Category: Insecurity

Breakups, The Greatest Love, & Healthy vs. Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Painful Emotions

Heartbreak: It’s a killer. If you’ve experienced a breakup before, you’re familiar with the emotional, mental, and physical toll it takes on us. Whether it’s the end of a friendship, a dating relationship, or a marriage, the breakup and grieving process can come with intense pain.

A few months ago, I went through a breakup.

Feelings of loss and insecurity especially bothered me at first. These are some of my specifically “triggering” emotions, causing me to think thoughts that made me vulnerable to my struggles. To be honest with you, in my initial moments of weakness, I didn’t choose to use healthy coping tools. I wanted to isolate myself at home, I didn’t reach out to many people, and I even found myself returning to old eating disorder behaviors…

The one healthy thing that I did choose to do was pray for guidance and healing. But even though I was asking God to help me, I still turned inward and turned to my body for security. 

At the gym I tried to make myself feel better. But rather than inflate my self-esteem, I  ended up with the same deflated heart. 

I was trying to console myself on my own – trying to feel “good enough” and “lovable” without leaning on any other person. Despite my rebellion, God swooped in and reminded me that I already am worthy; and that he loves me enough to pursue me.

God pursued me. 

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 121:2 “He heals the brokenhearted.”

The day after the breakup, I felt this gentle nudge on my heart that I should go to an event at church. Surprisingly, I decided to emerge from my cave of grief that evening. I didn’t try to hide my melancholy mood at church, but I didn’t go seeking sympathy, attention, or connection.

However, while I was there, three people came to me and initiated some very special and unexpected conversations. They were people who I wouldn’t necessarily go to for help; yet I received love, validation, hugs, and words of encouragement from them. When I went to bed that night, my heart was full; and I remembered that I’m worthy of love. 

I really felt like God was using his people – the church family – to speak truth and show his love to me when I needed it most. 

The next day, I turned to some of my not-so-helpful “coping tools” again. But God’s love proved stronger than my rebellion. Again, he pursued me through his people. While I was at home, three different people sent me texts saying things like, “Hey Jess, I was just thinking about you,” “How are you?”, “Can we talk soon?”, and “Let’s set up a time to hang out!” 

As much as I wanted to isolate myself during my time of insecurity, people were coming to me, pulling me out of my pity, showing me that I was worth their time and connection, and loving me at the right time.

Those connections, and the words of encouragement that followed, quickly began to build me up. People supported me. They inadvertently made me realize that I didn’t need to be so insecure or question my value. It’s cool to me that those friends reached out to me, not knowing what I had been feeling. I truly think this was an act of God.

Psalm 94:18-19 “Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

What’s even cooler is that this pattern continued for the next few days: I would turn to my Eating Disorder, but then I would connect with someone; they would encourage me; and I would momentarily snap out of my mental turmoil. 

To end that week, God reminded me of my value in an even more unique and powerful way. I attended my friend’s baptism service. Seeing my friend joyfully and publicly display how Jesus had transformed his life filled my heart with happiness. But what made the moment even sweeter was remembering that I was the one who introduced him to Jesus Christ. 

As I sat there, I could hear God saying to me, “Jessica, not only are you worthy and loved by me and by others, but you have the ability to change people’s lives! The most important thing about you is not your body or what others think about you – it’s that you can draw people into my Kingdom. 

Right then I started to tear up, and I felt the weight of all my insecurities fall off my shoulders. 

There’s two things I’d love for you to take away from this story:

1.) God loves us enough to pursue us! His love is stronger than our rebellion. He can draw near to us in our heartbreak, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy, and remind us that we’re made whole and complete in him. And I think sometimes he specifically uses his people to clearly and audibly speak the truths that we need to hear.

I love that when God chases after us, we get to remember that we’re cared for and seen by our heavenly Father; and we learn that it’s okay to rely on him when we feel weak. Like these verses say:

2 Corinthians 1:4-5, 9 “[God] comforts us in all our troubles. . .our comfort abounds through Christ. . .that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”

2.)  The other point that I want to stress is this:

The coping tools that I turned to (my eating disorder and isolation) did not cure my insecurities.

I think that a lot of us turn to self-destructive or unhelpful things when we’re insecure, lonely, heartbroken, etc. And those with eating disordered or introverted tendencies especially turn to our bodies or isolation when we feel insecure. But I found that what really made me feel better was connecting with people. Connection paired with a little bit of vulnerability created the opportunity for so much encouragement and healing! 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 13, he urged the Christians not to “think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” I won’t go into full Bible student mode to explain what this means; but I know that turning to my body for feelings of control and security would qualify as a fleshly desire. Paul advised them instead to “clothe” themselves with Jesus and to fight their battles with “the armor of light.” I love this! To me it reaffirms that Jesus is the key to getting through external pressures and trials and to overcoming internal conflicts as well.

So my friend, I want to remind you that you are valuable and loved. If God would pursue me, I know he would easily come after you too! He wants to be the source of your security and for you to feel whole and complete, because you’re his child. the Bible says clearly that nothing can separate us from his love, and that he’s close to the brokenhearted. He wants to hold our hand through the trials of life and for us to depend on his fatherly affection rather than trying to do everything and feel good enough on our own strength.

Comments and questions are welcomed! Have a nice week!

 

An Unexpected Part of the Process

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on August 11, 2017. It is my most popular, viewed, and shared post to date. 

I recently experienced something unfamiliar. I lost control for a moment. It was scary. It was ugly. It was uncomfortable; and it was more important than I realized in the moment.

It was during one of my weekly support group sessions. (Yes, I go to group therapy.) As usual, everyone was going around the circle to “check-in,” and share their thoughts and struggles. It just so happened that my turn would be last.

Some parts of the heavy discussion were just really resonating with me that night. The others’ vulnerability was giving me tons of insight into my own self; and I was mentally “connecting the dots.” As we neared the end of the night, I had come to some pretty  significant realizations about why my eating disorder developed in the first place, and how it has deeply impacted my life. (But those may be shared in a separate blog post).

I felt an extreme emotional wave. My face went somber. My stomach tensed up. My pulse rose. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“NO! DON’T CRY. NOT HERE. NOT IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE,” I thought to myself. The song from Frozen may as well have been playing: “CONCEAL, DON’T FEEL. DON’T LET THEM KNOW!”

You see, I don’t typically cry in front of others. I don’t like it; I don’t like people to see my weakness; I don’t even like the way it feels. However, as soon as my therapist looked at me and said a word to me, I lost itThe flood gates opened; the tears came; and all eyes were on me.

My therapist later explained to me – and I further processed – that I had truly connected to my emotions in that moment at therapy. I felt my feelings, and I let myself express them. Normally, I shove those strong feelings down, and they sit in my stomach in the form of anxiety, until the “wave” of emotions passes. Or in the past, I would use my eating disorder behaviors as coping tools. I know these aren’t the best means of dealing with my emotions, but for the longest time I have feared the vulnerability of  crying in front of people, feeling weak, or pondering painful memories.

In fact, two days prior, I had a strong emotional experience in church. As I was listening to the sermon, I reflected, felt convicted, and felt tears form behind my eyes. But what did I do about it? I shoved the feelings down and let anxiety build up instead. Despite the fact that I did connect to my emotions that night, I chose to hide them.

I don’t know what caused me to give in to the tears and reveal my true feelings that night at therapy; but it seems to have been a turning point for me. My therapist actually informed me that my healthy emotional release was something that happens to anyone who is in the process of healing and recovering from an eating disorder! I had no idea!

It turns out that most people with eating disorders have a hard time recognizing, regulating, coping with, and healthfully expressing painful emotions. An article I found explains that most of us turn to “restriction, binging, purging, or exercise” as a way to numb the pain. I think the following paragraph explains it perfectly:

“Eating Disorder behaviors are often ‘used’ to serve the one suffering. . .He or she turns to eating disordered behavior to keep from pulling up the deeper emotional ‘roots,’ and deal with those face to face. Instead, they may binge to escape from feeling painful things or avoid feeling at all. They may restrict to pursue numbness, suppress difficult memories or decisions before they even reach consciousness. All of these behaviors serve to unhealthfully suppress the proper recognition, regulation and expression of emotional states.”

