, smells, clutter, traffic, roller coasters, temperature, touch, other’s emotions)
What’s an instance where your sensitivity has been an asset? What’s been the gift of your temperament?
Intuitive Eating (7.15.17)
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a handful of dinner dates with girlfriends and to my surprise three of them, all on separate meetups, revealed to me that they were dieting.
That might seem normal in our current culture but I somehow believed that my friends knew better and that my teachings had been transmitted to them, directly or indirectly, over the many years we’ve known each other.
As I lay awake a few nights ago I began to ask myself:
Is it that my friends don’t understand what I do? Or better said, in my most indignant huffy voice: “After all these years don’t they agree with and trust my authority on this topic!?”
Is it that my friends are human and just susceptible to the overwhelming amount of weight-loss propaganda we all face?
Is it that in the face of weight gain they just don’t know what else to do? Is it that dieting has become such a knee-jerk response to too-tight pants that we don’t question it, even if our wiser self knows better?
Is it that our world feels like it’s spinning out of control and being on a diet feels safe and secure?
Likely, it’s some combination of all of these factors and more.
But I want to say to them and to anyone who wakes up and feels the siren call of dieting:
Hang on a minute!
Wait! Before you commit to that diet or start researching Whole30 or reactivating your Weight Watchers account take a breath.
First, because it can’t be said enough: diets don’t work in the long-run and most often ultimately result in weight gain.
“But I’m not doing a diet!” you might say, “I’m just eating clean” or “I’m just watching my portions” or “I’m just giving up sugar.”
If you can mess it up it’s a diet.
If you’re making food choices predominantly with your brain rather than your body, it’s a diet.
If you have to follow rules to get it right, it’s a diet.
If you can google your specific new approach to eating and find a printable meal plan, it’s likely a diet.
When I say diets don’t work I mean they don’t result in long-term weight-loss, but they do have an impact.
Diets are a violence we perpetrate on ourselves no matter the seemingly benign or holy justification we offer up.
They leave us more disconnected from our hunger and fullness cues. They wreck havoc on our bodies. They treat grown adults like children. I could go on. Diets are bad news and best avoided. Oh, and if you’ve been on the diet train for a day or a lifetime, it’s never too late to get off.
Of course, your body is yours. It’s not my place to tell you how to feel about your body or what do with your body. This is an essential truth. And there are other ways than dieting to respond to your body’s increase in size (real or imagined) than restriction, especially when we know it doesn’t work.
A few other key things to remember before I offer up some suggestions:
Weight fluctuation is normal.
Bodies naturally come in a whole range of sizes.
The size of a body says nothing about the person, including how healthy they are.
Many, many people don’t have any accurate sense of their body because of some level of dysmorphia.
Our world is pretty sick and twisted when it comes to how we view and treat body fat and fat people.
Part of how we heal this on a global scale is by individual person after individual person opting out of thin supremacy, dieting culture, and weight stigma.
Many times the urge to diet is more about anxiety management than body size.
If you’ve gained weight recently or just unhappy with your size and you’re open, or even eager to doing something other than diet, here are just a few constructive responses:
- Work with an Intuitive Eating, Health-At-Every-Size-oriented coach or nutritionist. If you’d like a referral for your specific needs, shoot me an email.
- Read Intuitive Eating and work through the new workbook.
- Add some body-positive voices to your social media feeds.
- Delete body-negativity from your social media feeds. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Be ruthless.
- Throw out, give away, or put in storage any clothing that doesn’t fit the body you have right now.
- Ditch the scale too.
- Buy a few pieces of clothing that you feel great in, including underwear and bras.
- Go have fun. Do something, in this body, that makes you feel alive.
- Explore size-friendly yoga. Like with Anna, Jessamyn, Dianne, or Dana.
- Spend some time in nature. Notice how the trees never care about what you or they look like.
- Cook or buy something that’s a 10 out of 10 on the delicious scale. Eat it with gusto. See if you can notice the moment your body says “Thank you, I’m done for now.”
- Download this hunger scale app. Play around.
- Do nothing. Sit still. Hang out with the discomfort. Get curious.
- Let your body write you a letter. Write one back.
- Ponder body dysmorphia. Are you 100% sure that what you’re seeing is accurate?
- Go look at diverse images of the human body and behold the beauty in everyone.
- Ponder thin supremacy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ponder patriarchy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ask: if I never lost an ounce again, could I embrace myself and live my life fully?
- Ask: What does dieting distract me from?
- Join Feast.
- Reflect on past attempts at weight loss. Notice that they never ‘worked’.
- Ask: What in my life might be causing me to feel anxious or out of control?
- Listen to as many episodes of Food Psych as you can.
Dieting might feel like the logical response to feeling out of sorts in your body, or when your jeans don’t fit, or when eating feels out of control, but it’s a dead-end in the long run. The good news is that there is help and there are other ways that result in feeling better in your skin, more at peace with food, and more available to live your meaningful and full life.
A final note: this stuff is messy and multifaceted. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s simple or 1-2-3. What I’ve written here is just a first pass and not a one-size-fits-all directive. It’s complicated to have a body. It’s complicated to be a woman (cis or otherwise). It’s complicated when the world you live in tells you that because of your body or what your body might become you’re not worthy. It’s complicated, or it can be, to come back to your body when so many forces have driven you from it. I have so much care for all this complexity and the real and diverse human experiences that make up the body liberation/positive movement.
“What do you want to do for lunch?” I heard a woman say to her friend.
“Oh I’m skipping lunch today. I was a pig yesterday. Trying to make up for it,” the friend responded.
This conversation snippet could be heard anywhere. At the gym, a coffee shop, a bus stop, or perhaps even in your own home. But I heard it from two women I was standing next to at the last major women’s march.
In 2004 I, along with several of my college girlfriends, drove from Ohio to DC to attend the March for Women’s Lives. I can tell you that standing on The National Mall with nearly a million other humans making our voices heard on behalf of women’s rights was deeply moving. I can tell you that hearing this conversation then and there was deflating and yet, not all that surprising.
For all of the progress women have made too many are still ensnared in an oppressive paradigm wherein women’s bodies are viewed as untrustworthy, objects, dirty, “before” pictures, commodities, and available for the input of and control from others.
I call this part of patriarchy: body submission.
You likely know that I care a lot about women breaking free from dieting. I spend a lot of time teaching women to return to intuitive eating. I’m committed to body positivity and the liberation that all women deserve to feel from oppressive beauty standards.
But you know what’s beneath all that?
Body sovereignty is the opposite of body submission.
I am utterly devoted to contributing to the emergence of a world where women that have body sovereignty grab hold of it — and where those who don’t yet have body sovereignty gain access to it.
Those of us who have it don’t give it up in broad daylight through obvious acts of self-abandonment.
No—small holes are poked in the bottom of our power bucket and it drips out slowly.
No—body submission is dressed up, marketed, and sold as body sovereignty. It’s a convincing fake-out.
No—some of our most beloved feminist icons, for all their wisdom, still peddle in body submission making body sovereignty something we often have to find without mainstream role models.
Body submission, the giving up of our physical sovereignty, is a sneaky thing.
Here are a few ways it manifests:
You’re getting a massage and want the bodyworker to change the amount of pressure they’re using but you stay silent so as not to be a “bother”.
You’re out to lunch and everyone you’re with decides not to order dessert. You want dessert but forego so as not to draw attention to the fact you’re eating more than others.
You go to the doctor and they ask you step on the scale. You don’t want to. You know that every time you step on the scale it’s triggering for you. You step on anyways so as not to be a “difficult” patient.
Your significant other wants sex. You really don’t. You have it anyways to be a “good” partner.
You want to become a yoga teacher, or run a marathon, or climb a mountain but someone told you that people that look like you or weigh what you way can’t do those things — so you don’t pursue them.
You need to be seated at the front of the lecture hall so you can hear but you don’t ask for this because that would be “special” treatment and you don’t want to ruffle feathers.
You go on a diet, the most ubiquitous and violent act of compliance there is, because you’ve been brainwashed to believe that you can’t trust yourself or your body. You’ve bought into one body submission’s main messages: you’re out of control.
Through small everyday acts of submission many women give up the power they have as the leader, decision-maker, advocate, and ally for their body.
