Remember that insult that came flying your way, coated with the sugary taste of a euphemism? Yes, we have all been the focus of socially acceptable insults from those who use rude and manipulative language, to lower the threshold of their own vulnerability. By pointing a finger at others, meant to induce shame, they project out their inner demons.
Instead of confronting their own feelings of inferiority, they use you as the target for their slings and arrows. Well, those arrows hit and sting. And, if you have a history of injury, such as, emotional neglect, verbal abuse, bullying, physical abuse, trauma or a poor self-image, you can be driven right into therapy, or a dysmorphic disorder - a heightened concern for one’s fitness, appearance and muscularity.
Let’s explore some of those tasteless descriptors. See if they sound familiar. For example: hour-glass shaped, big-boned, curvy, good shoulders, full-figured, pudgy, chubby, pear-shaped, that all mean…fat. Or, how about males who are described as: thick-set, chunky, out-of-shape, a big man or large. Yes, men too shrivel under the pain of hurtful language. Even thin males and females can be subject to embarrassment, when described as skinny and anorexic instead of slender.
Everyone feels unattractive, some of the time, as if they don’t “fit”-in. And, a testimony to this, is the big business of diet centers, weight trainers, gyms and Pilates teachers. However, when none of these things give you the satisfactory outcome you are looking for, the perfect and perfected body you aspire to - then there is always plastic surgery.
During adolescence, a time of great hormonal, emotional, and physical change, teenagers become particularly invested in their appearance. Skin problems, cystic acne, eczema, body changes, weight changes, menstruation, the emergence of secondary sexual characteristics, breast development, skin tone changes, etc., makes this a particularly tender time. As a result, teens can easily view themselves as defective.
Add to this, embarrassing verbal insults, a family-of-origin obsession with appearance, neurobiological low serotonin levels and you have a formula for low self-esteem, and hypercritical negative thoughts. In fact, teasing and criticism that focuses on appearance can contribute to a decreased body-esteem which may begin in adolescence, but continues right through to adulthood.
Then there are the media and advertising influences of unrealistic and perfectionistic body images that fill our media and advertising. For example, take a look at movies or magazines and television commercials of air-brushed models, uncomfortably thin, without lines or wrinkles; or the over-muscular GQ guys, resembling the new action-figures. Here, lies the cause for obsessive and hyper-critical thinking, that negative inner chatter, criticizing exaggerated physical flaws and one’s inability to meet the physical norms of society.
Because we all want to “fit in” and be liked, we succumb to peer pressure. And, in the case of teens, who are in physical and emotional flux, this “fitting in” can be lethal. The need to be perfect, can, drive one towards compulsive behavior such as:
1) Constant concern for one’s appearance;
2) Repeatedly checking one’s image in the mirror or avoiding mirrors altogether;
3) Avoidance behaviors;
4) Obsessive and critical thoughts, including ritual behaviors;
5) Staying at home from school, social events, work and family gatherings;
6) Wearing baggy clothing and hats that cover the body;
7) Fear of going out and being seen and judged by others;
8) Feelings of shame;
9) Becoming secretive about tortured thoughts of imperfection;
10) Need of constant assurance of attractiveness;
11) Excessive make-up;
12) Comparing one’s appearance against others;
13) Feelings of jealousy;
14) The need for plastic surgery, to correct and cure imagined physical deficits.
Tormented by feelings of low body esteem, one must first come to terms with the fact that something is wrong. Only then can you recognize and acknowledge your problem. When dealing with a distorted sense of oneself, it is all too common, to blame the perceived body-flaw, for one’s feelings of unworthiness.
You all know the drill of the “if onlys”. “If only” I was: thinner, taller, more buff, had a better nose, higher cheekbones, etc., I would feel and be OK. Yet, by correcting one’s thoughts, rather than appearance, distorted views of body image can be altered to reflect a more realistic physique.
This takes a three-pronged approached:
1) Counseling. Cognitive therapy in particular;
2) Medication when needed. Including anti-depressants, as often, a neurobiological low serotonin level, caused by trauma and depression, can effect one’s sense of self.
3) Cognitive behavioral-modification and talk therapy.
This approach helps you overcome the inner critic. Each time you deliberately and consciously override that voice, you lower the volume…over time. This diminishes the compulsion and corrects the pattern that causes the distorted image and behavior.