This session was designed to explore how social, physiological, and emotional factors shape our beliefs and behaviors regarding our bodies - and then to learn how to change negative thoughts and behaviors and to develop healthy attitudes and habits. The goal is to give you tools to change so that you will feel better about yourself.
First, close your eyes and think about a body part of yours that you dislike. Then think about a part that you like. If you're like most people, it's much easier to identify parts that you dislike than those that you like. We're so used to thinking about the bad stuff that it's hard to come up with the good stuff.
Body image refers to the body as a psychological experience and focuses on your individual feelings and attitudes towards your body. It can be broken into three aspects:
Five Critical Influences on How We See Ourselves
How We Build - or Wreck - our Body Image
The media says we must look like the ideal to be happy, popular and successful - and we can do so if we try hard enough, spend enough, and suffer enough. But it's not true - only 4% of American women have "model bodies."
Nonetheless, parents and friends who focus on their own weight and body shape often give the message that you should do the same. Teasing or unwelcome comments about your appearance can diminish self-esteem and confidence.
Thus, we tend to value certain body parts or functions because: they are a source of self-esteem or confidence; they allow for continuing social, sexual, and career functioning; and they enhance our self concept and the stability of our body image. Conversely, visible change in shape or form or functional ability can translate to lower self-esteem, self-worth, sexual desire, vocational capacity, discomfort in social situations - and a poor body image.
Personal appearance is a means to many highly valued goals in our society. When you perceive yourself as unattractive, your access to these goals is diminished, which can lead to anxiety and self-devaluation. It can be a vicious cycle when we "buy in" to society's ideals and use them as a measure of our self-worth. These unrealistic ideals set us up for disappointment - because no one can be perfect.
Body Issues Specific to Rheumatoid Arthritis
These issues may change how you see yourself even more than how others see you:
It's important to realize that RA is just a part of your life, not your whole life.
Starting to Change Your Body Image
--Remember the Serenity Prayer - "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."--Be realistic - Yes, there are things you can change, but you must be realistic.
Integrating New Thoughts/Behaviors into Everyday Life
Irrational Beliefs that Block Positive Self-Image and Happiness
These are all false beliefs! Challenge these and other irrational thoughts. Avoid all or nothing thoughts. Learn to live with minor lapses and then get back on track. Understand that you are a person of value, who deserves to be happy, no matter what you look like. Once you realize that you don't have to be perfect, you can begin to find happiness and enjoyment in places both emotional and physical that you never imagined possible.
Summary: Stop, Think, Feel, and then Behave
Recognize and challenge irrational thoughts and change the self-defeating behaviors. To accomplish this, you will have to practice, practice, practice. The more you give yourself positive self-talk and treat yourself well, the more you will enjoy life.
Faith MS., Long Term Weight Management and Self Acceptance: An Ideal Union! New York: Albert Ellis Institute, 2000.
Greenberg D, Padesky C. Mind Over Mood. New York: Guilford Press, 1994.
Johnston, JE. Appearance Obsession: Learning th Love the Way You Look. Deerfield Beach: Health Communications Inc., 1994.
Shontz FC. The Psychological Aspects of Physical Illness and Disability. New York: Macmillan, 1975.
Summary prepared by Diana Benzaia.