What I want you to know is that your body is yours despite all the forces conspiring from the day you were born to teach, tell, and treat you otherwise.
Your body is yours.
Your body is good
Your body is sovereign.
What you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, and how and who you have sex with. This is all up to you.
The choices you make for your healthcare, whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not, whether to eat that cake or not, whether to stop eating, fucking, working out, or whatever right in the middle— it’s up to you.
Body sovereignty is the clear inhabitance of your choices and domain of flesh.
It is the the protection and respect of your boundaries and your body.
It is individuation. It’s where you begin and everyone else ends. You are an adult. Grown, and thus free.
Body sovereignty is the advocacy of your needs, desires, and hungers. Especially in the face of disappointing others, ruffling feathers, and when your needs run contrary those around you.
Body sovereignty is the permission to choose, to err, to protect, to feel, to experience, to play, to refuse, to take up space, to be different, to be the same, to make noise, and to perform for no one.
It is to be beholden to no one but yourself.
Body sovereignty as I experience and know it is an allyship between oneself and one’s body in pursuit of self-supportive actions. What is self-supportive for one body may not be self-supportive for another body and only the inhabitant of the sovereign flesh can know what is right, and good, and true.
No one else can make you take advantage of your sovereignty and a lot of industries and social structures stand to profit and persist if you don’t.
My friend and colleague Desiree Adaway has a new daily practice in light of our current political landscape whereby she asks herself “Was I courageous, or complicit?”
This inspired me to ask: “Did I exercise my body sovereignty today, or did I submit?”
Those of us with the privilege to have our body sovereignty (or most of it) recognized by our culture, government, and society must advocate fiercely for this recognition to be given to all bodies.
“All bodies” means disabled bodies, bodies of people of color, aging bodies, bodies of the poor, bodies that love bodies of the same sex, transsexual bodies, trafficked bodies, sex worker bodies, and immigrant bodies.
Every time any of us reclaim our sovereignty we free not only ourselves but also the energy and attention needed to free others.
We must own, appreciate, protect and exercise our body sovereignty so that we can then use our bodies to bring this same sovereignty to everyone.
I ask you: What does this year look like for you if you were really inhabiting your sovereign body? What does body sovereignty look or feel like for you? Where are you not owning your sovereignty? How can you better respect and advocate for other people’s body sovereignty?
I’ll be asking myself these questions Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington and for many days to come.
The other night after I’d turned off the lights and gone to sleep I woke up and quickly grabbed my phone (the modern pen and paper) to capture the following statement: Reclaiming sovereignty begins with rewriting the body’s story.
In light of these words I was inspired to create a workbook to help you explore and just maybe shift your body story. This will be a fundraiser for organizations that promote body sovereignty. Be sure you’re on the newsletter list to hear more.
I was just a few months into dating my now fiancé and we were returning from a day trip.
I was tired.
He was all of the sudden excited. “Oh! I want to take you some place!” he exclaimed.
“I’m pretty tired” I replied, struggling to find my clear “No thank you. Take me home please.”
It’s called the Warehouse Cafe though it’s much more warehouse than cafe.
Walking into this dive bar, so dark that it took more than a minute for our eyes to adjust from the afternoon light, I immediately felt awash in sadness. Not my own sadness, but the sadness of the people there. Hunched over the bar, nursing a drink that was far from their first of the day. They were sad. Not even outwardly sad, but emanating sadness nonetheless, and I could feel it.
It washed over me like a cloud of cigarette smoke and made it just as hard to breathe.
Returning with drinks for us Justin beamed with that ‘Isn’t this place cool!’ look in his eyes.
“I need to get out of here” I responded as tears welled up in my eyes and my breath got short.
Wandering out back amidst a crowd of rowdy bikers we found a place to sit and I started to cry.
Needless to say he was perplexed.
Why had walking into a bar—a bar he was excited to take me to—made me cry?
I tried to explain.“The people in there.” Wiping away tears. “They are so sad. I can feel it.”
Now he was annoyed. I seemed crazy to him and his mind flashed forward to what life might be like with me, unable to ever set foot in a cool dive bar, too sensitive to have any fun. Or so he feared.
