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 zoom in, hyperaware, to “problem zones”, nothing good, nothing caring, spinning in your mind. Just problems, that we feel no one else lives with other than ourselves.
To then make matters worth you click onto Instagram only to spend the next hour scrolling through picture after picture of “perfect” pictures, bikini shots with legs up to your eyeballs, green smoothies, and tanned skin.
Instantly you’re filled with unnecessary guilt and regret.
Everyone appears 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,
Maybe I should start a new diet?
I need to gym more. If only i looked like the other girls I’d be happier?
No wonder I’m single…?
It is estimated that 1 in 100 will suffer from some form of eating disorder, body dysmorphia or muscle dysmorphia.
So it’s unsurprising that an increase in disordered eating and body insecurities positively correlates with social media usage and the internalisation of “thin body ideals”, levels of anxiety and depression(Tiggemann, 2004; Yamamiya, 2005).
What we feed our minds with literally has the power to transform our personal growth, impact self-esteem and self-confidence
We live in a warped society whereby beauty, weight and shape equates to our self worth, happiness and success.
Even dating apps have us sold on the belief that perfection is another swipe away, so rarely people stick with a first choice, content on investing time in that person, but out of curiosity and fear of rejection we continue increasing our chances of finding the ideal “perfect” match based largely on appearances.
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.
For years during my recovery I followed body building accounts and watched endless “What I eat in a day” Vlogs, trying to work out what was normal, how I should be and what I should be doing to get this “perfect” physique and with it unlock this “perfect” lifestyle.
All it gave me was obsession, self-criticism, and endless comparisons.
All I was giving those accounts was my time and a belief that their version of “healthy” wasn’t disordered, obsessed, attractively wrapped in a “diet-industry” bow.
These comparative behaviours perpetuated the negative self-talk, and I listened without challenging, without second guessing.
The problem is the more you allow yourself to listen, and believe these thoughts the more they stick like glue, becoming hardwired habitual thought processes, old records, 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!
G E T T I N G P O S I T I V E
Negative self-talk is poisonous and often is a reflection of the faulty, internalised beliefs you hold about yourself, that are built up through experiences.
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 is no quick fix.
But as you practice identifying the common thought patterns you slip into, and knowing how to challenge them, you can begin to change your responses, creating a happier, healthier mindset that is resilient in the face of comparisons.
4 Common Cognitive Errors & How to Challenge Them
1_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.
2_Comparing 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 favourably.
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.
4_The Magnifying Glass:
You have tunnelled 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.