For many years now, I’ve been working with women supporting and guiding them on their path of finding greater peace and joy in their bodies, and with the food they eat. In all that time, I’ve never seen an exception to one commonality I’ve noticed we all share: deep down, in some fundamental way, each of these women have the secret belief that it is better to give than to receive.
Even when deep down their heart knows otherwise, each woman I’ve met who struggles with food, their weight and body-image, holds by a certain notion: The belief they carry is that it is somehow selfish to receive what is needed and wanted, and to set the boundaries in relationship with others that enable this. It can be near impossible for these women to set such boundaries, especially if they suspect that doing so would somehow confirm to the other person what she already secretly believes is true about herself: that she is ‘selfish’.
The belief that to put one’s needs first is selfish can cause all sorts of distortions and distresses in our lives. It can put us in positions where we are not caring for ourselves: where we allow ourselves to become exhausted, ill, hungry, resentful, and burned out. We can find ourselves pushing ourselves beyond our limits and extending beyond our centres to give and give and give, with the secret hope that somehow, through all this giving, we will someday – surely! – receive what the deepest hungriest parts of ourselves so long for….
…. And when that day doesn’t come, we either override our true appetites even further through under-eating and gruelling physical regimes, or else try to stuff that hunger away (often secretly, late in the evening, once all those ‘takers’ are at last out of our hair and off our radars!) with our very own precious choice ‘treat’ foods: perhaps the only things in our lives that we believe give but never take.
But these ‘treats’ do take. And so does this cycle. Our attempt to find a balance of giving and receiving through manipulating our food takes away any chance we would otherwise have at experiencing lasting health and deeply felt serenity.
When the balance of giving and receiving in our relationships is out-of-whack, it causes a deep deficit inside. This deficit causes an aching hunger within that ‘treat’ foods at best give us temporary respite from, and at worse make us physically, emotionally and spiritually ravaged. Sadly, for many women worldwide, the day never arrives when this maddening soul-hunger is permanently soothed, satisfied, and sated. Cycles of over-eating, under-eating and eating foods that do not nourish the body distract and prevent many women from finding lasting freedom and relief on all levels of their being.
I believe that we have been conditioned to believe over many generations to believe that to give is better than to receive, and that it’s selfish to receive. No wonder it’s so hard to shake these habits of the mind! There’s a lot of momentum behind these thoughts that our histories have gathered over time. Go gentle with yourself with great patience and kindness. Learn to acknowledge even the tiniest of wins on your path to releasing some of these toxic thought-patterns within yourself, for the sake of your food and body freedom.
To begin to make the necessary changes can feel scary to the parts of us that fear unsettling the status quo of some of our relationships, and of our lives in general. People in our lives may have become used to our compulsive giving, and even benefit greatly from it. People may have come to expect it and take it for granted. We can find ourselves feeling trapped in certain dynamics with a burdensome sense of obligation, afraid to do other than give without expectation of receiving in turn, lest we lose their love, approval and friendship.
Recovery begins when we ask ourselves a potent and challenging question regarding any endeavour, relationship, or decision in our lives: “How is this serving me?” These simple five words hold the key to our freedom. To ask this question regularly with curiosity and open-mindedness brings seeds of possibility for new more nourishing and fruitful states directions in our lives: ones that support rather than sabotage our efforts to be free from our food and body-weight obsession.
“How is this serving me?”
Oooohh…. Even as I type this question, I notice a part of me to my right, just behind my shoulder, whispering, “That’s selfish!” in my ear. I stop and breathe… I listen…. As I reconnect with my belly and body and give it some breath, I am able to address it: “What is your role, critical one?”
No reply… then a sense from the empty hollow feeling in my chest that beneath the critical bite of “Selfish!” is a deep, tremulous fear.
“What’s the fear?” I ask the hollow hole in my upper chest.
The answer, intuitively: that unless I’m GOOD – continuously, lovingly, sacrificially, enduringly, angelically, unquestioningly, unwaveringly, divinely GOOD – I won’t be loved. And if I’m not loved, points out the critic, none of my needs will be met. So, it concludes, it MUST remind me that to even consider asking “How is this serving me?” is putting me at risk of losing love. And, for this part I am learning, to lose love is to lose life. No wonder it works so hard reminding me I’m selfish, trying to keep me on track with its schedule of giving-not-receiving!
I get what it’s saying, I really do. Love. This is, after all, the need that encompasses all needs. It’s the One. True. Need.
I’m now letting out a deeper breath and noticing the mini-trance I could easily have entered into in that moment, as I often have in the past: the sudden feeling that I “shouldn’t” write that question, “How is this serving me?” I shouldn’t share that this is a good question for food and body freedom. That it is selfish to share my idea that this is so. That to share this idea would be to lose your love. And to put you at risk of losing love too!
