Thursday, September 8, 2011

Separation of Self: Is My Body Me?

For the last several weeks I have been unable to fall asleep before three in the morning. It hasn't been on purpose. I try to sleep-- I just can't. It could stem from my work schedule, or more likely, my caloric restriction (which I am working on). Regardless, I've been spending more time watching television at night than I have sleeping. During a late night tv session, one commercial caught my attention. It said:

"Your body can tell you're pregnant before you can."

Think about that for a second.

Isn't the "your" and the "you" in this sentence referring to the same thing? It got me thinking-- why do we continually think of our bodies as separate entities from "ourselves" ? If we are not our bodies, then who are we?

Naturally, I applied this logic to my eating disorder. Nearly all of the scholarly research I've done on anorexia (I gave a lecture about this in December) refers to a paradoxical split that often occurs between the mind and the body of the anorexic. It becomes a matter of me versus she, of me versus it, me versus my body. This has certainly been my own experience. Throughout the madness and hysteria of my disorder, I never thought of my body as "me." My body was only this oddly shaped, inferior shell that I could shape and wield and torture and mold and control. I could change it. I could manipulate it. I was in control, not my body. But when I say "I", who do I mean? My brain, my soul, my spirit? Why is there a separation between body and between self?

Of course, a biblical explanation seems like it might do-- (as Christianity urges us to kill off the desires of the flesh and the physical body to strengthen our souls, which will never die) but I'm not sure if that is the only reason. I think it's probably more of a cultural habit that stems from philosophical theory which urges us to think of our bodies as separate from our physical beings (think Descartes and the solitary self). It seems as though the "self" is largely interior. But, to me, the self is more than just the body-- it's all-encompassing-- body, mind, spirit, soul.

Is anyone still reading this? :)

What I'm trying to say is this:

Though I have a tendency to get lost in my own mind, I am very much my body.

My body is very much me.

One cannot escape the other.

I am she and she is me.

If I am not my body, why is my body responsible for the way others see me? If you asked someone to describe me to you, odds are they would say I have brown hair. My eyes are blue. My skin is fair.

If I am not my body, why does it hurt when I fall down (which I do often) or burn myself or scratch myself?

I am my body. My body is not merely a mindless vessel equipped with arms and legs
to scurry me around wherever my mind desires. If our minds are in control, why do people get cancer? Why do organs fail?

I am my body. My mind is my body. My body is my mind.

It's the same thing.

That's why controlling and manipulating and torturing and shaping my body never worked the way I hoped it would-- because my entire being is interconnected. It's yin and yang. One part of affects the other, like an algebra equation. You can't divide one side without dividing the other. You can't declare war on one side without affecting the other.

You can't destroy one without destroying the other.

I don't know why, but I need a reminder from time to time to nurture and respect my body. It has never been natural for me to do this on my own. In fact, it's taken 27 years for me to realize that I even deserve it, but I do. Lord knows I haven't been doing all that I can lately to be good to myself.

Have you?


  1. You are right.

    If we harm our bodies then we are also harming our minds. This is why we have low self-esteems, and have a tendency to be more abusive toward ourselves. Eating disorders are born when we start to think that we are no longer worthy to be liked, loved, or respected. This starts at such young age (6,7, or 8 years old).

    I was extremely shy as a child. I felt I did not fit in. I felt like I was a "freak" and I was probably only 6. At that time, my eating disorder was yet to be "born". So....our minds are powerful things.

    This is why it takes so much work to recover. The physical recovery is easier than it is to recover from how you think about yourself, but they're so tightly connected that it is difficult no matter what.

    Good post...I like when I read posts that makes me think about my answers before I reply.

  2. I have goosebumps.
    I will be thinking about this for quite some time. I know Geneen Roth and Marianne Williamson have gone into great length about how most women in America (and men, too) are "walking heads" and they encourage is to ground ourselves in our bodies.

    Needless to say -- I will be pondering this for quite some time.
    Thanks so much.

  3. I had it untill algebra equation =/ haha no, I'm joking
    I think the same but that thought is so ingrained to us by culture and society that our actions do not respond to our argument but to what we feel. That until we can defeat that thought and start to do as we think.
    I'm sorry if this is not easy understand, my english is poor and I'm tired right now.

    Greetings from the beautiful south of the world
    stay strong



  4. This is great. Quite insightful. I follow and very much appreciate it.

    I hope that you are able to find ways to be good to you.

    Be well. :)

  5. Awesome post!! I haven't commented before but I read often. You are so insightful and I know you can make it through this recovery journey. Keep going, keep thinking this way, it will lead you to freedom!

  6. Wow. That was powerful...and perfect timing! I needed to read that

    1. I had always heard it was Descartes' fault – the duality of body and mind.

      The Bible is actually interesting in this respect. The Hebrew Old Testament contains no duality of body and soul, and no mention of an afterlife. The soul is mentioned, but as a component of the self (“be still my soul” and so on).

      Jesus mentions an afterlife, but it is less the persistence of an eternal soul, and more the resurrection of the body – which is what Jews of the time would have understood by an afterlife (those who believed in it – some didn't). He also talks a lot about man looking at the outside, while God looks at the heart, but not as if we could be divided into one or the other.

      The bit you mention about soul and flesh is from the letters in the Greek part of the Bible, and is as often translated as “soul/mind” and “sinful nature” as “spirit” and “flesh”. In a sense we have projected our ideas about duality onto the Bible, which comes from times and cultures which had no such concept. The Hebrew concept of “Shalom” which runs through the Bible is an idea of wholeness, of unity of the whole person, which I believe is actually central to Biblical ideas of the self.

      I hope you find this interesting, as I found your post interesting. Duality of mind and body is a ubiquitous concept, and, I believe, a very damaging one. We have different parts – mind, body, soul, spirit – but they form one person, and any division within our self is harmful to us.

  7. I still find it hard to live the body and mind in harmony. I often get the feeling that my mind is free, creative and light, whereas my body seems so heavy and cumbersome. My body seems to stop me from doing things. When I'm busy brainstorming for a creative project, I feel free and beautiful. But then, just looking in the mirror suddenly makes me feel imprisoned and stuck again. The mind is ideas and universal, the body is matter and present and when my ideas take over too much, then my body becomes the enemy and I hate it, it slows me down, stops me from flying. I'm still trying to find a balance. I find swimming and dancing help a lot though.