you can only control movements

How to Stop Gaslighting Your Body: One Truth To End Destructive Self-Control

It is your responsibility to take care of your body.

Unfortunately, the self-controlling way in which you have been going about is all wrong.

Controlling, denying, and fighting with your body is not only exhausting, it’s a losing proposition.

Yet so many people are trapped in a pattern of arguing with and criticizing their body, hoping that one day all the complaining and berating will actually make a difference.

It never does.

So why do we keep repeating the same unhelpful mistakes?

Because there is one truth that we all forget:

We are not in control of our body. We are only in collaboration with it.

you are not in control of your body

When it comes to your body, there’s really only two options:

Watch it or move it.

Beyond your movements, you cannot control your body.

I can hear your rebuke:

“Of course I can control my body. I make it do stuff all the time.”

Surely you can nudge your body towards certain outcomes. But every time you exercise restraint or direction, you’re only choosing to move or not move.

These volitional movements are vital, and arguably a form of control, but they make up only a tiny fraction of what your body is and does at any moment.

Please consider that:

  • Once you eat something, you cannot control how your body digests, assimilates, and excretes that food. No amount of thinking can change that.
  • Once you wake up, you cannot control whether your body aches, where it’s stiff, or how it’s holding onto water from the day before.
  • Once you take a breath you cannot control how your body exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen and diffuses that into your bloodstream to be pumped around your body.

At the end of the day, you cannot control how your body feels, how it hears, how it sees, how it smells, how it reacts, how it heals, how it ages, or the trillions of other things it does beneath your awareness to create the miracle that is you.

So why do we all walk around pretending that we can dominate and command our body to do whatever we want?

Because this illusion of control gives birth to the very notion that there is a “you” that’s calling the shots.

This “ego-mind,” born from the differentiation of thought from matter, is completely beholden to your body, but it doesn’t want to admit it. So it does what most people in a position of power tend to do, grab for more power out of fear of losing its authority.

From this grandiose position, your ego-mind bypasses the vulnerability of being attached to something beyond its control, and it does so by gaslighting your body to believe it actually is subordinate and subject to its will.

HOW YOUR MIND GASLIGHTS YOUR BODY

Photo by Reneé Thompson on Unsplash

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation when a person (the mental abuser) makes another person (in this case your body) doubt its own perceptions of reality.

According to the book The Gaslight Effect, the mental abuser “needs to be right” in order to preserve its own sense of self, and its sense of having power in the world.

In other words, gaslighting occurs when your ego-mind invalidates your body’s experience using dismissive language or by diminishing, denying, and demanding things that are extreme or unreasonable.

Your mind starts to make your body think it’s crazy for having needs.

“How can you be hungry, we just ate?”

It rejects your body’s perceptions and feelings.

“You’re not allowed to feel this way. I’m not letting this come up. Suck up that feeling and hide immediately.”

It turns your body into an untrustworthy, insignificant, or dangerously impulsive animal that needs to be controlled.

“There’s no way I’m letting you eat what you want. Don’t even try it. You’re only getting what I say you deserve.”

To create even more confusion, it occasionally does nice things for your body with the intention of further disorienting your body.

“I’ll let you indulge and relax right now. Go ahead, but remember you’re being watching. Tomorrow we’re going to make up for it.”

These thoughts reinforce the ego-mind’s struggle for control. It manipulates your body to the point where your body begins to lose trust in its own signals.

Do I need food? Am I full? Am I sick? Am I tired? — I don’t know?  

GASLIGHTING OCCURS ON A CONTINUUM OF SEVERITY

The extent to which your ego-mind becomes a tyrant varies greatly from person to person.

For some, explicitly negative self-talk might seem extreme or hyperbolic. Yet gaslighting can occur in more subtle ways just by existing in your body from an orientation of control rather than conversation.

Some people may have an overt mind-body war (e.g. an eating disorder or orthorexia) where your body truly becomes a helpless victim to ever-controlling thoughts. In this abusive relationship, your ego-mind completely undermines the body as a sovereign entity.  

Still, others may fall into patterns of guilting, shaming, and blaming their body when it doesn’t conform to personal or social standards.

Regardless of the degree, countless people are trapped in a broken relationship with their bodies. The sad part is that most of this lack of mind-body communication is the result of living in an unhealthy society.

HOW SOCIETY CONTRIBUTES TO GASLIGHTING YOUR BODY

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

Whether your mind-body relationship is just in a rocky period or in complete disrepair, this schism is reinforced by social norms and expectations.

We live in a world that is skewed in favor of logical ego-thinking as a means to dominate (and often shame) the unruly needs and shapes of bodies.

This orientation of self-control and gaslighting is not only harmful to yourself; it is characteristic of an unsustainable society:

  • It is based on an over-identification of thoughts and a false understanding of what you are beholden to. This turns your conceptual mind into an abuser rather than an ally, both of your body and other people.

  • It is fueled by sociocultural forces like patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, and white supremacy that normalize the domination, oppression, and taking advantage of those who are different.

  • It is reinforced by a built environment (as comfortable as it is) that pushes us towards disembodiment. Just consider the endless sedentary screen time that leads to neglecting bodily needs.
  • It is exacerbated by a hectic, overscheduled work culture that pushes us to diminish and deny bodily feelings that stand in the way of productivity.
  • It is propped up by a legacy of western intellectual discourse that depicts the body as an overly emotional, highly sensitive, weak creature that needs a strong mind to keep it straight.
  • It reinforces egotistical “me, myself, and I,” patterns of acting in the world that lack empathy and consideration creating harm to other people and to the planet.

Despite all the evidence that this disconnected, mind-over-body approach to living is self-defeating and unsustainable, we all seem stuck in this paradigm.

THE INTEGRATED PATH TO STOP GASLIGHTING YOUR BODY

collaborate with body
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

If you truly want to stop gaslighting your body and finally experience freedom, love, and pleasure in your skin, I’m here to tell you there is another way.

It is a path of self-compassion and self-collaboration. It’s an evolution in your thinking and operating that transcends the mind versus body dichotomy and creates an integrated approach to living in, with, and through your body.

This approach is about relationships and systems. It recognizes that you are more than just your body and you are more than just your thoughts.

You are an ecosystem of head, heart, and belly living within a larger ecosystem of relationships, environments, and cultures.

At the individual level, your ego-mind and physical body two are differentiated yet intimately linked parts of a greater whole called “you.”

At the collective level, you are just one of many species learning to share this precious planet, take care of it, and call it home.

When you truly allow these perspectives to sink in, you begin to see how limited this ego-mind view of reality actually is.

As MIT professor Otto Scharmer describes in the article, “Action Confidence: Laying Down the Path in Walking” the courage and confidence to step into a new perspective requires cultivating aspiration and agency that you have not been aware of before, but once activated, shifts your sense of self and your sense of connection to the world.

STOPPING GASLIGHTING IS SCARY AND HARD (BUT POSSIBLE TO OVERCOME)

boy looking down

We all need to shift our sense of self towards collaboration and away from domination.

Yet if it were easy, more people would be doing it.

Giving up the mirage of control and building an intimate and integrated relationship with your body is scary.

  • You probably don’t have many role-models to guide you towards integrated living.
  • You probably haven’t seen or felt what it’s like to live harmoniously with your body.
  • You might not have the external resources to fight the cultural forces pushing you towards disembodiment.
  • You might not have the internal resources to overcome the cycles of shaming and blaming your body.

For all these reasons, it will take time to stop gaslighting your body.

You will have to unlearn old patterns and redevelop trust with your basic physical self.

You will need guidance and support from others, as this work is not meant to be done alone. And you will need the courage to fight social currents that promote disembodiment and oppressive thinking.

But I believe you have what it takes.

I believe once you’re aware of the ways you’ve been mistreating your body and can see how destructive this way of thinking actually is:

  • You can shift from being in an unhealthy (if not abusive) relationship towards your body to allying together in a mutual partnership.
  • You can experience freedom with your body rather than wanting freedom from your body.
  • You can express power with your body rather than seeking power over your body.

Power over is rooted in disconnection. It’s steeped in a falsehood that your ego-mind can extract itself from your body without suffering any consequences. It promotes a zero-sum game where either your ego wins and your body loses, or vice versa.

On the other hand, power with is rooted in connection. It is aligned with the truth that your ego-mind and body are specialized, but intimately linked and interdependent entities. When your mind is building power with your body, it creates an evolutionary impulse towards higher states of being.

THE END TO GASLIGHTING IS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW CHAPTER FOR HUMANITY

new human horizons

Choosing to stop gaslighting your body is the first step towards health and healing. This is true both at the personal level and at the collective level.

Individually, making this shift is perhaps the most significant way you can escape the never-ending trap of self-criticism, body shame, dieting, and unhealthy striving.

Collectively, it is one way our culture can escape the extreme individualism, narcissism, and domination of people and the planet that is undermining our collective wellbeing.

Stopping the abusive relationship inside ourselves helps stop the abusive relationship externally. One mirrors the other.

The path away from gaslighting is a path towards healthy integration of bodily trust and mental discretion. It holds good faith in the body as well as awareness of its ingrained biases, and it holds good faith in the mind as well as its ability to be corrupted by toxic beliefs.

When we can learn to hold a perspective that embraces these tensions without disintegrating, we can begin to embody a new chapter for humanity — a chapter of integration rather than separation, a chapter of evolution rather than devolution.

Are you ready to turn a new page and stop gaslighting your body?

I am.

Lighting my body with love. No fossil fuels needed 😉

~ Jeff Siegel

For more ways to find peace with your body, download the free 4 Keys of Total Body Transformation video series and workbook.  

Jeff Siegel
Jeff Siegel, M.Ed, is a health and wellness coach, Harvard University mindfulness instructor, and personal trainer.

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