It’s a familiar place I get taken to by the part that spits “Selfish!” into my inner ear. It’s a flat place, devoid of possibility for change, a place where I feel trapped by my own self-imposed prison of endless giving without receiving. This place has kept me captive since before memory. And that’s where the conversation often ends, right there with, “Put others’ needs ahead of your own, or you’ll never get what you really want: you’ll never be truly loved.”
Perhaps because I’m sitting here, connecting with you, writing about this, I’m able to observe this from a fresher angle in this moment. Or perhaps the freshness and growth of a wider, deeper perspective has come slowly over years. For many years now I’ve practiced the consistency of true self-nourishment that led to my own emancipation from food and body obsession. Or perhaps my growing insight comes from all the many times I’ve witnessed these beliefs from the women I’ve sat with over many years and hundreds of hours… They’ve mirrored back to me notions I identify as trapping, preventing freedom. It has been easier to spot it in them but perhaps slower to be acknowledged in myself. This is often still my own blind spot: my harsh inner judger that keeps the imbalance of giving and receiving firmly entrenched…
It goes so deep! That’s because this conditioning is age-old, I believe. I see that it affects us all, but especially women. Picture your mother, aunts, grandmother, great-aunts, great-grandmothers… Connect with your intuition: did they hold these believes? That it is better to give than to receive? That to receive and to put ones needs first is selfish?
If so, how could we possibly feel otherwise than what was shown to us by training and example? Only through a quieter, stiller knowing within that it can be different for us, that we can be free.
It takes liberators to liberate. Any dis-ease caused by imbalances stuck in past thinking gets packaged up and handed on down the line. So here we are.
It’s up to us to enjoy unfolding this little by little, together, with great patience and self-love for ourselves and one another as we stumble. We must get out from under this toxic myth now, once and for all. Our liberation from food and body obsession depends on it, as well as the greater peace and freedom on all levels of our ourselves and our children, and for all future generations of women and men. We must.
How to get free from these beliefs if all those people in our bloodlines and blood-webs felt this way about how to behave in life? Good question. With some powerful qualities we all have in abundant supply when we remember to ask for the support we need from without and within. Courage, patience, kindness and radical thinking: taking a risk to feel and act another way, the willingness to make mistakes, say sorry if needed, and have another go; get messy in relationships and see that we don’t die as a result.
Those inner-critics that fear we’ll lose love may load still more on us and whisper or even shout in our ears, “Not only selfish, but disloyal! You’ll be rejected by the whole family, not to mention society as a whole: you’ll be ostracised!”
As always, a growing awareness of these messages and self-gentleness is a potent approach I find. The most effective changes are those that are consistent, manageable, sustainable, and grounded in our own sense of inner sufficiency.
I believe that our health within our bodies and our relationships with food depends on releasing these old, out-dated beliefs that so many of us are burdened with. And if that were not enough reason to create much-needed inner-change, there is another most delicious prize awaiting us as and when we untangle our minds from these myths: when we are fully resourced and deeply nourished as women creatively, financially, nutritionally, and physically, with enough time, rest, space, peace, fresh-air and inspiration we will in turn be able to bring our own infinite supply of joy, creativity, passion, courage, confidence and presence to effect much-needed changes in this crazy toxic battle-sight that the world has become.
I believe the future of humanity and the planet depends upon our own capacity as women to balance giving and receiving within ourselves. Just for today, let it start with us.
Ask yourself: How can I be open to receiving (even just a seed, a breath, a drop of …) what I truly, deeply need today? I challenge you to set a powerful intention by practicing this mantra at different moments throughout your day: “I am open to receive … I am open to receive … I am open to receive ….” In my experience, it can be truly remarkable what begins to happen as we open to life meeting our needs.
It’s essential for our human crisis that we learn how to receive in balance with our giving. The old structures of society are tumbling; they don’t work. They’re based on taking and not giving, and they’re poisoning our planet and endangering our species. We have to protect ourselves from burnout in this toxic culture by ensuring we are receiving what we need physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
These needs may not ever be fully met within this culture at this time in human history: so many hundreds of years have led to the imbalances we are seeing. The good news is that there is much we CAN do to keep ourselves nourished and well. And once our deepest needs are being met, we can give our energy and passion to playing a role within the current human crisis and enabling much-needed changes within our families and communities.
Our food and body obsession may have prevented us from knowing the nature of our essential role in life at this time, and how we can uniquely contribute to positive change in our communities. An imbalance between giving and receiving may have kept the food and body weight obsession in place for many years. However, as that shifts, we reclaim knowledge of the role we are here to play through the love and care of our planet and its people that only we can give.
Above is a meditation to support and guide you on your path to lasting food and body freedom through redressing the vital inner balance of giving and receiving in your life.