“The body is the home of intimacy…it has an impeccable memory”
What impact does our bodies hold and how does it affect intimacy? How does lack of intimacy within ourselves show up in our intimacy with others? When there is a disconnect, what does restoring that connection look like? These are critical questions that can give you insight into how at home you feel in your body.
Many people may think of intimacy as actions with others such as quality time, physical affection, or sex. Though these are a part of intimacy, it’s not the only factor nor the most important. Intimacy begins with ourselves- and that entails feeling at home in our bodies. However, the body keeps the score- which means it has an impeccable memory. The impact that occurs is housed in our bodies and can interrupt the intimacy we feel with ourselves. Two common factors that either impact us or interrupt intimacy are body image and trauma!
Body Image. Body image plays a major part in how much intimacy we can achieve with ourselves. How we think and feel about ourselves physically, and how we believe others see us is body image. A healthy body image may look like; feeling comfortable in your body, acceptance of your body, giving your body what it needs and wants, having appropriate spacial and sensation awareness. A negative body image may look like; someone who quite often feels uncomfortable in their body, not wanting to accept a current state or changes about the body, lack of respect or care for the body and lack of body cues.
What can affect body image?
Biological changes and environmental influences. The natural changes our bodies undergo, biological changes, can impact our body image. An example of a common biological change that affects body image is pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, a mother experiences many emotions around adjusting to the progressive changes in her body, and these changes can impact body image. Environmental influences also impact our body image. Messages we received from our primary care givers, their perceived body image, and listening to their dialogue of how they talk about their own bodies contributes to the messages we begin to internalize as a young age. These biological and environmental influences can contribute to a healthy or unhealthy body image.
If your mirror could talk, what tea would it spill?
The Body Image Spectrum
Body image is not “black” and “white”. Your perception of yourself and how others view you is not as simple as “good” or “bad”. Body image according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is a spectrum ranging from Body Hate to Body Love. Below are examples of thought processes of a person in each stage of the spectrum.
Body Hate : “I can’t look at myself in the mirror” I do not like anything about my body and don’t care about my body.” This person’s self esteem and body image is deflated. There is a lack of respect for the body. This person does not see any worth in their body, has difficulty perceiving positive attributes about their body and believes others view them the same way they see themselves.
Body Respect: “I don’t like what I see in the mirror, but I can give myself what I want and need while respecting my body”. This person’s self esteem and body image is low, however this person is aware of what their body needs and wants. This person has the ability to know that they are worthy of respect but struggles with acceptance and recognizing attributes about their body that they like.
Body Appreciation: “I don’t completely like what I see in the mirror, but I’ve accepted some parts of my body for what it looks like and what it does”. This person’s self esteem is moderate. This person is growing to not compare their bodies to others while being able to recognize some attributes about themselves that they like.
Body Neutrality: “I don’t hate my body. I’ve accepted my body although I do have some insecurities, I barely have ruminating thoughts about my body.” This person feels neutral about their body image by not conforming to hating or loving everything about their body.
Body Peace: “I have accepted my body for what it looks like and what it does for me. I barely have ruminating thoughts about my body. I feel connected to my body and enjoy being in my body”. This person can identify more positive attributes than perceived negative ones about their body.
Body Confidence: “I have fully accepted my body for what it looks like and enjoy expressing the connection I have with my body within myself and with others. I can identify things about my body I would like to change sometimes but I am comfortable in my body.” Through this person’s body language, interactions, and how they navigate their relationships someone can observe the confidence in this person. This person is aware they are confident and has conquered body acceptance fully. Intimacy
Body Love: “I love everything about my body and recognize possible previously perceived flaws as beauty and uniqueness. I’m very confident in myself and I feel very comfortable in my body. I have fully accepted my body. I’m confident in myself in all settings and situations and practice love and intimacy with my body regularly.” This person had reached the top of the hierarchy of the body image spectrum through acceptance, confidence, appreciation and love for their body.
Where do you lie on the body image spectrum currently?
Chronic stress and trauma can also interrupt intimacy, The terms stress and trauma are often used interchangeably however, they present differently in the body. Social media has been the main cause for over generalization of the vocabulary of psychology. While the terms can coexist circumstantially, they are not always the same. There may be situations where our mind and body disconnect as a result of trauma and we don’t process that what was really experienced was trauma.
Stress is a biological response to an immediate threat or stressor. The body’s response to stress causes cortisol to be released in the body which elicits the flight or fight response. Examples of stressors could be increased workload, relationship issues, finance issues. For survival purposes, the body is designed to respond to stress. However, constant exposure to stress can morph into chronic stress and can have long term effects physically and mentally and interrupt us feeling at home in our bodies. Read stress effects on the body
Trauma is defined as a challenging emotional consequence from experiencing a deeply distressing disturbing event (ex. Sexual assault, natural disaster, war). The body’s response to a traumatic experience can affect everyday functioning. Examples of a trauma response could be experiencing nightmares from the traumatic event, flashbacks or hypervigilance. Have you explored if chronic stress or trauma is presenting in your body? Moreover, have you considered the role they may be playing in affecting intimacy with yourself?
Do you need help coming home to your body?
Body image, chronic stress, and trauma can contribute to the disconnect and lack of intimacy you may feel in your body. If you identify with these challenges, you are not alone. The goal is to acknowledge the challenges, but not live in them! You can tackle the challenges that lead to disconnect head on by getting education on the natural cadence of body changes and do the work to un-internalize the negative impact of trauma; reconnecting to the fundamentals of caring for our body no matter where you fall on the body image spectrum; and do it in a community of support and accountability
If you resonate with the content shared in any way, consider it a sign to take advantage of the workshop opportunity “Coming Home to Your Body” facilitated by Dr. LaWanda Hill, Licensed Psychologist and Black Women's Wellness Expert and Kimberly Haley, Certified Massage Therapist and Wellness Coach. This dynamic duo combine their expertise to provide a much needed safe space that every woman needs to explore the alignment of her mind and body, and achieve intimacy. This 3- hour workshop was designed to help women overcome the challenges they are facing. Rather than avoid the difficult experiences that have left you feeling stuck, Kim and Dr. LaWanda Hill will challenge you to move one step closer to feeling at home in your body through:
This space will be equal parts education, encouragement and accountability!