One of Carl Jung’s popularly paraphrased statements—“That which you resist, persists” never really resonated with me before I started thinking about my body and my eating in a more mindful and kind way. In fact, I didn’t get it at all. In my world, and through many years of endeavoring to “fix” my body, I thought resisting was the way to go. I thought it was required.
Resistance was basically my middle name
I resisted a lot of things in the name of improving myself—and at times even felt smug about it. ☹ I resisted eating foods I really wanted. I resisted listening to my body’s calls for food when I was hungry, thinking my scheduled eating times were more appropriate. I resisted resting even though I was tired and sore from physical exercise. And like many women (although I’m sure some men do it too), I even resisted buying new clothes if it meant that the number on the tag might be greater than the number I wanted to see.
But now, I think I’m starting to “get it” a bit more, just from reflecting on my own experiences and through studying mindfulness and acceptance as they relate to food, eating and body image. I wish I could say that I achieved a big “aha” moment through studying Jung’s work, although that wasn’t the case (putting some reading on Jung on my summer to-do list though). If you, too, feel like you've spent half (or more) of your life fighting with your body, maybe you will find some understanding of yourself—and maybe even some peace—by considering the following...
Your inner life will find a way out
Using your energy to continually resist your nature is damn tiring! The amount of time you spend monitoring yourself, contorting yourself to fit some notion of what you’re “supposed” to be, berating yourself, punishing yourself—that time could be spent on other, much more meaningful and satisfying pursuits.
When you spend your days resisting, you have given your power to the thing that you don’t want, instead of to the things you do want.
Every minute spent fighting, complaining about or resenting things that are deep down inside us is time we haven’t spent in understanding what it is we are truly fighting against. I’m not a therapist, a psychologist, psychiatrist, philosopher or theorist, but even to me it became obvious that if I exhaust myself in the fight, the resistance, then the very thing I wished to be rid of was simply perpetuated.
Waving my white flag
In retrospect, this whole idea of #resistance and persistence seems very simple. Why didn’t I understand this earlier? No, I didn’t reach any “rock bottom” or have a gigantic personal or physical crisis—all of which I acknowledge can trigger this kind of revelation. Maybe it is a reflection of age (I’m in my mid-50s, so maybe), you know, the older and wiser thing. Anyway, who knows, but I will say that, when it comes to one’s body image, things don’t always reveal themselves right away. #Bodyimage issues are not easy to wade through, and it’s a more nuanced topic than some realize or acknowledge. Hashing through all of this stuff over and over again is the most dismal cycle, and one I am done hanging onto. (If you’ve got a white flag…or a white dishtowel, feel free to join me.)
So how do we get rid of this thing?
We have to open ourselves to a level of acceptance that at the very least allows us to observe our inner demons, to examine them and learn the lessons they are trying to teach us. This requires some level of acceptance of what is. That doesn’t mean giving up exactly. It means being mindful and accepting enough to recognize and acknowledge that something is there inside. Once you do that, and explore it a bit, you’re in a much better place to do something about it.
Accepting that bad things may have happened to you—you were treated poorly, you were wronged in some way—doesn’t make those things go away of course. But it does help release their hold on you.
And if what happened to you was traumatic, you likely just want to tamp it down and push it away from your conscious awareness because it will hurt too much to resurrect the trauma. These kinds of hurts can absolutely find their way into your daily life through some physical manifestation such as illnesses, body conditions like weight gain or emotional issues. You may not realize these situations are linked to past hurts. I’m not a therapist, but a therapist can be so helpful in guiding you through the process of facing those inner demons in a way that is safe for you.
What would happen if you dedicated yourself to what you do want—instead of resisting what you don’t want? What could you accomplish or how would your life change if you focused on what you want instead of ruminating over what you don't want?
Choose the right wolf
Maybe you have heard the well-known parable (often attributed to the Cherokee people) in which a grandfather explains to his grandson that two wolves are fighting inside him—one evil and one good. The evil wolf represents things like anger, resentment, greed, self-pity, regret and ego, while the good wolf represents joy, love, humility, kindness, hope and compassion. The grandson asks “Which wolf wins?” to which the grandfather replies “The one you feed.”
Maybe this parable speaks to you in a way that Carl Jung doesn't. Either way, the concept of feeding the good, which sometimes means accepting certain things and moving on to focus on positive things, as opposed to feeding the bad through resistance or obsessively dwelling on the negative, is one that most of us can understand.
I am working on finding more ways and space in my life to nurture that good wolf; I hope you can, too.