I’ve never owned a car before–let alone a new car–but people talk about it enough that I think I know what it’s all about. That wondrous, intoxicating smell is about ownership, and it’s about owning something you’re proud of. Even if it’s a Nano or a Kia or whatever the lowest priced car is out there on the market today.
(Remember the Yugo? Even that smelled new when you bought it, and I bet if you owned one, you still felt the same way. If only for a few days.) But cars aside, I wanted to talk about ownership a bit more.
Because, as my first sentence already made fairly clear, there are two parts to that smell: pride and possession. You won’t feel pride about something you don’t think is any good, and you can’t feel it if you don’t feel that it’s yours.
We focus a lot on the first part. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to project confidence. We think if we felt better about ourselves, we’d do better. We’d take better care of ourselves, we’d go after better jobs, better spouses, better lives. And that’s true.
But I think it’s only half the equation. We’re leaving something important out when we only look at it that way, and I think the implications of that are myriad.
Let’s think for a second about our bodies. I’m a woman, and if you are a woman reading this, you’ll probably acknowledge we frequently have lots of issues about our bodies. If you aren’t, then I’m not sure what to tell you. You may not be able to relate to this. But I’ll hope you’ll read anyway, and let me know if you still get something out of it.
Lots of women struggle with being a healthy weight. I do too. This rarely crosses anyone’s mind, as I’m most often terribly thing. The more stressed I am, the thinner I get. The reason for that is simple: I don’t eat enough. I especially don’t eat enough when I’m stressed. Just as many women eat too much.
And although you might think there is less stigma about being too thin than being not thin enough, I’m not so sure. I got teased about it plenty growing up–not from kids. Kids are relatively kind. By people I’m related to, by adults. And I get plenty of criticism for it as an adult.
I can also tell you subjectively that I like the way I look a lot less when I’m 98 pounds than when I weigh about 10 pounds more. And that I feel guilty and like my life is out of control when the flesh starts to disappear off my bones. Just as anyone who feels they weigh too much subjectively feels they look better when they weigh less.
So, I don’t know if my pain about my body is the same as so many other women’s, but I think all of it shares some common elements. Enough so that I can talk about weight and bodies and a sense of ownership with the authority of personal experience.
Now, we tend to talk about weight and eating and being more healthy about those things from the perspective of self-esteem. If we felt better about our bodies, we would treat them better. And that’s probably true. I’m sure there are some excellent articles and blogs out there on the topic. And if that interest you, go and out and find them and read away. If you find something exceptional, let me know, and I’ll link back to it.
But I want to talk about the other half of this issue. I want to talk about ownership some more, just as I did in my last post: Possession. Because I think that’s the missing piece in some cases. Some of us don’t take very good care of our bodies because we don’t really see them as ours.
They are, in a way, like a second-hand car that we know we won’t be using for very long, and will most likely end up in a scrapheap or passed down to a younger sibling. It’s not so much that we don’t like the car, but it’s nothing special. It’s just something we use to get through the day, and has nothing to do with us.
Anyone feel that way? I do.
And if that’s the case, and that’s the problem, then where did it come from in the first place and what can we do?
I think it could come from two possible sources, that might arise from the same events. On the one hand, if our bodies were violated in some important way or by an important person, or we were generally treated as objects by a parent, or just like people only there to meet someone else’s needs, then we may lack a sense of ownership simply because we were treated as people who lacked it. We think about ourselves to some extent in the same way other people have thought about us.
On the other hand, if our bodies have been at some point a source of intense pain for us, we may disconnect from a sense of ownership not necessarily because we feel bad about them–we may understand that the pain was never our fault–but because thinking about them is painful in and of itself. If our bodies hold a memory of pain, we may shut down the sense of our bodies along with the pain. It doesn’t matter too much whether that pain was physical or emotional, because we feel emotions in our bodies, as physical sensations.
If we get in the habit of not noticing our bodies too much in attempt to avoid the pain we associate with them, our bodies may become very distant from our sense of who we are. They are there to get us through the day, but they are not things to be proud of or to want to take any kind of special care with.
Moreover, if our bodies become things we feel ashamed of–if they are the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong gender–we may also avoid thinking about them in the process of avoiding the shame we feel. That’s a special kind of pain, an intense pain.
We will hurt every time we think about them. Thinking about how to feed our bodies or how much exercise to give them will hurt. We won’t want to do it–not if we can help it, not if we aren’t masochists. And, if our habits haven’t been very healthy to start with, all that non-thinking is likely to lead to more bad habits.
Worse, if we make ourselves think about it, then we’ll hurt, and we’ll need to do something to make the hurting better. Whatever it is you do to comfort yourself, you’ll find yourself wanting to do. And you’ll probably do it without a lot of further thought. Dealing with pain is usually reflexive, an animal instinct. Something my cat can do, your dog can.
If you’re lucky, dealing with your pain will mean getting a hug from your spouse or cleaning the house or doing a damned fine job at work. But if you aren’t so lucky, it will be doing something that isn’t half so good for you, like eating food that isn’t nutritious, or vegging out with your social media too long, or even just lying in bed.
And then you’ll feel worse.
So, what to do? Well, face the pain and do what you need to do to relieve it. In the meantime, respond to your better health habit in a way that’s as comforting and rewarding to you as your bad habits were.
Although getting regular exercise or eating your vegetables should feel good, if you don’t feel a sense of ownership over your body in the first place, it won’t. You probably won’t feel anything–not any more pride or satisfaction than you would feel over taking your second-hand, hand-me-down car to the shop.
However, doing it will make you think about something painful–your body–and you’ll need some comfort for that. If you don’t want to go on eating chocolate cake, or smoking, or whatever unhealthy thing you did in the past, then you’ll need to find something else to replace it with. Encouragement and praise can help. But we’re all individuals, and you’ll need to find your own thing that makes you feel better. The main thing is understanding that you’ll need it.