Perception is a quirky thing.
Because, sometimes, lurking in the not-too-hidden recesses of our minds, is a part of us that wants to keep us in pain, shame, hopelessness. And it often it does this by lying to us. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
And we believe . . .
We must learn to become mindful of its stories, and question the veracity of our thinking. So we can be happy and at peace. Living in truth.
For example . . .
A while ago I was working with a client who was in some serious distress. She was a cute, perky, attractive woman. Athletic, accomplished, intelligent. Consciously, she had initially come in to see me to address some issues in her marriage. Less consciously, she came to address her marriage to herself.
As a matter of habit she wasn’t loving, honoring or cherishing herself very well. And the culprit, the reason, the excuse for this lack of self-regard and self-reverence was . . . cellulite. It was so bad, she told me, she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror, couldn’t undress in front of her husband, wouldn’t wear shorts or a bathing suit.
Because of this, she was living in a tortured hell, at war with her hideous thighs.
Over several sessions we explored and addressed various aspects of her relationship with herself, and her relationship with her husband. Self-perception and self-care, communication and assertiveness, the lies and truth of thought, and the nature of real love.
She was becoming happier and more peaceful, and her marriage was improving. Life held hope.
We also explored what cellulite might mean . . . A texturing of tissue below the skin? Or proof of one’s worthiness, beauty, deservingness of love, or not?
Then one day, as she sat in front of me, again bemoaning the state of her thighs, I thought, however terrifying, that she was ready to face the problem head-on. To really meet the beast inhabiting her legs. So gently I suggested, “It’s time for us to look.”
We got quiet and got ready.
I imagined an endless field of dimples, and voluminous mounds of pokey cottage cheese.
A world of cratered skin that offended and turned away the eye.
She was wearing a skirt that day, and as she gently raised it up, we waited in gory anticipation for the Truth to be unveiled.
This was momentous. This brave revealing . . .
But look as we might, there was nothing to be found.
We moved more into the light. She turned and prodded, poked and probed.
Surely it had to be there somewhere . . .
I looked at her, curious and quizzical. “You have no cellulite!” I said.
Either it had suddenly vanished, or somehow, she had misperceived.
We looked again. And I asked her to speak the truth.
“I have no cellulite?” she said, as if asking a question.
I invited her to say it again, as an affirmation, as simple statement of fact.
A moment passed. And I watched as her whole world began to reconfigure. Somehow, she saw, she had been lying to herself. And this nemesis, this phantom had always been just that. A figment of her imagination. An example of what we all do to ourselves, in one way or another, to keep our self-hatred alive.
In short: a lie.
There’s a diagnosis in psychology called “body dysmorphic disorder.” This is when a person is excessively concerned and preoccupied by a minor or imagined defect in their physical appearance. It is what allows the anorexic to pull taut skin back from a skeletal frame and exclaim, “See!? See how fat I am!?”
My client had based her self-esteem on a fiction, and now the truth could set her free. She left my office that day, both bewildered and relieved. And returned the following week, happy.
Settling in, smiling, she said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about our session from last week. And what I’ve realized is . . . even if I have cellulite, I am still loveable.”
I sat there, in stunned disbelief.
See how insistent the lie becomes?!
“What’s wrong with that statement?” I asked her.
She was confused. She thought she’d gotten it right.
We waited, but she couldn’t figure it out.
“You don’t have cellulite!” I finally exclaimed. “We established that!”
It was a kind of amnesia. A game the negative ego plays: ‘You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re unworthy, you have cellulite!’ it taunts. All lies. None true. And so, we fall back into trance, into the dream of self-hatred.
And so, we began again . . .
“Oh, right,” she said, remembering and correcting. “That was a lie, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s always been a lie. And still is.
“But you’re right on one count . . . Even if you had cellulite, you are lovely, precious, worthy, good enough.”
And in that moment she got it, and affirmed, “Yes, I am!”