Body Image: What DID Help (part 1)

The vast majority of us became extremely self-conscious and negative about our body after discovering our husband’s sexual addiction. As one woman put it, “I feel fairly second-hand, discarded, used... that I belong at Value Village.”

Last week we discussed the ways women try to tackle the low body image issue — that don’t ultimately help. These insights were taken from the May 2015 JHJ Body Image survey.

In the midst of those survey responses we got glimpses of how women were finding their way through to a healthier self-image. For example one respondent stated that, “Going to the gym, so that I look younger… only made me self-focused instead of focusing on hearing God’s affirmation for me.”

Over the next two weeks I’d like to share some of the techniques women said were helping them recover from the devastating pain they have experienced around their body image.

Exercising

(“for the right reasons”)

Ironically, while “working out a ton” was listed as a major “fail” for improving body image, a number of women did find that some exercise, and healthy eating, helped them. The one factor that determined whether exercise would help or hinder was motivation. When the goal is to change to please our husband, or other men, our self-image is unlikely to benefit long-term.

So what are good reasons to exercise? One respondent stated that physical fitness helped “my stress level and anxiety related to the discovery of SA.” Another woman expanded “exercising” to many types of physical activities that make her more relaxed: “I go hiking, go for walks, sit in the sun, pray, sing, do a puzzle. Whatever makes me happy, relaxed, and more at peace.”

Avoiding Comparisons

"Comparing myself to young women (I am 65) and to other women with beautiful bodies… is not healthy, holy, helpful or hopeful,” stated one wise respondent.

Another woman complained: “I never used to objectify women, but now (since discovery) I do." She went on to explain how she deals with this destructive habit. "I practice noticing it, stopping it by seeing them as a whole person (not a body part or a threat) so that I do not then do the same to myself... I also remind myself regularly that my dignity and value are never based on appearances. It is like going through puberty all over again.”

Boundaries and Consequences

Setting protective boundaries in our relationship with our husbands (when their behavior is poisonous to themselves, us and others) is important to many areas of our healing. Says one survey respondent, “I am not having sex with my husband because I need some space to figure things out. I need to think about my boundaries and what I want. Setting that boundary, has helped me find pieces of myself again.”

Other women noted that after leaving a husband unwilling to embrace recovery (a consequence for a broken boundary), their body image began to recover. However, one respondent noted that this is not automatic and that work still has to be done. “I don't care as much, but am still not satisfied with my body. I think not caring is not particularly healthy.”

Good Therapy

A number of women listed quality group and individual therapy as helpful to regaining a better body image. However, there are some types of specialist therapies that can actually be harmful. As one respondent put it: “Attending s-anon meetings in particular were useless to me.... much group therapy for ‘sex addicts and co-addicts’ shamed me more than helping.” She mentions however benefiting from more traditional therapies, as well as “art therapy and journaling... grief work and EMDR.”

Of course all of the women who participated in the survey have benefitted from the work of Marsha Means and the coaches at Journey to Healing and Joy.

Next week we'll look at the three most important factors in improving (or harming) our body image. These factors revolve around the question, "who are we taking our cues from."