Disjointed Self-Perception

I was feeling pretty good about myself. Like more sure of worthiness, of love, of self-acceptance. I was getting better at saying aloud what my strengths are, albeit emphatically, because apparently I am in the phase where  I have to convince myself still. I was thinking to myself- I can do this! I’ve made it to the promised land of loving yourself! Hallelujah!

And then I looked in the mirror.

The scene was more like, Mr. Darcy pulled me back to sit on his lap on the bed and I gazed to the left and caught a glimpse of myself in our full length mirror. All I saw was a big lump wearing stripes and with a double chin. I pushed myself up and away, disgusted. I felt something in me sink. We were about to leave the apartment to spend the day outside in the sun and all I could think about was crawling into a big sweater and hiding in the safety of the apartment. I did not want to be seen. Who would want to look at THAT?

I certainly didn’t.

It’s hard on Mr. Darcy to hear me be down on myself. He says he doesn’t see what I see which is sweet and I love him for trying to pep talk me. I can’t accept compliments very well. And frankly, the problem has always been MY self-perception and inability to accept myself for who I am and what I look like as someone who is good and worthy of love. I spend a lot of time in therapy trying to sort this mess out. I go through periods where I am feeling stronger and other times where it’s all I can do to put an outfit on and walk out the door. I’m not being dramatic here. It’s debilitating, my negative self-image. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’m trying to move past it completely so I have to be honest. I have to speak my truth and hope that in saying it, I’m moving towards a new truth.

I have spent the majority of my life ashamed of my body. I’ve learned to over-compensate for what I see as a deficit by being smart or funny or personable. It’s not that I don’t think I am a good person, a smart person, a kind person- it’s just that I don’t think the package I come in is all that worthwhile. It makes me sad to type that. It makes me sad that I believe that.

When I caught that glimpse of myself in the mirror I felt so dejected. On top of that I’ve seen a couple of photos of myself taken candidly where all I see is my lumpy, fat body. That’s what I hear in my head, “Look at how gross you look.” Gone is the feeling of strength from working out 5 times a week and the joy from moving my body to music and in its place is a feeling of not-enough-ness. I was trying to just focus on enjoying working out for the sake of enjoyment and health because the berating and guilt of “dieting” was hammering me into a bad mental state. But now I feel myself shifting into that mind-fucked place where I get obsessive about my diet, about my work outs, about numbers rather than just feeling good about doing something healthy for myself.

Have you done this? Felt that shift? Gotten bogged down with the number rather than the feeling? Or let the numbers influence your self-worth? What do you do when you get down on yourself?

(I know I talk about this topic a lot (too much) here. I also know I have to write it out to work towards a different place. Someday I hope these kinds of posts will be impossible for me to write because the feelings will no longer be true.)

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30 thoughts on “Disjointed Self-Perception

  1. For what it’s worth, I think you’re beautiful. 🙂

    I know this feeling, though. There have been times in the past where I’ve looked in the mirror and wanted nothing else than to crawl back into my pajamas and never leave the apartment. I have those days where none of my clothes fit right (even though they fit fine the day before, so it’s all in my head) and I feel so disgusting that I don’t want anyone to see me. I’ve tried to stop the negative thoughts recently…if I find myself thinking something like, “I look gross in this top,” I stop and think of something nice to say to myself. Some days it’s harder than others, though. WHOA, longest comment ever. Hee.

  2. I’ve recently lost a fair bit of weight, gotten down to what I was almost ten years ago, and yet I couldn’t see the difference in the mirror till Sarah took a picture of me and held it side by side with a picture of me last year. Even after that, I will look down at the tire I still carry around and think, “So after all that, I’m still the same fatass I was ten years ago. Great.”

    For the most part I always try to look on the positive side of things, find the silver lining, find the good in the bad of any situation, and yet for some reason am still my own worst enemy. You should hear the invectives I direct at myself. I don’t have a magic answer, other than to hold on tightly to those things about you that do make you feel good about yourself, and when I figure out how to fix the rest I’ll be certain to share it with you. And now that I’ve surpassed Jennie for longest comment ever I’ll close by saying you can sit in my lap any day of the week, just because you’re that great.

  3. My short answer is, um, yes. Yes I do that. It amazes me (not in a good way) how on a Tuesday, for example, I can work out and sweat and feel awesome and appreciate what I see, and then Wednesday afternoon I can see something totally different when I glance at myself. Can an ass grow inches in width on either side in a matter of days? Because I swear that’s what happens to me.

    Of course I know this is all going on in my mind, as we all know, and even recently I’ve associated it to hormone cycles (what a novel concept, right?), because the moment I start to feel even slightly different physically (chemically?) I see something different visually. I figure at least if I pay attention to the when and how these feelings appear, I can at least learn to manage it. And, somedays, just practice ignoring it. Then maybe one day there won’t be the occasion to ignore them at all.

