In this last week, I’ve been blogging about agreements we make to forgive on the societal level, more than on the personal level. Yet, it’s on the personal level that most of us can make any kind of change.
During this last week, I had an incident that reminded me of one of my own personal issues that I often can’t forgive in myself.
The biggest long-term challenge in my life, where I feel most unsustainable in my personal actions, and most ashamed of my inability to change is around the issue for caring for my body and body image.
Since the time I was fairly young, four or five years old, I was told that I was fat, chubby, plump and so many other names that always felt awful. Little kids and adults can be brutally honest. I was shy and sensitive, and I felt so traumatized by the way that other people saw me, even one of my grandparents asked my parents why was I so fat. I look at my pictures from that time, and I wasn’t really fat, but I lived in a time when being super thin was optimal, and I had a terrible pixie haircut that made me look like a boy. My parents did their best to help me feel good about myself, but we came from a family lineage that loved food and sweets and didn’t particularly love exercise so much. It was hard to be thin in that environment.
Over the course of my life, I found ways to get thinner, sometimes for several years. I would also go through the classic losing and gaining weight cycle. Every time that I would lose weight and be at my ideal weight, I still thought of myself as fat, and I would generally move back into it. Over time, I created an agreement within my mind that this was just who I was.
Being overweight has been a long-term issue for me that brings up a lot of emotion. I have so much compassion for anyone who struggles with addictions or long-term challenges. I can also relate in a way to people who have to deal with post traumatic syndrome, because for me I often have felt a constantly battle of being at war with my own body.
This is something I did not want my children to ever experience.
So, from the time my children were little, I did everything that I could to make them see themselves as attractive normal kids and be as healthy as they could be. While they have had some weight gain, mostly around growth spurt times, both of my kids are healthy and know how to care for their bodies. I knew what to do to help them have a healthy lifestyle, but I haven’t really integrated the same ideas for myself.
This problem within myself came to the foreground for me this last week, when a friend of mine forwarded me a link to a movie on YouTube, that I would normally have liked very much if I came across it myself. In the movie, three different women lose weight together and empower themselves to live up to their potential. I was so much like the main character that it was kind of strange. In many ways, it was an uplifting movie, and I will probably never forget the story. It was also a fun movie in many ways. The truth is that I am as goofy as the main character.
Yet, as soon as I started to watch this movie, I felt the same way that I did when I was a little girl and kids were calling me names. I was just stunned that someone would send this to me, and tell me that I was like the main character of the movie. A part of me knew that my friend sent me this movie out of kindness, but my primary emotional reaction was that I never wanted to talk that person again. I tried to accept the positive intention behind the gesture, but even now, a few days later, I still just want to run away and hide from this person, no matter how irrational it is to feel that way.
This same type of reaction can come up when we try to help others, our family, or save the world in some way. We can bring up deep negative emotions that are very hard to handle for the person or people involved. We don’t truly know other people’s stories that are causing them to behave the way they do. Our intention to help, can sometimes make people want to run away from us, and distrust our motives.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help, or allow ourselves to move beyond our own initial reaction to other people’s gestures to help us. But it’s tough to change ourselves and our world. The people who say it’s easy to change, haven’t worked on complex, difficult, long-term problems in the world or in themselves.
Even though it is often hard to do, we can transform our relationship with the negative stories in our heads about who we are. We can keep working towards living a new sustaining story that helps us to live up to our potential. In fact, we can’t allow ourselves to stop trying to change, just because we have failed again and again and again in the past.
In my case, I keep working on the issue of body image and body care, slowly. Very slowly. I’m making some changes. Last year, I started exercising at a health club. When I had my physical earlier this year, my resting heart rate had dropped significantly, which was really great. I can feel that my heart is stronger. I haven’t changed my eating habits enough, so my weight didn’t change. I’ve lost about ten pounds since the beginning of this year. Not a great deal of transformation, but some. I really do want to make a permanent change this year, because for my body’s long-term sustainability I need to do that.
For the last month or so, my sons and I have been going to the gym together. We’re all feeling better. My oldest son’s skin problems have diminished, my youngest son is looking so fit and I’m slowing making changes to my long-term lifestyle.
Having companions to make a big transformation is really helpful, and now it’s my sons who are helping me to create the person that I want to be and redefine what I am capable of doing. I have to remember to forgive myself for being human, and not having it all together. I have made many, many mistakes in my life that go beyond this one issue, and yet, I’m so lucky to have so many good things in my life in spite of being very imperfect. I love so many things about my life.
Some people advocate for radical change, and sometimes that’s good. But for many of us, when we are working towards our potential, we often have to give ourselves permission to make steady, slow progress on changing what we want to change. And have moments where we make mistakes, or get discouraged that our change isn’t fast enough. Transformation is so often a spiral journey where we keep coming back to the same problems.
On a societal level, there are many issues that have long-term emotional components to them. Sometimes, we can educate our young children to be different than we are capable of being ourselves. They, in turn, can then teach us to how be our best self.
We move forward and backwards, but together, we can keep striving to live our potential, knowing that we walk on a shared road to enchanting our lives and our world.
Can you forgive yourself for your flaws or habits that hurt you, and yet still be working on changing those behaviors that cause you to be less than who you want to be?