“Be in the habit of experimenting with your clothing so that you don’t get stuck for life with a self-image developed over the course of high school.” -Marilyn vos Savant
I like this quote and think it’s a good metaphor, but as we know self-image is so much more than the clothing we put on our bodies. It’s more or less a mental image of ourselves, collected from a combination of our physical and mental selves, along with a lifetime of experiences, as we interpret them.
For me and my self-image, I’ve always seen myself as strong, helpful, resourceful, creative and friendly and I still do, but recently I’ve been experiencing a number of health issues that have challenged my self-image. Since I know I’m not the only one to struggle with my self-image, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my experience of my shifting self-image and then I’d love to hear about you and yours.
I’ll give you the back story:
I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which basically means I don’t have the ability to break down gluten and wheat proteins, which has resulted in some dietary changes for me. Now, to add to this story, it turns out I’m at least temporarily Lactose Intolerant too. In other words, more dietary restrictions and more potential for sickness from food.
This is apparently fairly common for newly diagnosed Celiacs. People with Celiac Disease have damaged villi in their small intestines. These are the little hair-like follicles that take nutrients from the foods we eat, which is then moved to other parts of the body to keep them nourished and healthy. In a newly diagnosed Celiac, the villi are trying to regrow and are sort of like fragile babies. Milk proteins can be really hard on the newly growing villi, so many people with Celiac Disease become temporarily Lactose Intolerant.
I’ve always seen myself as very strong- something of a protector to smaller creatures. Social injustice makes me crazy and I will always lend a hand whenever I can. I have viewed myself as something of an ox, or a bull or maybe an Incredible Lady She-Hulk. My will and strength together can do most things I set my mind to, even if it’s hard and requires some muscle to get the job done. I’m definitely the woman you want around in a crisis, because I will help, think quickly, resourcefully and I’m freakishly strong, or at least this was what I used to say.
Now, I have this new story, about being sick for most of my life and not knowing it. In this new story I’ve been operating at about half or seventy-five percent of my true strength. In this new story I haven’t been the strongest lady in the room because the strongest lady in the room lies beneath my own sickness and she hasn’t fully surfaced yet.
In this new version of my story I’m not the strongest anymore, at least not right now. I’m sick, but I’m on a new road to the strongest version of myself that I’ve ever known.
I used to say that I had an iron belly. Not even stomach flu upset my stomach all that much. I might need to rest for a few hours when sick with stomach bugs, but then I’d be back to myself without the symptoms that other people typically experience. I could eat anything and NOTHING upset my stomach- I mean NOTHING!
Now, I have to eliminate so many things from my diet just to make it through the day and the chances of sickness sit at almost every meal I eat.
Then there are the physical changes that I’m experiencing. I have always had extra weight on my frame pretty much since I’ve hit puberty. Sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter, but my self-image was of someone who is thick and happy to be thick. Then, I got diagnosed as pre-diabetic, so I started running, but I started having more and more stomach upset and muscle aches. So, I went to the doctor and began a process to find out that I have Celiac Disease and now Lactose Intolerance too.
My body has changed so much in the last 6 months. First it just got stronger, muscles started to form in places I didn’t know I could have muscles in. Once I began my dietary changes is when things really, really started to shift. Now I sit here with the smallest waistline I’ve ever had and a light feeling throughout my body. I thought I couldn’t lose weight. I’d resigned myself to always being a “big girl,” but that is no longer the truth of this story. The story is more complex than that as most stories are.
I don’t feel like the hulk anymore, I feel like there is a strength emanating from my core that is the first sip of pure health that I’ve felt maybe ever. It doesn’t feel like force of will or like a She-Hulk, this feels like love, ease and mastery.
Then I eat something that doesn’t agree with me and my former She-Hulk self is bedridden, again. This has been hard on my self-image.
So what is one to do when they feel out of sync with their own self-image? Here are some thoughts . . .
Tips to remind us in our darker moments how to stay on track with our self-images:
1. Define your story- take charge of your story, by defining it for yourself. Our stories are so often based on experiences that happened a long time ago, before we knew any better, when we were just learning and when we often made more mistakes. Lots of other people and outside influences have the ability to shape our self-image as well, but ultimately it’s up to us whether we accept or reject those ideas, so go on with your bad self and redefine your story.
2. Remind yourself of the YOU you choose to be- find ways to foster the self-image you want to have. What you believe about yourself impacts everything you do and how others think of you. So how do want to be in the world? Now think about yourself this way and create experiences that allow you to feel this way. One thing I’ve been doing, when I feel especially weak and I’m stuck in bed is I lift weights and tell myself how strong I am, because I want to be strong even if I have to be in bed for the day sometimes and someday when I’m fully healthy I’ll have “guns” to match my killer health.
3. Be Patient with yourself- it will take time to change your self-image and your story. You will fall back on old scripts that are too outdated to be used anymore, so when you find yourself dusting off an old script, remind yourself that you’re still learning how you want to be in the world. Don’t criticize or lay blame, this will only shame you and make more stuck in old patterns and other negativity. Instead, identify it for what it is- an outdated story, forgive yourself for your part in it and get back to building your new story and self-image- the one that you want to have in the world.
“The person we believe ourselves to be will always act in a manner consistent with our self-image.” -Brian Tracy
Check out Jena’s post on seeing ourselves differently.
Share your thoughts/tips/struggles around wearing many hats on your blog too, and we’ll post a link right here for our readers to check out!
So now it’s your turn, are you struggling with your self-image? Or have you ever struggled with your self-image? Please share your story!