  4. Absolutely. In my head, I usually feel like I look pretty decent but then I’ll see a photo of me in my sloppy yet comfy clothes and feel I was wrong.

    I’ve never really been overweight… maybe 10 pounds but still within the weight range for my height. Here’s the thing though: I still get hung up on numbers sometimes.

    It goes all the way back to middle school and 130 lbs being some magic number none of us should cross. I’m tall, I haven’t been under 130 in decades. Back then I was really self conscious about it. Even though I looked fine.

    130 is no longer an issue but there are other numbers that sometimes get my attention/ire now. And the rest of the time? There’s plenty of other flaws to fixate upon and tear myself down over.

    You may over-compensate but I don’t think it’s a bad thing because you do it in a way that increases your awesomeness. I like being home, so it’s easy for me to hide out here instead of confronting my fears about the world’s perceptions of me.

    To improve my outlook, I pay less attention to mirrors, don’t weigh myself often, listen to good music, and watch/read things that make me laugh.

  5. “It’s not that I don’t think I am a good person, a smart person, a kind person- it’s just that I don’t think the package I come in is all that worthwhile. It makes me sad to type that. It makes me sad that I believe that.”

    This made me sad, too, but only for a moment and then I felt tremendously hopeful.

    Anyone who is so honest and so articulate with that honesty is destined to unravel these feelings, sort their every nook and cranny and find a way to use them for their benefit and growth.

    I admire you for being so painfully true with these feelings because it most certainly means you are working through them; even if the journey feels long and improbable – and I’m sure it does – your transparent acknowledgement is (I believe) part of the process of honoring who you are which will ultimately result in getting what you most deserve from yourself….maybe that’s acceptance but maybe it’s also gratitude.

    We met only once but I recall you as positively lovely and yet I know it’s not enough to tell you that. Here’s hoping that, someday (sooner than later), you see it, you feel it, you believe it.

    XO

  6. I always hesitate to comment on something like this because I am technically a “skinny” girl so I am not supposed to have these feelings, I’m not supposed to feel this way. I get judged pretty harshly when I say that I do…but I SO DO. The voice in my head is such a hateful bitch and I freaking HATE looking in a mirror. I hate when clothes don’t fit the way that they should or getting on a scale (I am not allowed to own one) because then I obsess over any little shift in the needle.

    The voice of my mother is always there in the background judging me…judging what I eat, what I wear, what I do… how my body changes as I age.

    It so sucks.

    You are not alone.

  7. I could have written this post, word for word, feeling for feeling. I completely and totally know how you feel. I wish I had words of wisdom or inspiration, but I don’t because I’m still trying to figure out how to reconcile the image I have in my head BEFORE I look in the mirror (or at pictures, or catch a glimpse in windows I pass by), with the reality, which often horrifies me so badly that I intentionally avoid my reflection.

    The only thing I can say is this — 40 lbs and a few years ago, this body was a lot smaller, tighter, thinner… it ran a marathon… and at the end of that marathon, I STILL didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I liked it a lot MORE, but all I could focus on was losing the next 5-10 lbs… rather than appreciating the body I had and what it had just accomplished… So this time around I’m trying to focus more on what I’m GOOD at (running, lifting, yoga), rather than what I’m NOT good at (being skinny), and appreciate the “wins” where I have them.

  8. I can TOTALLY sympathize! Not only do I do everything you mention – I also . . .
    I can leave the house totally pleased with how I look, go out have a great time with my friends and photos are taken. Later, when I see those photos? THE SHAME! I blush and hate that I thought good things about myselft. How could I have been so bold as to have fun when “that” is the way I look? It’s awful. Like you, it’s my battle.

  9. I live in this world 24-7 and I can’t believe how much mental energy I spend on food, workouts, avoiding social engagements that involve food, etc. Sad? Yes. But I have no idea how to change it.

  10. Can I get an amen? AMEN. I think part of why I find your blog so compelling is your ability to be so honest, not just with yourself but in such a public forum. Maybe because it was the first gorgeous weekend of spring we’ve had this year and my thoughts automatically turned to short sleeves shirts and shorts, but I spent the weekend feeling the same way. I am large-boned and tall-ish, and even when I’m ‘thin’ nobody would ever call me skinny. I am currently a good 25 lbs heavier than the weight I’d like to be. The sad thing is, I’m probably healthier and stronger than I was 5 years ago. Yesterday I ran 5.5 miles. And then spent the evening berating myself because I got hungry before dinner and had a handful of cashews. I currently obsess about my size all day long, constantly thinking about my meals and my food intake. If I work out 3 days in a row, and then take a day off, I beat myself up for it. But I know I’m not always this way. I have the mind-shifts too. I feel like it’s a part of me that comes and goes but will never go away permanently.

    All I mean to say is, you are SO not alone in this. And I wish I had something more supportive to say or some miraculous cure, but I don’t know how to fix it. And I know it’s cliché, but sometimes it really is just nice to know that people understand (even strangers from the internet,) and you are not alone.

  11. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see man-face or a witch looking back at me. I stare and cannot believe that any man would ever find me attractive. I feel like I try to hide my face with my hair. I also have a tiny pea-sized head that looks too small on my body, so I try to make my hair fluffier to balance it out. If I ever go bald for any reason, I will be a wreck because my tiny head and man face will be on full display.

    I really think every woman has these sorts of thoughts. It’s sad that we’re all cursed with such hangups.

    I remember Lesley (Just Run) writing about the book Women, Food and God. I bought it for my sister for Mother’s Day and plan to borrow it back from her to read it. I think there might be some global self esteem insights in it that we all could benefit from.

    Until then, I hope it helps a wee tiny bit to hear that I think you are beautiful. And when I look at pictures of you (or see you in person!) I see no lumps. I see style and beauty and grace.

  12. I think most women struggle with this to some degree – I know that I sure do. I’ve spent my whole life wishing I had a metabolism that was faster that the snail’s pace mine goes at.

    For what it’s worth, every time (EVERY TIME) I see you in person or see a photo of you, all I see is Ms. Sizzle. Vibrant, beautiful, confident, strong. Love you, friend.

  13. I don’t necessarily think it has anything to do with how you actually look to yourself. I think a lot of times I see what I feel, not what I look like. When I am happy, I don’t give a crap what I look like and always think I look great. When I am sad/hurt/whatever, I am extremely insecure and often think that I shouldn’t do things because I don’t deserve to because no one would want to see me do them. Like I am not good enough to matter and might be offensive to other people. I don’t care as much for myself as I don’t want to be a bother to others. (That sounds crazy but I hope you know what I mean) I think it sucks that you feel this way because I can see that you are beautiful inside and out. I wish you could see it always too!

  14. I feel like this all the time. I’m feeling sad about the wedding, because I know I’m not going to look how I wanted to look. That’s such a stupid thing to get tense over, right? But there it is.

    Thanks for writing these things. And you are one slammin’ hot lady, friend. We’re all going to keep saying it until you see it, too.

  15. I feel like this when I’m actually working at getting pounds off my body…when I’m eating whatever and not exercising, it’s like I numb myself into believing that I look pretty good. When I’m spot on with healthy eating and working out 5-6 days a week… I glance in the mirror or storefront windows and feel huge. So twisted and definitely the result of not being proud of what my body can accomplish…and only focusing on the negative. I hate that one photo or mirror reflection can wreck an outfit or a day of fun. You are not alone, that’s for sure.

  16. It’s a struggle, dude. And I am not sure that I have it all worked out, but I do know that when people tell me that I am pretty or that I look good, they seem to believe it. They aren’t lying to me. And so I know that the problem is not how I look, it’s how I think.

    Love you.

  17. I have absolutely felt that. Felt it nearly every day (aside from a few months where I was ‘skinny’ here and there) for close to 20 years, actually. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I didn’t feel better about things until I actually felt good about my body — which I do now, for the first time in…well, nearly 20 years. The difference this time around, though (45 lbs down) is that I did it the right way. I didn’t go on some crazy crash diet or try exercising 50x/week to get here — I had lots of little talks with myself about making healthy choice, downsizing portions and managing my food intake in the same way I manage my budget — balancing. Did Weight Watchers for a while to retrain my brain. And honestly? This has been, hands-down, the best change I’ve ever made.

  18. I could have written that post myself. Yes, I have had this feeling very often. And the interesting part is that even when I am smaller and I feel better about the way I look it never seems to be good enough. I have never actually made it all the way down to my goal weight, but I have been within 10 pounds of it and I still had those freak out moments.
    I wish I had a solution for you… but I don’t. The only thing that I can say is that you are not alone.

  19. I know this type of mirror glance all too well…and so counselling is on the horizon. I generally end up staying home or doing the mundane things where I don’t have to socialize with people.

    (I spent this weekend hoping I’d spot you on the streets and then I could write about seeing a blog person from afar… 🙂 )

  20. I have these feelings often. I will be having a good day, feeling good about myself and where I am, and then I will walk by the mirror, or see a picture of myself, and it all deflates and I’m left feeling like a tub-o-lard.

