As promised this week I will be commenting on an article in Scientific American Mind that has relevance to the issue of low self-esteem. Before going into the details let me first make a few observations about self-esteem and body image.
Many people have linked their self-esteem to their body image as if the shape or size of their body has some relation to their value as a human being. This thinking sets up a vicious cycle where that person compares themselves to some external role model and then feels bad if they do not match up.
While it is easy to blame society and culture for this dynamic we also need to keep in mind that this is just another way we make life hard for ourselves. Feeling good about ourselves is not dependent on society changing, it is by recognising our own self worth, value and contribution to the world that we transform. Having said that, it would be helpful if airbrushing became a thing of the past!!
So back to the article, this article discussed a natural human process called interoception. This is our awareness of the internal state of our bodies, this includes knowing when we are cold, hungry or in pain. Different people have varying abilities to receive these internal signals.
The article suggests that there is some link between low interoception skills and poor body image. Studies reported that women with low interception skills had lower satisfaction with their bodies than women with normal skills, this seemed to be particular true for women suffering from nervosa anorexia. Men were not used in many of these studies due to the low incidence of diagnosed anorexia in men.
The suggestion was that women with damaged interoception could not sense weight loss and did not receive signals of hunger. They would also persist in thinking their body was “normal” even when emanciated.
Other studies looked at overweight adults and found that one in ten obese people thought their weight was normal. Again it was suggested that poor interoception might be the reason.
The article gives more detail about each of these studies however I am more interested in what was not studied or discussed in this article. I started by considering my own experiences and this links back to last weeks blog about sexual abuse and self-esteem.
Something I am very aware of in myself is that I have a tendency to be disassociated from my body. For example, I noticed that while working out to a fitness dvd I was not able to know on a sensation level whether my abs were pulled in as instructed! I could look and know but I didn’t feel it.
At the time I made a note as I am currently researching weight loss and healthy practices. I made a point of paying more attention to my body and gradually noticed more association with my muscles while working.
It seems likely that I have low interoception, a term that was new to me until I read about it in the article however dissociation is something I have been aware of for a while. What is not picked up in the article is why some people have low interception/ dissociation and others do no.
This is an important question as it needs to be addressed as part of the re-balancing of the body. In my own case, and I know also for many other people I have worked with the answer is obvious. For survival reasons as a child I learnt to dissociate from my body, it kept me emotionally safer in the short term although long term created issues that needed to be dealt with.
It seems to me that for many people there will have been psychological reasons for this unconscious decision to switch off or reduce our connection to our bodies. The side effect to this may result in issues such eating disorders on both ends of the spectrum, lack of physical care of our bodies and maybe even thrill seeking in an attempt to feel something.
In the article there are some excellent suggestions for re-connecting however if we do not address the emotional and psychological reasons it seems possible that progress may be small or temporary.
For people who have done the emotional work re-connecting to the body may be the final step to feeling good about your body. If you recognise that this dissociation or low interoception is true for you here are the suggestions for re-connecting:
Mindfulness practice – Mindfulness has risen to prominence over the last few years and is a simple and elegant way to reconnect. There are lots of books and articles on this topic and I recommend the books of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Yoga – As an approach the article studied the benefits of yoga on helping young anorexics reconnect with their bodies, the results were very positive. The recommendation is to work with approaches that encourage focus on breathing and sensations within the body created by each posture.
Not mentioned in the article but I suspect just as valuable will be the many martial arts approaches that include a spiritual element, by really focusing on the movements we can become more attuned to our bodies.
I intend to explore more of the body mind connection in relation to our self-esteem, body image and resilience over the next few months, do let me know if there are particular aspects that are interesting to you. What are you experiences? What are your thoughts?
To look at the original article in Scientific American Mind go to: