Body Image & Illness

How we feel about our body is important, our body image may be positive or less helpful, our relationship with our body may be healthy or less so. Some of us may be more in our head than in our body, more cerebral in awareness, overthinking and underfeeling, perhaps, or just out of touch with our bodies and their needs. We may not realise when we are tired, hungry, thirsty, not getting enough exercise or even when our bodies complain in more serious ways, such as letting us know that we are not well.

Some of us struggle to accept our body, how it is, how it looks, its condition, size, shape, appearance or state of health. We may be in the habit of comparing ourselves, our body and appearance habitually with others. We may be used to basing our intrinsic sense of worth or identity on our body, our body image and how we look. We may think that this somehow fully defines us. In an image-counscious and looks-dependent society, comments made about our body, now or during childhood, may have deeply affected us.

As we grow older, our body, our metabolism and ourlooks change. Perhaps we believed that our body was a bit like a machine and we must control it and it can come as a bit of a shock to realise that our body may have a life of its own. The way we relate to our body can be very separate, unrelated to other aspects of ourselves like our thoughts, feelings, sexuality, spirituality. We may think our body-mind are not interconnected; or we may have a physical feature, which we find difficult to accept. Being with and in our body is a given, which can bring us up against existential dilemmas.

Some of us may have poor physical health or be ill. We may be depressed, distressed, frustrated and angry, struggling to find our way through our pain, affecting our body and mind. We may have a diagnosis, which may affect us terribly in an emotional way and may also affect others. We may wonder who, how, when to tell others and why. Coping with illness, we may experience declining physical health. This can be very challenging and each of us cope differently with pain and illness. The psychotherapy can support you in your struggle and responses.

We can choose to define our own worth either purely on how we look, i.e. externally, or internally, i.e. liking ourselves, our inner being with its qualities, what and who we are. If our emphasis is only on our body image, on the external, especially as we get older, we can become stressed, depressed and disappointed if we are not comfortable in our own skin. Accepting ourselves, who we are, our personality and identity, knowing, affirming and expressing our good qualities, skills and limitations is important. Perhaps becoming more flexible, shifting our focus to the worldaround us and giving of ourselves, can be a real challenge.

As for our body image and finding a partner, do we really want a person who cares more about how we look, than who we intrinsically and fundamentally are? The counselling and psychotherapy can offer a space to discuss any negative body image concerns, which might be linked to our self-esteem and help us to integrate internal qualities.

We may fear growing old, isolation or abandonment, or have other personal fears. Hypnotherapy from my colleague Deborah at WholeBeingToday can offer a space to talk about these. Our image of who we were and who we are now may be in conflict. Some of us may focus on what we don’t have, we may grieve over the loss of our past, wanting to turn to therapy in order to reflect upon what life means for us now. Some of us may be drawn to a spiritual realm.

We may have believed that death is something that happens to others, not us. Believing we are immortal may have been like sleepwalking through life. You may want to talk about what it means to you to be mortal and vulnerable, you may want to prepare for death in your own practical way and think about any religious or spiritual preferences. Preparing to let go may be a need for some.

Facing our own mortality, we may well wonder what happens after death. We all have, at some point in our lives feared dying or suffered from death anxiety. Our responses and reactions to this may affect how we live. Counselling and psychotherapy can offer a supportive space to talk about your anxieties and fears about death. Death is a given, yet we can be so preoccupied with life that we are not aware that we may die at any time; or we may be so preoccupied with thoughts about dying that we cannot or struggle to value the preciousness of life and each moment. Some of us may fear death so much that we withdraw, forgetting that we are alive now, lacking spontaneity, fearing risking things.

For some, our anxiety may not be about death, but about how fragile we are as human beings, that life is temporary, uncertain and often unknown. Mourning ‘what was’ in our life and allowing ‘what is’ may support us in being in touch with what might be transforming our life, what is important to us, what we value. We may want to rediscover what we enjoy or are good at, address our aspirations, hopes, dreams and desires. We may want to feel valued, give something back and have more control over our life. As we evolve, so too may our interests, interactions, what matters to us and how to get our needs met. Developing and fostering new relationships, whether with our peers, younger people, grandchildren, perhaps giving something back may become important to us. Celebrating growing older may be a challenge; our routines may be important, yet at times limit us. Taking new risks, making fresh connections, being curious about things, in touch with our life-energy may be a longing and a consideration. The therapy can offer a space to talk and think together about these issues.