I may have thought I had dealt with the hardest parts of my recovery already; but it turns out that I still have some over-due emotional healing to do. Thankfully, I know that this process is in full effect. Just three days ago I was talking to a good friend about some serious stuff. We were processing something difficult, mourning together, and supporting each-other. As I was affirming her, I instantly felt tears well up again. It caught me so off guard. But this time, I let them come. And ya know what? She cried with me! It was beautiful.

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It was absolutely liberating! To be able to finally cry in front of someone – without fear of judgement – was new and amazing. To share an intimate moment with a friend – and feel a strong connection with her – was beautiful! To be completely vulnerable – and still accepted – was healing for me.

It seems that I’m flourishing into a more emotionally healthy girl; and I’m so excited about what this means for my future. Not only will I gain a healthier mental state, but also deeper bonds with people, more genuine conversations, and a softened heart.

Beauty

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This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on July 3, 2017. 

One of the most frustrating things about being a female is the ever-changing and multi-faceted beauty standards.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time watching Disney princess movies and playing with Barbies and Polly Pockets. All of the female characters I had in front of me shared the same qualities: small waists, flat stomachs, long legs, and skinny arms. Along these lines, the mannequins in clothing stores have always had those same features. So, growing up, I naturally believed that those physical features were the norm. They seemed to be the marks of a beautiful woman.


I also remember being exposed to the tv show “America’s Next Top Model” at a very young age and thinking, “Oh, is that what women are supposed to look like?” The women on that show were your stereotypical model: tall and skinny. Not only were they unhealthfully thin, but they were being praised and photographed in little to no clothing.

It was impossible for me to escape the image that was (at least back then) the “ideal” body.

During my younger teenage years, I thought of fitness as something to keep people healthy; to simply increase the heart rate; and to maintain a healthy weight. At some point though, a stronger emphasis on muscle definition and weight lifting seemed to arise for women. Now, fitness is even more focussed on achieving a “toned” body. It has seemingly become a new obsession. For a long time now, I’ve noticed this craze we have for perfecting our muscles and limbs.

Embarrassingly enough, the other day I caught myself in the middle of this thought process: I was at a red light in my car, and out the window I saw a woman jogging. She had a long line of definition going down her leg. While sitting there, I thought, “Wow, she looks really good. I wish I looked like that when I run. That’s some nice leg definition. Dang, I have a lot of work to do…” But then I stopped myself and thought, “WAIT WHAT AM I THINKING??!!!”

A line on my leg?! A stupid line?? Who says a line of muscle definition is a mark of beauty?!

Well sadly, our culture does. Through media, our culture sends us messages like…

Be skinny and tall.

Be toned or ripped.

Have a thigh gap and flat tummy.

Buy expensive makeup and trendy clothes.

Spend your time at the gym, and try this cool diet.

These messages have been perpetuated for decades, causing us to believe that we’ll achieve true beauty if we listen to them.

But we can’t ever achieve some perfect image, because it is ever-changing and perceived differently by every-one!

For example, some people say that “natural beauty”– less makeup – is better. While some people are avid makeup wearers who devote lots of time to it.

Or even yesterday, I was surprised to hear a guy say that “super skinny arms were not attractive” to him.

Or while the media most often emphasizes skinny, tall, and straight as the “ideals,” now days, more people are acting like curvy hips, thighs, (and yes butts) are a thing to be desired. Meghan Trainor’s song came out a while ago, proclaiming that “boys like a littlemore booty to hold.” Suddenly, a woman’s curves are like a trophy.

fullsizeoutput_b14So obviously, we have varying opinions on what is visually pleasing. That’s why it’s so important to simply embrace who YOU are!

We all have special genetics that have made us look the way we do. At our most clinically normal weight, we may not look like the media wants us to. Our natural body (without hours at the gym to tweak it) may not be what we necessarily want. We may not look like our peers, either. We all have a different looking “healthy body.” Our composition and build is unique to each of us; and it is dependent on our family tree. (Your close relatives can give you a clue as to where your extra weight may be carried and how you are proportioned). If we try to change our own genetics, we’re going to be miserable. If we compare ourselves to people who are from super different looking families, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice.

