Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
June 2019 - Volume 19, No. 6
Why Feed What Isn’t You?
A simple way to lose weight
One day, some long time ago, I came up with what I considered a simple and yet novel idea about losing weight. I would begin with drawing or somehow picturing the current state (size) of one’s body. Then draw or picture the ideal state or vision of your body. When you superimpose one over the other, usually there will be some extra places - the stuff you want to reduce or get rid of. The trick would be that whenever we eat, we find a way to feed only the parts of ourselves we want to keep. The parts we want to get rid of would simple starve away.
There’s a sign in my dentist’s office that reminds us we need only take care of the teeth we want to keep.
Simple, yes? And sounding so easy. Still, over the past 30 some years I’ve paid this dental man in his white coat many hard-earned dollars to fix or repair things in there.
Very frequently, in a client or couple situation, I’ll hear a phrase like, I’m just stupid. I’ll never be able to… I’m an idiot.
I seldom respond right away - since that would come out just as a rescue - having very little social or therapeutic power. But after it comes out again (and usually it is repeated), I’ll step in and ask “Where does that word come from?” (My purpose is to begin breaking the spell of such language.) Usually there’ll be a pause, then something like, “I don’t know, I’ve just always said/known it.”
Then I’ll say something like,
“You know, I can’t believe that. Being in my profession, I’m somewhat of an expert about language. And I’m very sure none of us come out of the womb with depreciating words or feelings about ourselves such as stupid, idiot, fool or foolish, worthless, useless, black sheep, trash or a host of other self-condemning words or phrases. You only use words like that about yourself because somebody other than you taught you to think of yourself that way.”
Then I’ll ask who’s voice do they hear when they think of those words. And most of the time it’s their own voice. But I persist until another voice may begin to emerge - as if from a forgotten or hidden place. Sometimes it’s the partner who will answer - “That’s the way your father talks - I’ve heard it many times…”
Sometimes it begins even before we have language of our own, in parental voice tones, or behaviors towards us.
And, of course, especially in early life, as well as at other times when we are most vulnerable, we decide those demeaning words, tones and behaviors must be true, so come to believe them, make them our own. It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - most especially when flattery is for the purpose of survival.
When the derogation begins even before we have language, even before we can think (a verbal process) the messages can’t be distinguished as coming from someone else.
I was fortunate to grow up in a caring household. And I have no memory ever of a parent using deprecatory language to or about any of us children. However, I do have one memory of speaking in anger to my daughter, and one memory of her using a strong deprecatory attribution about herself - and each time I was so self-spooked, that I couldn’t speak to immediately counter the occasion. To this day I carry a certain shame or regret for my silence.
We just stop feeding those parts of us that we don’t want to keep around. We keep feeding, or reinforcing, only those parts of ourselves we choose to value. Those self-negating parts we work to starve out. That doesn’t mean they completely go away, there’s always a remnant that sticks around. At first it can take a lot of attention or consciousness to not feed those parts. But with practice, and a healthy discipline of self-affirmation, the balance can shift.
Of course in the time between our birth and our dying, there will be many voices and voice tones that are even purposefully meant to demean us. So it can be a constant discipline of ‘self-worthing’.
The person and the behavior
The person and the behavior are not always the same. This seems to be a difficult learning especially for men.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are generally more folks than we realize who are hungry to support this shift or change in us. When a woman is angry, a man can easily assume she’s against him. When a woman says, “we’ve got to talk”, the man may think, “I’d rather be slaving in a Siberian salt mine.” Obversely, when a man says to a woman, “we need to talk”, she’ll utter a silent prayer of thanksgiving to God, and wants to say “when?, now?” and wonders if that good bottle of wine is still in the cupboard.
There’s a difference in her upset at his behavior and him as a person. But if she can’t get a behavioral change, it can lead to her anger at him as a person, and she may have to leave, one way or another.
When a woman is angry at a man, I’ll often ask him, “Is it true (i.e. is she right)- yes or no?” He will often go into a ‘monkey dance’ of blame, excuses or projection. It can take a lot of work on my part go get him to understand she doesn’t want to hate him, she wants to support him - as a person she wants to and does love him. But when the man is filled with his own self-deprecatorium (I just made that up, lol), she has a tremendous battle ahead of her. And often she will lose.
I:“How long have you known it would end up this way? (She has left him).
He:“I’ve always known.”
Switch the genders, and the same thing happens as well.
The Danger of too much Self-Affirmation
I was recently partying with an acquaintance of some middle age, who was engaged to a friend of mine. I had always sensed him as quite full of himself. He had come across a list of some ten sexual milestones, which he proceeded to read aloud and then claim to have accomplished “every one of them”. My respect for him immediately decreased another 50% - as did my (unspoken) psychological evaluation of him.
My public response was to claim I’d “probably accomplished around 70%.” It’s a personal rule of mine that the differential range between braggadocio (pseudo self-affirmation) and truth should be at least a silent 20%.
I know my sexual value as a man at that party far out-paced his. Also I was embarrassed for my friend his fiancée.
Affirmation from Between The Lines
Let me reinforce that my use of healthy self-affirmation here is a generally silent sense that emanates from one’s heart - where it is tended and nourished. And in the conversations and contending of friends, family, and lovers, it comes from an ability to read between the lines of conversation, and even in the silences.
It’s in the place where love resides, seeking to do its work.
Feed it, and let it feed you. And that which is not, or is no longer, you - will slowly wither away.
I began here with a (sigh) fantasy weight-loss regimen -even though I’ve never been able to make it work, at least for myself. But using the same structure and philosophy, it does work to change our sense of self, both in thought and practice, by consciously monitoring and changing our self-talk.
Now I still want a weight-loss program with the same structure and philosophy. And I do like the idea, in many areas of life - feed (only) what you want to keep alive.That I believe can also change the world as well.
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