Welcome to my guest blogger series on women and the body.
This post on Our Body Matters is by counsellor and psychotherapist Renee McDonald from Butterfly Courage in Bulli, Australia.
Renee is a Clinical Member of The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. She is also an accredited Clinical Supervisor with PACFA and The Australian Clinical Supervision Association. Over the past 15 years, Renee has worked as a counsellor and psychotherapist. She has been in private practice on the NSW South Coast for over 9 years. Renee is an integrative, client-centred therapist, who uses existential, relationship, somatic and mindfulness theories in her work.
Our body matters
As a mother and psychotherapist, I have worked with many problems, issues and life matters over the past 15 years. There are many, but there are none as fraught as issues with our own body.
How can we escape the feelings of shame and embarrassment we have about our body?
What if it is something we can’t do anything about?
Our body, the vessel we have been given for this life, is all we have to carry us around.
I am acutely aware of how personal attacks can feel in relation to how we look.
Take Nick Vujicic for example,
“Without any medical explanation or warning, Nick was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, without arms and legs…
The early days were difficult. Throughout his childhood, Nick not only dealt with the typical challenges of school and adolescence, but he also struggled with depression and loneliness. Nick constantly wondered why he was different than all the other kids. He questioned the purpose of life, or if he even had a purpose.”
Nick was bullied and suffered cruel attacks, however, he is now a motivational speaker and he has not let the attacks dampen his spirit.
Nick has become the alchemist. He turned something truly terrible, horrible and shame inducing, into his biggest lesson to become a better person. He is symbolically true to the alchemy tradition, which stems from Egypt and Eurasia. Alchemy is a process of purifying metals or elements, to become something else. For example, after going through a purification process, it could be turning lead into gold, or transforming substances to cure diseases. Nick found value, meaning and purpose out of his suffering.
I look to someone like Nick as inspiration.
He can inspire us all, in that many of our limits are those which may be in our minds, or socially constructed. It does not mean that we do not have limits at all – it means that many limitations can be overcome with adjustments and some humour.
He has changed the narrative of those before him to show others that regardless of difference, and a traumatic history; it is possible to lead a full and happy life.
Nick speaks passionately of learning to like and accept the body we have.
Our work is to realise…
Our body isn’t perfect and that’s okay
We aren’t all the same and that’s okay
Our body matters – because it’s the only one we’ve got!
The body and trauma
If we have suffered trauma, abuse or other incidents to the body – our body can stop feeling like a safe place to be in.
There are many researchers and clinicians who have written about the subject of trauma and its link to the body. For example: Bessel van der Kolk and his work ‘The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’; Babette Rothschild on ‘The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment’ and Stephen Porges, ‘The Polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication and self-regulation’. For me, it is especially Stephen Porges’ work which has changed the face of theory and practice regarding the connection between the mind and body and how holding this mind-body connection context is at the heart of change.
Bringing the two concepts I have mentioned above together – that of the alchemist, Nick, and some of the more recent research on mind-body connection – our trauma history can lead us to become our own worst critic of our body. Our shame can stop us from reaching our potential.
Shame and the body
So, how do we hold this shame or lack of worth in our body? Some people may develop eating disorders and other weight concerns such as chronic dieting or obesity. Others may self-harm. Then there are some who may experience episodes of depression, anxiety and other emotional, psychological or spiritual concerns.
Brené Brown – famous for her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ – is a social worker whose research focuses on shame and vulnerability – two of the most painful and hard to be with feelings within our society. Her work, which I draw upon in my counselling practice with clients, is a powerful resource for working with shame, vulnerability, body image and how the relationship with food has become the panacea for the issues we may be facing.
Healing from trauma and shame held in the body
If you have experienced trauma and/or you are using food, feeling shame about your body, or you identify with any of the other concerns mentioned above, reaching out to a counsellor or a somatic psychotherapist who specialises in disordered eating and body-related issues can help you to heal and see things differently. Like Nick, it can help you to overcome trauma and find value, meaning and purpose out of your suffering. It can help to realise your wholeness.
If you would like to work with Renee, you can contact her here.