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.
When I first started my business I wanted to offer you a fun way to begin thinking about your hungers
Inspired by the USDA Food Pyramid this project invites you to design your own ‘food groups’ and create a visual, sometimes 3D, object to remind you of what makes up a well-fed life for you.
You can receive your own Fulfillment Pyramid kit when you sign up for my newsletter.
Earlier this year I gave The Fulfillment Pyramid Project its own digital home where you can watch a tutorial video, see reader submitted pyramids, and see The Hall of Pyramids.
Each month I feature a pyramid from a creative person in The Hall of Pyramids. Here is a round-up of the first six months. I highly encourage you to head over to The Pyramid page to read each of their written descriptions and to learn more about their work.
A big thank you to Alisha, Esmé, Sonya, Rachelle, Allison, and Dana. You can also see August’s entrant: Maya Stein over on the page.
If you make a pyramid I’d love to see your version and perhaps share it in the gallery. xo, Rachel
February: Alisha Sommer
March: Esmé Wang
April: Sonya Lea
May: Rachelle Derouin
June: Allison Kenny
July: Dana Velden
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.
Last week I met with a new client who struggles with perfectionism and she mentioned that she had recently decided to watch a movie late on a “school night”, even though she “knew better” and when she found herself tired at work the next day her logical conclusion was “I’m bad.” I’m bad as in, “I’m irresponsible, I’m not trustworthy, I make bad decisions” etc.
Hearing the order of events (watch a movie late → feel tired next day at work → conclude badness) it felt like she took a huge stratospheric leap between step A and C. And yet, this is a leap I hear women make all the time. Every week they lay their sins at my feet as evidence of their personal failings.
Here are just a few of the things that women I’ve worked with have told me is evidence of their personal, innate ‘badness’:
- I ate the second box of cookies even though I knew I wasn’t hungry
- I lashed out at my partner who was just trying to help me.
- I missed an important deadline at work.
- I’m fat.
- Unbeknownst to me, I used an offensive term that hurt someone.
- I talked down to a friend of mine.
- My kid hit another kid at school.
- I bought a new pair of shoes when I don’t really have the money for them.
- I went on a date with someone I really liked but then they didn’t want to go on a second date with me.
- I’m (insert age) years old and I still haven’t (insert life achievement) yet.
- I don’t know how to ask for what I want in bed.
- I didn’t speak up at my annual review and ask for the raise I know I deserve.
- I was sexually assaulted and didn’t report it.
- I just quit a well-paying job and don’t know what’s next for me.
- I don’t want kids.
- I didn’t vote in the last election.
- I haven’t saved for retirement.
- I’m, according to my doctor, ‘obese’
- I just had to buy a bigger pants size.
- I tried to do Whole30/Weight Watchers/Paleo and fell off the wagon.
- I laid on the couch all weekend watching reruns of Seinfeld.
- I have a partner who earns enough that I don’t have to work and so I don’t work.
- I had work to do but I took a nap instead.
- I slept with the guy on the first date even though I didn’t really want to.
- I have a to-list a mile long and instead of doing anything productive I went to the movies
- My house is filthy
And so it goes. On and on.
As you can see it’s pretty easy, by these measures, to be ‘bad’
So what’s wrong with labeling ourselves as bad?
It’s a dead-end.
It asks of us no curiosity or compassion. It leaves no room for nuance or humanity.
And importantly it doesn’t engender a different outcome, should you want that, next time.
There is nothing that inspires me less to make changes than feeling bad about myself. I have never and will never change my behavior in a lasting and wholesome way as a result of feeling like I’m not enough or because I berated myself.
Nevermind that it’s not true. “I am bad” is not an accurate description what’s going on and why we act the way we do.
So if we’re not bad then what are we? What’s the alternative?
We are human and the alternative is to look at ourselves through the lenses of compassion and curiosity.
When self-compassion has seeped into our bones and we’ve found ourselves nestled firmly amongst the family of bumbling humans something extraordinary happens: “because I’m bad” either ceases to be an option for explaining anything or it scarcely makes an appearance. (I’ll get into what replaces it down below.)
If “I’m bad” or some variation of it still show up on your list of possible explanations for your behavior, choices, life, experiences, or appearance then today I’m inviting you to, at least temporarily, in the name of experimentation, remove it. (Seriously, what if you couldn’t explain anything with that?!)