If I waited around forever to have a flat stomach and skinny arms, I’d be waiting till I die. Those things just aren’t natural for me. Even in my eating disorder, I wasn’t really able to achieve the thin arms I wanted. But I’m learning to accept this!

So maybe you have wider hips. Maybe you’re naturally tall and thin. Maybe you have a short torso and a tummy that rolls over your waistline. Maybe you have small arms and thicker thighs. No matter what you’ve got, you are beautiful. There will never be one image of an”ideal body.” There will probably never be a consensus about what is most physically attractive and desirable. So join me in embracing your own unique body, and let’s stop striving for a non-existent idea of perfection.

My Frenemies: The Mirror and the Scale

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on February 10, 2017. It’s one of my personal favorites!

I can’t count how many times I have looked at myself in the mirror and felt negatively about my reflection.

I can’t count how many times I have stepped onto the scale and felt my heart sink.

I can’t count how many times I stared at my thighs or the number on the scale, hoping and waiting for them to change.

So much anxiety, so many tears, and so much self-disgust have resulted from what I saw on a piece of glass and a metal, square thing.

The truth is, I have allowed the mirror and the numbers on the scale to determine the way I feel about myself for the majority of my life; But now I’m done with that!

I have recently discovered how to separate my emotions from these two objects, and they no longer hold the same power over me that they used to.

How have I done this? What has changed? Let me tell you. It’s pretty simple, actually.

fullsizerenderThe first step was covering my full length mirror! I took the challenge by someone I respect, and I successfully kept it covered it for about 10 weeks (I still used my bathroom mirror for my hair and makeup).  At first it was difficult, and I felt really weird when I’d hop out of bed every morning and not see myself on the wall. But I quickly realized that the mirror was something I sought comfort and validation from. In a strange way, the reflection I saw first thing in the morning was able to set the tone for my whole day. If I happened to feel good about my body, I’d go about my day with more ease. On the other hand, if I didn’t like what I saw, I would feel glum and distracted by  it most of the day. I would most likely wear clothes that were baggier and maybe even eat less.

Once I realized the behavioral tendencies and unhealthy emotional connection I had with my mirror, I was sad. These realizations, however, motivated me to disconnect myself from the mirror and keep it covered it up.

After a month or so, I noticed that I was much less insecure about my appearance; I cared less about my insecure areas; and I flinched less at my reflection when I looked in public mirrors. After another month, I felt almost zero body negativity. Eventually I was able to look at my full body and accept it in its daily state. I have also been able to appreciate all that my body does for me instead of fixating on how it looks.

Next came the scale.

I have always known I shouldn’t let the number bother me. I’ve always known that weighing myself obsessively was not healthy. Yet, in my eating disorder, I couldn’t stop.

Well, several weeks ago I was fed up with it. Because I’m in a much healthier state of mind than I used to be, I know that my over-all holistic “health” is not solely defined by pounds. Whether I’m gaining, losing, or stabilizing weight only tells me a small bit of information about how healthy I am. Realistically, I probably should only be having my doctor or dietician weigh me. They can use the information to help me make changes if needed.

So, in order to separate myself from my feelings attached to the scale, there was only one thing to do. After 5 years of having it in my bathroom, I put the scale away. And guess what: I don’t miss it! It was much easier to give up than I thought. I don’t miss the ritual of dread and anxiety that I used to engage in. I have decided to measure whether I’m “gaining weight” only by paying attention to how my clothes fit. I have allowed my dietician to weigh me instead.

Now that the mirror and scale hold less power over me, I feel so much better about myself! Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I don’t always love the way I look. But I’m much quicker to measure my self-worth by my internal characteristics and to thank my body for its hard work. The two things that used to make me cry – my weight and the “cushioning” on top of my bones – seem much less important now.

The reason I share this story with you is because I know that I am not the only one who allows the mirror and scale to dictate my feelings. I want to remind you of a couple things.

1. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your perception is largely influenced by “your mind’s eye. In other words, you might look at yourself and make a totally false judgement about your body, weight, or what other people must think about you, because you have your own unique standards and opinion of yourself. Even if you hyper-focus on one “flaw” or roll, or think to yourself “AHH, I’m gaining weight!” other people probably aren’t judging you as harshly. It’s all about our unique perceptions.

