(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this holiday weekend. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
It seems I can never be happy with myself. I never feel pretty enough, or perfect enough in my looks. I go to the gym almost every day, but still my body is not how I think it should be. I try not to obsess about it, but I do. I’m afraid to get intimate with men I meet, because they might see the places where my body isn’t perfect. I know this is stupid, but its how I feel. How do I get out of this rut?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You are so much greater then your physical body. Do not diminish yourself in this way. No matter how perfectly your physical body fits your mental image of perfection, it will ultimately let you down. Ultimately, as you know, it is helpless against the forces of nature, and the aging process. Do not make the body your God, or you will set yourself up for a life of misery. Happiness found through the body is short-lived.
What are you really looking for here? Is it happiness? Is it to feel loveable, and to feel loved? There are many who have bodies others would die for who still are not happy and do not feel loved. A perfect body is not the answer to happiness or loveableness. I know you probably know this intellectually, but your thoughts and behaviors speak otherwise. If your goal is happiness, you need to change the road you are on. You are speeding down a path that does not lead to your goal.
Happiness and loveableness are not related to being “perfect” in the usual meaning of this word. Many are raised thinking these two concepts are correlated – but nothing could be further from the truth. Think about those in your life who you genuinely love. Do you love them for their “perfectness”? Think of those you know who are always perfect – in their looks, dress, actions, mannerisms, etc. Does their “perfectness” engender feelings of love in you? Are you attracted to them because of their perfectness? Chances are it’s harder to feel love towards those who need to be perfect, because you can’t get a glimpse of the genuine person. There’s too much gloss in the way. We love others (and ourselves) for our humanness. We are attracted to others for qualities such as their genuineness, their frailties, their openness, the light they carry, the adversities they struggle with, their virtues, and their ability to love.
Try to consciously work on changing your focus. Remind yourself you are loveable as you are. The more you recognize this, the more others will reflect this back to you. Focus instead on giving, loving, appreciating, feeling gratitude, and seeing beauty around you, for these activities bring joy to your heart. They allow you to feel love within your own heart. This allows you to experience your own loveableness, and the happiness that you are seeking.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2010 Chaitanya Counseling Services