How to Love Your Body When It Doesn't Love You Back
An overwhelming theme being emphasized this year is self-love. This is such a great concept and is so important.
In the age of social media, the intensification of the importance of outward appearance is at an all-time high; this is why the self-love movement started in the first place. Loving oneself may seem like a simple thing to do for those who have never dealt with body image or self-esteem issues. But for those who fall into the deadly trap of comparison and perfectionism, truly loving oneself can prove to be much easier said than done.
Negative body image and self-esteem are significant enough on their own to impede anyone’s ability to love themselves. But there is another factor to throw into the mix for those who deal with an autoimmune disease or any type of destructive chronic illness: how can we love our bodies if our bodies do not love us?
An autoimmune disease is “an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system.” With my Crohn’s disease, my body literally attacks itself… that doesn’t sound very loving to me.
So how am I expected to love my body if it does not love me back? In any relationship, reciprocity is important. Give love, get love back… that is how it works, right?
This fact complicates body image and self-esteem so deeply that I cannot even begin to conceptualize it to someone who does not live with a serious autoimmune disease. From a purely psychological standpoint, knowing there is nothing I can do to change my disease or convince my body to stop attacking me is defeating.
Physically, the symptoms and side effects that accompany my disease are enough on their own to dampen my self-esteem and body image. Adding this into the mix of societal pressures and comparisons, I am not surprised at the high comorbidity of chronic disease and depression.
As I have said before, acceptance is an extremely important part of coping with a chronic illness.
Accepting what has happened, what is happening and what may happen is part of loving oneself. OK, so my body doesn’t love me as much as I love my body, fine. I love peanut butter and it doesn’t love me back, but that doesn’t change my appreciation for it! Maybe that’s not the best parallel, but you get what I’m trying to say here.
You can’t choose your family, but you (hopefully) love them anyway. Same concept applies to your body. Of course you can make physical, mental and emotional improvements, but some things in life and in your body just cannot be changed.
I can’t change my Crohn’s disease, but I can accept it. Acceptance of an illness may be the last step in the hierarchal stages of a chronic illness, but it is the first step toward self-love, whether you have a disease or not.
So how do you progress to a state of self-love? Here are some stepping stones to get you to that place:
Step 1: Accept your body and your disease for what it is and what it is not.
Step 2: Appreciate what your body is able to do for you.
Step 3: Do not compare yourself to others, especially others who do not have the limitations that accompany a chronic illness.
Step 4: Be kind to your body.
Step 5: Don’t rush the process. Love strengthens and grows over time. You will get there.
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