I’m not sure how this has happened, but I’ve developed wrinkles on my arms. Well, my legs, too, for that matter. I assumed a wrinkly face would come with age—although I had no idea that acne could still manifest inside the wrinkles—however, the crepey appearance of my arms and legs was a shock. Truly, growing old is not for the faint of heart. Besides the aforementioned skin problems, there are the grey chin hairs that could be used as weapons and an emerging mustache (which I only noticed because I need a magnifying mirror due to my deteriorating eyesight.) Sheesh. I understand why so many people invest large sums of money trying to ward off physical deterioration. (You’ll understand what I’m talking about if you pay to have your hair colored.) What about you? Do you invest in your physical appearance? Are you at peace with how you look?
In theory, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to look and feel your best (as long as you decide what that is, not some marketing executive.) However, I do get concerned when physical appearance (the body) is used to define or characterize a person in a negative (or positive) manner. Sadly, as a young woman, I spent years beating myself up because I didn’t live up to the cultural ideal of beauty at the time. I remember being desperate to have Farrah Fawcett “wings” in my hair but instead suffered through months of “sheep horns” because my curly locks refused to lay flat like proper wings should. (Why, God, why? 😩) Before you write this off as teenage angst, I’m sad to say my various body insecurities lasted for decades. (For example, I was probably in my forties before I finally made peace with my nose…or my curls, for that matter.) I feel brokenhearted for my younger self because I realize my body insecurities merely reflected my bigger struggle to be known and accepted. Thankfully, the pain of getting old (including the shock of having arm wrinkles) isn’t nearly as devasting as my previous struggles because I have been dealing with the roots of my insecurities for a long time. What about you? How are you getting on with exploring this topic?
(If you are new to this blog, this is the topic we have been exploring for the last few weeks. We will pick up where we left off last week.)
In last week’s blog, we examined the importance of having secure attachments with our parents/caregivers as a prerequisite to feeling known and loved. This is the basis for security and identity (including acceptance of our appearance.) According to therapist Adam Young, secure attachments are formed when our six primary needs are met. We looked at two of those needs last week (attunement and responsiveness). I encouraged you to think back to your childhood to consider how well your parents attuned and responded to you. This reflection may explain why you may or may not struggle to feel secure in your identity and appearance.
Let’s continue by examining several other needs you had as a child. First is the need for engagement. Did your parents genuinely desire to know you on a heart level? Did they want to know your unique dreams, aspirations, and gifts? Did you feel pursued by them?
Second, did they help you to manage your emotions? Were you soothed when you were anxious or scared? Did they engage you when you were shut down? Alternatively, were you just left to get on with it? (A child has no ability to regulate his or her emotional arousal on their own. They need the help of a parent/caregiver to do it for them.)
In a related way, was your parent able to handle your negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear? Were you allowed to express those emotions in your home without being shut down or told you had to leave the room? Did your parent stay calm when you kicked off emotionally, or did they respond angrily to your anger (leading you to feel unsafe?)
Pause here to sit still and reflect…
I highly encourage you to sit with these questions for the next week and reflect on what your experience has been (especially if you have never taken the time to reflect on your upbringing.) We don’t do this to blame or vilify our parents but more to understand and name any unmet needs we had as children. Every human being requires connection, comfort, and intimacy (IN-TO-ME-YOU-SEE) to feel seen, known, and secure. Without it, we will try to cover the pain of our insecurity with our numbing agent of choice, or we will look to find our identity in our looks, work, or relationships (or all of the above!). To get unstuck and ultimately healed, we must first take stock of where we are.
Next week, we will examine one more need we had as children. In the meantime, I encourage you to journal about what has come up in you as you read this piece and share any thoughts you have below. I look forward to hearing from you!