What Keeps You From Self-Care?

Talking Back to Those Voices With Lovingkindness and Information

Are there people in this world without self-esteem or image concerns? Are there people who love and care for their bodies without judgment? Yes, but are they over three years old? The truth is, there are adults who live very comfortably and lovingly in their bodies, and that is something that is quite unimaginable or at least difficult to imagine for others.

What I am wondering today is, how is your body image effecting your ability/willingness to take care of yourself.

Do you have an angry/authoritative parent voice in your head who scolds and berates you for your body's perceived failings or shortcomings? When you are so busy shaming, it is very hard to be gentle, compassionate and loving to our bodies. We have all been socialized into a society that expects us to look like the airbrushed images in magazines, yet offers so many health-depriving options for our day to day lives - stress, exhaustion, little access to fresh air and movement, toxic food choices, abundance of pharmaceuticals, and so much blame and shame when we don't live up to the ideals.

What is significant to note is that as adults, much of the criticism has become internalized, we don't need to hear it from our peers (like we did in third grade) we happily beat up on ourselves. Do you know any animal or child who really changed and improved themselves from being yelled at, shamed or intimidated? Has a fear of being ostracized made you a better person? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, I would suggest it has made you more fearful and less willing to take risks and truly bring your gifts into the world.

This subject came to me as I considered the moments I have been caught and constricted about taking care of myself. If this is something I get caught in, what happens when others consider taking care of themselves? Especially when thinking about getting a massage, or other hands-on therapy.

How can we each shift this? I would like to suggest that the deepest answer is gentle, loving, kindness. For ourselves and receiving it from others. By receiving loving kindness we can literally re-program our neural pathways and change our biochemistry. (Candice Pert, PhD - "Molecules of Emotion")

Hands-on therapists are people who (in general) bring a great deal of loving kindness, compassion, gentle-heartedness and peace to the world. We are self-selected and then trained to be accepting, non-judgmental and kind. Our professional and ethical standards call us forward to best provide for our clients in ways that help them feel safe, nurtured and cared for. We provide touch, which in and of itself is healing and life-giving. Of course, finding the right therapist for you could be a process, not everyone is able to demonstrate these ideals, however most of the therapists I know who are experienced and successful fully embody loving kindness, gentle-heartedness and compassion.

So, perhaps I can answer some of those concerns and "talk back" to some of your inner voices by going through some of the common reasons people don't come and get on the table. Because, as I have stated above, therapeutic touch is healing. Be it massage, CranioSacral Therapy, Lymph Drainage, Reiki or so many other forms of touch therapy - these are real ways to take care of yourself and bring the caring and gentleness into your system in a real and palpable way.

I feel uncomfortable about my body size.
That is a common and understandable feeling in our world today. Society's ideals don't always line up with what we see in the mirror or how we feel. A few things to know. First, you will be fully draped during your session, so the therapist is only working with one part at a time. Your privacy is always assured. Therapists they are looking from a therapeutic standpoint, in general, they are seeing with their hands, feeling for tension, stiffness, congestion and working to relieve it. Your size is not really the focus. Yes, it is different to massage different sized bodies, and all can benefit. There are a number of things the therapist may do, ways to use their body, ways to set the table that will help them give you a great session. We love that you are in with us, taking care of yourself. Bodywork is a wonderful step in self-care and improving how you feel about your body. I believe that healthy, long term body changes come from a place of love, so finding a therapist who helps you feel this for your body a positive all around.

I don't like my feet.
We love feet. They are so much fun to work with, it's so productive too, so much relaxation and release can be provided with good foot work. We have seen old feet, tired feet, dancer's feet, missing toes, and lots of other things. We do need to know one thing though, if you have any kind of foot fungus, we need to work with gloves on or avoid your feet. If you know that you have a concern, just let us know. Leaving on your socks is a good way to signal that we need to be aware of something with your feet. Thank you for letting us care for your feet, if you really like it, see if your therapist can incorporate some Reflexology into your session - an energy work that is said to enhance the health of the whole body… it feels great too.

I don't want to get undressed. Period.
There are many touch therapy modalities that do not require you to undress. CranioSacral, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Shiatsu and Thai massage are all performed with the client dressed. Many forms of massage and lymph drainage therapy can also be effective when clothed. Its ok, we understand and want you to be comfortable.

I have lots of body hair.
That's easy, if you are getting a therapy that involves oil or lotion, your therapist will simply use more, this allows their strokes to glide more and not pull on your hair.

Please don't touch my… face, legs, belly, feet…
If there is an area that you don't want touched, simply let us know. The session is about you and a good therapist can always find something else to do! Now, if you are ticklish, let us know that too - often a bit firmer touch will allow an area to be massaged, so don't give up on foot massage yet.

I feel like I am going to cry.
Sometimes emotions arise during a bodywork session, emotions can become trapped in our bodies. At other times, the experience of deeply relaxing or receiving nurturing touch can open the door for emotions to be released. Many therapists have experienced this personally so are very understanding. In general, our training is to allow you emotional release, check in and see if you are ok, do you need a tissue or privacy for a few minutes? If you want to talk, that is certainly ok, we simply know our practice boundaries and are happy to listen, and allow space for you to release what has been held in your heart or body. We are not licensed counselors or talk therapists, so we will simply hold space and not step into "counselor" mode.

Other Therapists Have Told Me
This is a touchy subject, we try very hard not to make proclamations in our practice, and we have heard so many reports of things other therapists have said that have made people feel badly about themselves. I even had one client tell me that a massage therapist had told her she was not allowed to get any more tattoos and the ones she had would cause her pain and suffering for the rest of her life. It had taken the client's husband a great deal of persuading to get her in to see me after that. I can only help the information I provided relieved her mind a bit. In general though, therapists can make statements that confuse or hurt - "These shoulders are so tight, what have you been doing?" can make a client feel like they have done something bad or wrong. I can't promise anything, and ask that you don't judge us all by the behavior of a few. Please visit another therapist.

I got a massage once and I hurt worse afterwards
There are reasons that might explain that, and in general people really do feel better after receiving bodywork. I'm sorry that was not the case for you. Let's talk about your body, do a thorough intake and health history, and consider the best options for you. There are many modalities, and all will move the body closer to health and wellness, but they are not all for everyone. Deep Tissue massage for someone with Fibromyalgia could be very painful and perhaps debilitating, while Trigger Point work, which is also very deep, combined with lymphatic or cranial work could be soothing and healing. The reverse could also be the case, as each body really is different. What is most important is that your therapist takes the time to learn about you, any special conditions or contraindications and adjust the session for your needs. Practitioners in private practice or in healing arts centers such as ours are often more skilled and have the freedom within each session to make such adjustments.

Certainly, there are some other voices out there that I haven't answered, feel free to post me a question, I am happy to address your concerns and apprehensions about bodywork.

We live in a society that judges quickly and forgives slowly. Perhaps it is time to open and allow some love and acceptance into your day to day experience.

About the Author

Amelia Mitchell, LMT is a nationally certified and state licensed massage therapist with additional certifications in Lymphedema treatment and Pre-Natal massage. Using Therapeutic Massage and Lymph Drainage Therapy as developed by Bruno Chikly MD, DO of the Upledger Institute, Amelia supports her clients as they shift to enhanced wellness. She specializes in recovery from injuries, trauma and illness. Amelia brings her warm heart and a firm trust that we are all healthy and can feel better to each session. Amelia is a practitioner and owner at Alchemy Healing Arts Center in Annapolis, Maryland.