Self-affirmations as a path to self-love

At my latest hair appointment, I was feeling sad and overwhelmed for various reasons. I’ve been going to that stylist for a number of years, and we’ve had a number of reasonably substantive conversations. I can’t remember what the segue was for this question, but I asked her how she approaches self-image and not being thin in our society where that is so prized, so perceived as necessary by so many people.

I have written about this before, but one thing that has been a source of sadness and frustration for me is my reaction when my boyfriend (or anyone else, for that matter) tells me I am beautiful: that is, I simply cannot relate myself to the word, and it slides off of me as though just under my skin there is a paper-thin but impenetrable shield. I wish to feel pleased by the compliment. I have felt that to be impossible. Sheer effort of will is not enough to flip the switch that has been cemented in place since I was very little, the switch in my self-identity set to fat/ugly/repulsive/loser.

On the other hand, of course, a negative comment or expression directed my way has a thousand channels into my psyche, where it can enter freely and pick at the wounds from previous encounters. Over the years I have worked hard on healing those wounds, and I have made a lot of progress. I used to feel repulsed by my body; now, most of the time, I do not. I have even made progress in softening and walking away from the identification with the self-hatred described above.

But believing that I am beautiful? That has really felt impossible. The best I could hope for, I believed, was a lack of self-hatred, an alliance with my body based on mutual positive intent, respect, appreciation for function, teamwork. My mental calculus has been, beauty = x, and I am y, so it is impossible for me to be beautiful. It doesn’t feel like self-hatred: just a logical acceptance of reality.

But really, a denial of love is at the least neglect, if not really hatred in another form. And, whether I would like to be or not, I am not indifferent to my body.

So, after that conversation with my stylist I decided to try the self-affirmation tack that has been recommended to me before, but which I have felt resistance to. That is, I look at myself in the mirror every day and say, out loud, “I am beautiful.” I also list details about my face or my hair, or my body. And lo and behold, it is working! I am shifting how I feel about myself, and now beauty is not something which seems to belong entirely to other people. I have also added, “I play cello beautifully” (though I want to change the wording of that), and, “I can be angry and still be a good mother,” because those two items are often equally problematic for me.

Of note, however, is how insidious our thin=beautiful societal definition is. I noticed that when I feel better about myself, I look different to myself, and what that actually means is that I look THINNER to myself. I see the shape of my body differently. When I am feeling bad about myself, I see myself as fatter. So, my goal now is to look at myself, at all of me, at what I really look like, and state that my body, as it is, is beautiful. And that is an act of rebellion. But for the first time, I believe that it is possible.

Practicing Agreement

After several days of really challenging practices with my daughter, I decided to apply some Positive Discipline techniques. This afternoon she and I discussed how we both wanted to structure her piano practices, and what we want to try in case of conflict. The basic ideas follow. We each contributed to this plan. I am sure it will be tweaked and re-worked, but I feel confident already that it will help. It will mean a lot less of my daughter feeling that I am driving everything. I will be able to back off and stop talking as much. Agreements are good. Execution is important. I am looking forward to this!

Pick a piece:

    Identify what to focus on during the run-through;
    Each of us picks something to work on;
    Another run through;
    Another piece;
    Sight-reading.

Things to consider:

    Piece logistics (r/l hand; fingering; note direction; chords, etc.);
    Notes;
    Rhythm;
    Technique;
    Dynamics

And in case of conflict, we made some communication guidelines:

    Take a deep breath and try again;
    Restate what the other person said;
    Leave the room to cool down briefly;
    Share a hug (if both people want to);
    Request a different piece or section or task.

And our incentives are:

    For practicing: a regular sticker;
    For using a regular voice: a special sticker each;
    For excellent focus: 10 cents / 30 minutes of practice