I have spoken many times about my deep sense of inferiority, and the emotions that contributed to my obesity. Indeed, my emotional obesity was every bit as painful for me as my physical obesity. Whether or not one proceeded the other was unimportant. My physical size and my negative self-perception were tightly interwoven and ate at me with a constant, noxious mix of worthlessness and self-doubt.
I have also spoken about how I discovered a hidden belief system I carried inside that kept me from successfully finding a way to follow a healthy lifestyle. Beliefs like “It doesn’t matter if I lose weight, because I will always gain it back again” were so firmly ingrained that I started every new “diet” with a fatalistic sense of hopelessness. I had to uncover all those beliefs that were tied to my weight and find a way to write a new narrative in my head.
I could have stopped there, only looking for the links that led to my unhealthy behaviors—but I didn’t. Realizing the depth of my belief in my own inferiority, I decided I needed to purge all of it, whether it was intertwined with my weight or not. The emotional journey I took to do that was difficult and profound—and something of which I haven’t spoken or written before.
I had believed I was inferior for sixty years; this was a belief system grounded in cement and not easily broken down. It was also a belief that I had to be the one to address. It didn’t matter how many times someone told me I did a good job or Marc told me he loved me. I knew the “truth”—that if I was the one to do something, it could have been done better by someone else. I knew inside that I wasn’t lovable. Poor Marc—in the early years of our marriage, I would often respond to his affirmations of love with either an “I hope so” or “thank you,” as if his love was a sacrifice at the altar of my inadequacy.
Several years ago my friend Cinda nominated me to be one of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Women of the Year.” I was humbled and gratified by her belief in me, as I was by all the people who sent in letters of endorsement. Yet, even that external affirmation was made smaller in my mind because I was the one chosen instead of someone else. In the end, I was so grateful to have such wonderful friends who advocated for me, but I knew I didn’t deserve this honor.
These emotions that I spent a lifetime covering up had to be expunged, and my starting point was separating them from my mind. My emotions told me that I was “less than” others, but my own sense of logic told me that wasn’t true. I don’t believe that we are born with an inherent order of superiority or inferiority; rather, that we all have strengths and shortcomings, gifts and challenges. My faith tells me we are all equal and equally beloved in God’s eyes. This gave me a place to begin by acknowledging that these twisted emotions were not logical.
This deep self-contemplation also caused me to realize how often I was sending myself negative signals. “I can’t do that,” “I don’t deserve that,” “I’m not good enough”—I had a barrage of these messages attacking me every day. They had become deeply ingrained habits, an internal neuro-pathway firing so often that alternative pathways had atrophied. I had to open my inner ear to watch for these messages, then stop and refute it in my head. “I can do that,” “I do deserve that,” I am good enough.” Sometimes I even said the words aloud, to feel their power. Even today, there are times when I am exercising that I say “I deserve to be healthy and happy and I am worth the time it takes to exercise.”
My new habit of replacing the old negatives with positive language became more and more ingrained. Gradually, I realized that I was starting to send myself those positive affirmations without having to erase the negative thoughts first. These weren’t “pie in the sky” affirmations that ignored my own weaknesses and shortcomings. Rather, they were affirmations that gave me the space to consider my own capacity thoughtfully and logically.
Strangely, as I continued this amazing journey towards internal wholeness, I was able to look at my faults with good-natured humor rather than as serious fault lines along my personality. My belief in myself became a much sharper image of who I knew myself to be.
If I could do this for myself after six decades of self-flagellation, I imagine we can all find a way to rewrite a flawed internal narrative. It takes time and determination and attention. Yet, I cannot tell you the lightness of spirit I feel having finally set down that terrible burden I had placed upon myself. If you also carry such a burden, a good starting point is allowing yourself to believe in you. You are so completely worth the effort!