Underneath it all he was disappointed. I had popped his balloon.
Nothing I could say in the moment helped me make sense to him.
He was annoyed and I was outraged.
How could he not understand?! How could his first reaction to my upset not be compassion?!
No one spoke on the drive home and when he pulled up in front my apartment I got out, slammed the door, and he sped off.
We’d had our first big fight.
In the years since then I’ve come to understand several important things about myself, sensitivity, and relationships.
First, I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and I was born this way.
Just like dogs can pick up on sounds and smells that humans cannot detect, HSPs can pick up on a whole range of stimuli that non-HSPs are often oblivious to. This makes us powerful. This temperament is a form of intelligence. We’re also the target of messages that we’re weak and too sensitive. Not so. Being an HSP is an asset despite the fact that our dominant culture doesn’t see it that way.
In my masterclass Feast we spend an entire week focusing on high sensitivity because it’s such an important cornerstone in the journey to make peace with food. Often a student will tell me they are an “emotional eater” but what they describe is an overstimulated highly sensitive person using food to calm their nervous system. The more my students understand what it means to be an HSP, shake off any shame of their sensitivities, and take care of their unique needs, the faster the choppy waters of eating stills.
The three aspects of self-care for HSPs are prevention, mitigation, and recovery. Prevention looks like making choices to avoid or modify situations in advance that are overwhelming to our nervous systems. Mitigation looks like being in the middle of an overstimulating situation and doing what you can to make it better. Recovery looks like preparing for and acknowledging that after an overstimulating event our nervous systems are asking us to actively participate in self-soothing.
As an HSP our role in relationship is that of educator. It is our task to teach others about our temperament, our needs, and importantly, about the myths and stigma surrounding sensitivity. It’s just fact that most people aren’t yet familiar with the term or definition of HSP. It’s on us to teach them both directly through words and indirectly by role-modeling how we treat our own sensitivities.
Four years after that tearful trip, Justin has a deep understanding of my sensitivities and a respect for the gifts they bring. Yes, he has moments of frustration but they are minimal and assuaged by all he knows now.
Recently Feast students asked about dating as an HSP, afraid that they would always be perceived as “too much” by any suitor. Rather than speak for him I asked Justin to share a little bit of his experience and this is what he had to say:
What would you tell a guy friend who said he was dating a someone who is an HSP? What advice would you give him?
Learn to be patient. It’s easy to overwhelm an HSP, and you need to slow down and most of the time, lower your voice.
Sometimes what triggers Rachel doesn’t make sense to me, and you just need to understand that it’s her own experience, and you just need to accept and respect it.
What would you tell a single female friend who was trying to navigate finding a partner as an HSP? She feels ashamed and afraid any partner would find her sensitivity a burden. What would you tell her?
Be yourself, and be honest with your partners. Either they get it, or they don’t. Don’t hide those feelings just to spare yourself embarrassment.
What’s been the best thing about dating an HSP?
Letting me tap into my own sensitivities, and knowing that you (Rachel) understand me and can empathize, no matter how odd or off-kilter my feelings might seem.
What’s been the hardest?
Missing out on going out to clubs, loud bars, dancing, drinking. Crowded places are hard, places that most of the time I wouldn’t have a hard time with.
What do you see me (Rachel) doing in terms of my own HSP tendencies that make dating me easier?
I see you try hard and put up with things you might not have been comfortable with before, like sometimes putting yourself in crowded/loud social situations you might have avoided in the past.
What do you do to make dating me (Rachel), an HSP, easier?
Accept the fact that you’re special and that I should treat you unlike any other woman I’ve been with before in my life.
Relationships don’t come built straight out of the box. They come as a pile of incomplete pieces that you, with your combined strengths and challenges, work to put together and when you need a missing part you have to work as a team to find it. As an HSP a few things make it easier to assemble a truly great partnership:
- Learn about your unique temperament
- Exorcise any internalized shame you might have about being an HSP
- Develop your own personalized ways of preventing, mitigating, and recovering from overstimulation
- Respect your boundaries
- Assume the role of educator in relationships
Photo Credit: Rachelle Derouin