    A couple of years ago, I was about 40 pounds lighter, and I remember looking in the mirror, or at pictures, and thinking the same thing I do now. I look at the pictures of me then, and wonder what the hell I was thinking!! Sometimes I wonder if my current weight is Life’s little joke… letting me know how stupid I was back then. Laughing at me.

    I have been trying to eat better, and I started yoga. But even doing those things make me focus on how horrible I feel. When eating, if I overeat, or make bad food choices, then all I can think about is how fat I am, and how I have no willpower to keep myself from doing it. At yoga, I try to do some of the folds, and my boobs and stomach get in the way, and while I’m holding it.. face smashed into all of this blubber, sometimes I just want to cry and give up.

    However, like you mentioned, I have to remind myself that maybe I’m not quite as bad as I see myself. I remember how I use to feel. I honestly saw more than was there. Maybe I am doing that now, too. I mean, I do need to lose weight, and I am still making an effort to make better lifestyle choices, but I am not going to focus on it anymore. I can’t take the depression that comes with it. And if my boyfriend can love me the way I am, then I guess I will try to make an effort to as well. =)

  21. Yep, I feel like that a lot. Self perception is a changing thing. The better you feel about yourself the better you look.

    You know what is awesome? Slimming mirrors! I love them!

  22. feeling it now, currently. Very strong! why do we do this? Especially when others don’t see us this way?
    I wish there were answers and magic pills to make us believe.

  23. You don’t talk about this too much. And it is important to share it. I think so many people feel this way, and it’s a constant struggle to overcome it. I will run a fast race and see a pic from it and think “my face is so fat!” But then I will snap a pic the next day and my face looks skinny. The point is, why do I even care? No one who loves me is concerned about my weight, and the people who do care probably don’t matter. But that doesn’t mean I don’t constanly feel like I need to lose weight.

  24. Try Weight Watchers. It works. It’s all about taking baby steps. You can have alcohol within reason, still go out to eat at fun places and Mr. Darcy could join you in the process. Best wishes.

  25. I second what Angella said. Every time I see you, you look gorgeous.

    We are our harshest critics. I have good friend who gets mad at me when I’m down on how I look. She says, “If you think you look bad, then you must think I’m the grossest person alive!” NEVER. EVER. I think we all tend to pick ourselves apart when most people don’t even notice what we obsess about. I’m constantly working on how to think I’m as beautiful as I think my friends are.

  26. So, a couple of years ago I was talking about my weight and attractiveness (and the feeling of the lack thereof)and you commented and… it really changed the way I thought. I can’t remember what you said exactly, but it was along the lines of “own it” and it’s just part of who I am and the whole of who I am, is good, so see that. But, clearly, you said it better. I think of it every now and then. I wish I had something profound to say to you right now to help you, but I don’t. Thank you for helping me, though.

  27. I am in this place exactly, right now. I’ve been there to some degree for almost 30years. I think I’ve exhausted myself from it. This isn’t a good week…but I guess I just keep going and try to keep my focus positive. More difficult than it should be, most of the time.

    I just wanted you to know that I think I understand.

  28. Oh, how I do this. Even after I promise myself I won’t. Love really is a battlefield, and that big-haired ’80’s wisdom applies to loving ourselves, too.

    I’ve made so! much progress (to a degree I’m still coming to grips with admitting and understanding) since this time last year, and yet it’s so easy to look in the mirror or see unflattering photos and be all, “Wait, what? Where’s the Kerri I see inside? She’s still not showing up on the outside.” And then I have to take deep breaths and remember to be patient. Being patient sucks sometimes, but the gentleness we so often strive to show others (and the gentleness and compassion I know you yourself show others) should be the gentleness we show ourselves, too.

    You are so beautiful, babe. And that’s no sunshine blowing. We all see it. And I hope that most days you do, too. But it’s more than OK to have a bad day. And that’s what we as your friends are here for: To remind you of how lovely you are if ever you should forget.

  29. I too have gotten lost in the numbers. I then really lose it and it gets a lot worse. I am better now as I have found things I LOVE to do for exercise (which I obsess over which is not healthy). At least it gets me sweating and feeling “good”. For me it’s hockey. Not just playing but EVERYTHING about the physics of the sport. I can go out to my garage and play with a ball or puck and make games out of it (can you say only child?). But after an hour of playing around I have broken a sweat and feel good. When I learn something new, physically, and feel good afterward I feel better about myself. I don’t know where I have headed in this post! The short of it is when I feel shitty I try to remember what made me feel good. Playing with a puck makes me feel like a kid again and feel good about myself. So I go do it. The problem is doing something like that all the time. Or at least having something like that in my back pocket all the time. How easy it is for me to forget. (insert pic of kid me bouncing a tennis ball against the garage for HOURS)

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