If you ask me what my work is about I will mention “hungers” and “women” and “feasting on your life”, but at the root, my work is really about how we relate to ourselves. When we are in an allied relationship with ourselves we trust our hungers and seek to feed them. When we are in an oppositional relationship to ourselves we mistrust our hungers and seek to numb, deny or minimize them.
This most essential relationship, the one we have with ourselves, also determines the lens through which we view all of our actions. If we’re not on the same team as ourselves, if on the inside we’re both the ‘good guy judge’ and the ‘flawed bad guy’ then “I’m bad” is a common conclusion to make.
When we’ve come to see that all parts of ourselves are welcome, that all parts of make sense, that there is no bad guy, and that we’re no better or worse (though equally special) than all humans we no longer find “I’m bad” on the list of ways to explain our actions.
So what happens when “I’m bad” isn’t an option?
What you find is a whole host of doors open up. You find immense compassion not just for yourself but for every human who is also wading through the muck of life.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a get out of jail free card. This isn’t how we justify behaving badly. This is how we see nuance. This is how we get to the root of what’s going on and what it means to be human. This is how we gain deeper insight into our own patterns and increase our sense of choice.
So, you might be wondering: “If I’m not bad then what’s going on?”
The most common answer, in my experience, is nothing.
Nothing is going on because the action is something any normal, imperfect human might do. Try it on for size: “I did X because I’m human. The end.” In these cases the only thing that needs to change is us embracing our own humanness, seeing ourselves within the family of humans, and holding ourselves to more human standards.
This one most often comes up around productivity and rest. The need for more sleep.The never-ending to-do list. The dirty house and unfolded laundry. All of these are typical areas for women to label themselves as lacking, when in fact, they are just human. Regular human, not superhuman. Join the club.
Other ways you might explain or interpret your behavior that don’t assign core not-enoughness include:
- Because…I’m hurting and I didn’t know a better way to cope with it. (humans hurt sometimes and we don’t always use or have a robust coping toolkit)
- Because I’m scared. (humans get scared)
- Because I was checked out. (humans do that sometimes)
- Because I wasn’t informed/awake. (humans have blind spots)
- Because I was/am struggling to balance two or more competing needs. (humans have a lot of layers and often our needs rub against each other)
- Because I was caught in my own illusions. (being human = egoic illusions that need to be worked through)
- Because I was chasing love/safety and part of me thought I could find it if I did X (humans need love and safety and will do a lot of stuff to get any semblance of it.)
- Because I was trying to live up to an unrealistic, inhumane standard. (humans, especially women humans, are expected to live up to a lot of impossible stuff)
- Because I goofed. (humans goof up)
- Because I was triggered (humans get triggered)
- Because I was tired (humans get tired)
- Because I behaved badly. (humans do that sometimes)
I’m not saying that given a do-over you wouldn’t, sometimes, go back and do some things differently. I am saying that there needs to be room for you to be human and for your very human actions not to be interpreted as you being deficient, bad, lacking, or not enough in any way.
Who you are is not what you do. What you do is a result of being an imperfect human with the level of consciousness, connection and healing you have at a given moment.
This means I can reject your behavior and not be rejecting you.
This means you can behave ‘badly’ and not be ‘bad’
This shift in lenses also means, again, that we can have a better understanding of why we behaved in a certain way and then have more space, thanks to compassion, to either accept ourselves or make a different choice next time.
There is no part of you that’s the enemy, that can’t be trusted, or that’s out to get you. There are just parts of you to be understood better, listened to more deeply, possibly healed, and ultimately, and always, loved.
If you want to know where to find these unwelcomed parts of yourself, here are a few places to look:
- Where do you feel less than other people or commonly compare yourself only to find most often that you rank below others?
- If I asked you to tell me all the ways you’re not living up to where you should be, what would you say? Where would you say you fall short? (I hope it’s clear I would never seriously ask you this question)
- Straight up: in what areas are you a bad mother, wife, friend, daughter, employee, etc.? (again, not a question I would ask because I disagree with the premise, but a good one to spark your awareness)
Your answers to all three of these questions will shed light on places you might offer some more compassion towards, you might let go of superhuman expectations, find a loving motivation to make changes, or simply seek to understand before you condemn.
I highly recommend the following books if this is a topic that feels alive for you:
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