Have you ever caught yourself scrutinising yourself in front of the mirror? You stand there, staring hard, taking in all the small marks on your face, noticing all the freckles, birthmarks and spots.
You look hard at your thighs, the tiny bit of belly fat that you've accumulated over a few nights of late night drinking and pizza sessions.
Then to make matters worth you click onto Instagram only to spend the next hour trolling through feeds of thin, toned beautiful (yet photoshopped) pictures, and everyones green smoothies and poached eggs.
Instantly you're filled with unnecessary guilt and regret.
They all appear so happy and confident.
Your comparing turns to despairing. You begin to feel imperfect in comparison to these supposedly 'perfect' ideals. Before you know it that well known negative self-talk record hits repeat.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 will suffer from some form of eating disorder, body dysmorphia or muscle dysmorphia.
Unsurprisingly this correlates with the increase in social media, “fitspo” accounts, dating apps, and commercialised diets. Exposure to thin ideals in the media has been shown to adversely influence how one perceives their own body image and internalises feedback from others.
Comparing yourself endlessly to those you meet or see on social media, in magazines or TV, increased your risk of developing mood disorders (depression/anxiety), and higher levels of internalising thin ideals (Tiggemann, 2004; Yamamiya, 2005). In short, what we feed our minds with literally has the power to transform our personal growth, impact self-esteem and confidence in our own skin.
We live in a warped society whereby beauty, weight and shape equates to our self worth, happiness and success:
Dion’s (1972) ‘beautiful is good’ hypothesis: a remarkable amount of research supporting the influence appearance has on how we judge others, with more attractive pictures yielding higher ratings of happiness, success, likability and health.
Women who view these images on a regular basis have reported higher levels of body dissatisfaction; lower self-esteem and positivity about their futures. However, if they were told that the person they viewed was unhappy or unsuccessful this had reduced effect.
The more you tell yourself negatives, the more you'll believe them.
Have you ever come away feeling good about yourself after comparing yourself to others?
No. You feel inferior. It saps your confidence.
The problem is the more you allow yourself to listen, and believe, these thoughts they stick like glue, becoming hardwired habitual thought processes you just can’t seem to switch off.
Hebbs Law: “what fires together wires together”.
It is widely used to explain how we form automatic memories, but this is also applied to automatic thought processes and addictive behaviours, which are learnt.
Such as having a cigarette with a glass of wine, even though you swore you’d quit!
Negative self-talk is poisonous and often is a reflection of the faulty, internalised beliefs you hold about yourself.
So Lets Get Positive.
Cognitive restructuring, or, thought correction, involves a desire to change your thinking by challenging negative and faulty errors. Unlearning behaviours and changing your internal belief system doe not happen over night. It takes perseverance and practice to literally re-wire the way you think.
The following are four common thinking errors and some practical challenges to help start your journey towards balanced thinking:
- Black-and-White (or dichotomous) thinking.
You fit yourself into one of two extremes; there is no continuum or ‘grey area’. You then judge yourself harshly; find yourself easily stressed and unable to see alternative explanations or logical reasoning.
e.g: ‘fat’ or ‘thin’, ‘failure’ or ‘success’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
- Do you judge others by extremes? Then why judge yourself by a harsher standard.
- Start to see the continuum, notice that not being a 10 does not automatically place you at the bottom as a 1.
- Eliminate the loaded language you use in the extremes. E.g. “I’m scrawny” becomes “I have a thin physique”. It’s less damning and emotionally unloaded.
- Comparisons to Unrealistic Expectations.
You pit yourself against ideals and spend more time focusing on what you don’t have than what you do have. You end up making copious social comparisons wanting the desirable characteristics others display and believing they must be happier because of them.
You may also believe you ‘ought/must/should’ have certain attributes, and with unobtainable ideal of ‘perfection’ you always fall short, thus you find yourself constantly beaten down and falling short.
- Remind yourself that no one is perfect. In fact perfection doesn’t exist because it is a subjective phenomenon. Media is photo shopped and even your friend with the gorgeous smile hates elements about herself, but she rocks what she’s got and so should you.
- When you find yourself making a negative comparison balance it out with a positive to compare yourself favorably.
- A mental compliment to someone is not an automatic criticism of you. Learn to give and receive compliments, then repeat them to yourself to allow yourself to believe and see them.
- Reduce the time you spend scrolling through social media/Instagram, and filter out accounts that constantly make you feel downhearted.
You place your own beliefs, and evaluations about yourself into the minds of others. If you assume that your worth is defined by your appearance and you worry what others will think, you will find yourself falling into the category vulnerable to projection, and miss-reading peoples body language and behaviours.
- What contradicting evidence do you have? Are these thoughts reflecting how you feel about yourself?
- Remind yourself that it’s not you, and that the person probably seems off because he/she is having a bad day. Remind yourself of the other options for the behaviours.
- Remind yourself that no one else sees you in the critical way you see yourself. That is what needs to change.
- Magnifying Glass:
You have tunneled vision and focus on the one thing that is wrong, rather than looking at the picture as a whole. The opinion you have is biased, and it’s as if all other compliments, achievements and positive attributes are insignificant because you put so much emphasis onto this one aspect of yourself.
- Stick positive post-it notes around your mirror so whenever you catch yourself scrutinising yourself you read a positive statement back. Then walk away from what you’re doing.
- Take a step back and look at the bigger picture; notice that your thighs are in proportion to your body or that your smile isn’t as wonky as you thought.
- Ask yourself why that part of you should mask the rest of you so much? It doesn’t define you, therefore you won’t let it.
These are just a few small steps to start you off on your journey to breaking maladaptive thought patterns, and comparative behaviours.
I hope you have found it useful, please do get in contact for any other advice or questions related to this or any of the other blog posts!
Stay Happy. Stay Healthy.