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There once was an Ugly Duckling

There once was an Ugly Duckling

Something I've learned through working as a therapist is just how many of us suffer really badly from body image problems. This doesn't just apply to those of us who would be labelled as less attractive by society - it can also afflict those who we would least expect to feel bad about their appearance. I don't know for sure why this is such a problem in the West, but I imagine the media portrayal of celebrities who are unrealistically perfect must play a part. 

The summer is a particularly challenging time for people with body image problems. In the winter you can hide under layers of bulky clothing, whereas it's harder to sustain that during a heat wave.

Fundamentally this about the emotion of shame, which arises when we feel unacceptable to others. We don't hear about shame very much, whereas most of us are very familiar with fear. Most people have heard about panic attacks, for example, but shame can attack us just as powerfully and feels equally unpleasant. Those of us who are afflicted by shame know the feeling of going red, being unable to speak and wishing the ground would open up and swallow us.

The difference between fear and shame is that we can feel afraid all on our own, but shame is triggered when we're with someone else - it's a social emotion. It follows that whereas we can, in theory at least, teach ourselves to overcome our fear, with shame we need to be with someone else in order to really experience it and work through it.

This is where a counsellor can help. Most of us are naturally cautious about exposing our shame to friends and family, but telling a relative stranger who is trained to be non-judgmental is easier. A counsellor can help us to re-experience feelings of shame in a relatively safe way. For example, I often hear clients tell me things that they have never spoken about to anyone else before. Doing this helps to unblock the shame and be free from it.

By discussing body issues with a counsellor who can listen empathically without criticism we gradually learn to let go of the feelings of shame. The symptoms of blushing, wanting to hide, and feeling paralysed slowly abate as we practice processing and letting go of these difficult feelings.

If this article has resonated with you and you would like to work with a counsellor on this, or any other issue, then please get in contact.

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