Musings on Body Image, Taking Offense, Avoiding Judgment and Sensitive Superheroes

I have the great opportunity to meet new people all the time.  As I work with clients, I learn a lot about them and their unique situations.  I selfishly love the work I do; it’s taught me how to be a more compassionate person just from sheer exposure to so many different life stories.  My work experience has provided me insight into human suffering that I may not have learned otherwise and I'm deeply grateful for that.  I’ve learned there is a reason people behave the way they do and if you judge people you have no chance to get to know them.  It all starts to make sense when you understand the whole story. 

It’s made me very sensitive to how easily judgments sneak into our minds, our conversations and the ways we behave ourselves.  I really appreciate that awareness, and while I’m definitely not perfect at it, it’s inspired me to resist the temptation to pretend to know more than I actually do about a person, make assumptions or jump to conclusions.  I ALWAYS appreciate when people do the same for me.

I’ve also worked with enough individuals on the subject of body image and disordered eating to know that a critical mind just makes us miserable.  While it might be easy to take offense from someone who is seemingly cruel in their assessment of your food intake or weight (or anything else), please know that they make themselves more miserable than they could ever try to make you.  When we view people through the lens of our shared humanity, I think it's easier to have compassion and patience with each other.  

I guess the reason I bring this up, other than my own random musings, is that I think some of the best work we can ever do is to avoid becoming overly preoccupied with what people might think (or your assumptions of what they might think).  Don’t take on other people’s insecurities.  I think there is a way to be respectful and compassionate, and I think it’s found in avoiding reciprocating with more judgment and not taking offense instead.  Ultimately, what other people think, do or say has nothing to do with you, even (maybe especially?) when it’s about you.  What someone says or thinks about you has way more to do with them and nothing to do with you – let THEM own that!  Cultivate the self-respect to avoid preoccupation with validation from others while respecting, supporting and celebrating our differences.  

While the reasons and triggers for disordered eating and eating disorders are many and varied, I do find this to be a VERY consistent theme: caring way too much about what other people think.  It’s time to set emotional boundaries with how much time and energy you give to the opinions of others.

I find that I work with a lot of very sensitive people - those with sensitive digestive tracts, those that have sensitivities to foods or environmental chemicals, those with sensitive feelings or emotions, those sensitive to the opinions of others as described above, those who feel sensitive to smells, touch... etc.  They seem to just feel things a little deeper than other people.  They also seem to fight that sensitivity, which I feel just heightens unwanted symptoms.

You know how superheroes are overwhelmed by their powers at first?  They often need training or more experience on how to control, channel and use their powers.  I think about that often when working with these sensitive individuals.  If you feel this describes you, I encourage you to let it work for you instead of trying to work against it.  Your sensitive nature is likely your gift, and learning how to set healthy boundaries and stay emotionally present will likely help you more than trying to control people, your food or your weight to only manage symptoms.  

So my point: be YOU.  

I would love to hear your musings!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD