One of the mainstay concepts in any sort of treatment, but particularly in the treatment of sex offenders, is to assist clients in differentiating bad action from bad self. It seems on the surface to be a distinction that is easily made – just because someone does a bad thing does not necessarily make them a bad person. However, there are so many layers and perceptions imposed by our family of origin, society and culture, it ends up being one of the most labor intensive parts of treatment.
Understanding that good people can do “bad” things is often intuitive. Psychologically we usually operate from what is called the “self-serving bias,” the tendency to cut ourselves a break. We are able to access our internal thoughts and motivations, so its easier to justify doing something ourselves versus someone else. When we feel threatened (like, say, someone’s screaming at us that we’re a piece of shit that deserves to be killed) we are WAY more likely to engage in this behavior.
We’ve established before that when one is feeling shame, the natural reaction is defensive, because shame threatens our very sense of self-worth, of having the right to exist. Separating our actions from who we are is essential to change, because you can change an action. It’s not as easy to change who we are.
I was thinking about this a lot since yesterday, when it was explained to me why body hatred was so stupid. Like, fundamentally stupid. Leaving aside all the stuff about WE ARE WOMEN AND BEAUTIFUL, hating the container we’re in is…stupid.
When I was younger I’d make the argument against racism that it’s stupid to hate what’s on the outside, because it makes no rational sense. And it came to me that hating our bodies is almost exactly the same. Our bodies are results of behaviors and genetics and actions we take and food we put in and sun we get and clothes we wear and the climate we live in. Too often, most obviously in weight loss settings, we are told to hate our bodies, that we are disgusting and weak and shameful. Which leads to shame. Which means NO ONE who is being told they are awful is in any place to start changing behavior.
The conversation around bodies and weight is about who people are, rather than the things they do. Changing behaviors may not change body composition, and that’s okay. Because we need to focus on the behavior, not the container. We need to focus on the behavior, rather than the person inside. Because the people who struggle with weight are people. Bad actions do not equal bad self.