2. The mirror and scale are not the best measuring tools for us, and they tend to generate a lot of negativity. Why torture yourself?

3. If you truly want to track whether you are healthy, try determining that in other ways.

4. Just like any addiction or bad habit, the best way to let go of these two harmful things is to give them up. I promise that it’s not impossible.

5. You are beautiful and wonderful no matter what that number says and no matter how much “fat” you see on the mirror. You are one of God’s masterpieces. He made no mistakes with you.

6. Focus on the functionality of your body. If you appreciate what your body and mind do for you each day, you won’t be so easily disappointed next time you step on the scale or look in the mirror.

I hope this helps or encourages someone! Go out today, and use your body to change the world!

Our Bodies: Up for Discussion?

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on May 7, 2016. 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature. . . For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” – 1 Samuel 16:7

fullsizeoutput_731During the time that I was in the midst of my eating disorder–and when my poor self image was at its peak–I got more comments on my body than ever before. You’d think that because I was purposely trying to be skinny, it would make me happy to get validation that I was small. But really, it made me feel disgusting. Many of the comments were made in a negative, concerned, awkward, or nosy way.

The comments ranged from a simple, “wow, you’re really small,” to a flat-out, “you’ve gotten so skinny! Do you have an eating disorder?!?” (A totally inappropriate thing to say while hugging someone at a party, in a room full of people).

During those months I would run into people in public, and sometimes the first thing they would mention was my body. The excitement I felt to see someone I had’t seen in a while was quickly replaced by shame,  frustration, and mostly hurt.

I understand–and I understood even then–that some people may have been genuinely concerned for me. But I did not FEEL cared about when they approached it by informing me that I “disappeared” when I turned sideways. Or when they told me–in front of other people–that I was “withering away!!!!”

They didn’t know that I was fighting the most miserably intense battle of my life. My mind was a war zone. My self-esteem was more fragile than my body.

All along, I knew the truth of what I was doing…I had the Holy Spirit convicting me, and I was sometimes really fighting to overcome my disorder. But those who made the comments could’t know that. Other days I was not fighting my disorder so hard. I was fighting to make my body skinner and look pleasing for the world. So, with all of the negative remarks, I felt like I could never win!

During that period of time I questioned why people didn’t comment on my appearance before I lost so much weight. Or why people felt it was their job to do so. If they really cared for my health, I wished they would come to me privately.

So after all of that, I’ve been curious about what is truly appropriate for us to say to one-another. Is it okay for us to comment on someone else’s body at all? We never know what someone thinks about themself. We don’t know what battle they’re fighting. We don’t know how strong or fragile their confidence is. We don’t know their past with food and weight.

Our words have a huge effect on people. The comments people made still echo through my mind sometimes. I can remember exactly who said what and how I felt.

One point I want to make is that the same ideas still apply to those struggling with being overweight. Or for making positive comments on someone’s body. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight because it’s healthy for them, a nice comment might be really encouraging! But it’s still risky. What if your words mean so much to them that they take it too far? By telling them, “you look really great,” you’re implying that their external appearance matters. That there is a measure of “good and bad” bodies. They might start to crave validation from people more and more.

By all means, still tell someone they’re beautiful! It’s just a fine line we’re walking on, people. So please. Be careful with what you say about someone’s physical body. There are insecure and hurting people all around us. (I’m preaching mainly to the teenagers and young adult women). We’re all children created in God’s image. If you’re not sure what to say to someone, compliment their necklace, their shoes, or their hairstyle first! Always be kind and considerate. And most importantly, how about building up their character? It’s cliche, but, “what’s on the inside is more important than the outside.” What truly matters is our hearts, our attitudes, and our relationship with Christ. Tell others when you see them DO something impressive or impactful. Tell them why you appreciate them. Build them up for being kind, loving, funny, brave, etc…

I don’t have the exact solution. But I just don’t want anyone to feel the things I felt. To be scarred, embarrassed, or made to feel like their body is up for discussion and judgment. Let’s be careful. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”