Hazel Gale is a cognitive hypnotherapist and has recorded the 21 hypnotherapy sessions in the ‘Body section of Clementine App. Here, she tells us about her relationship with her own body, as well as wider issues…
We’d love to hear a little bit about your personal journey to becoming a cognitive hypnotherapist, and how working in this area has affected your own confidence and limiting beliefs?
My belief systems, values and confidence-levels have changed immeasurably as a result of both undertaking therapy and becoming a therapist.
Before I started on my therapy journey, I lived by a long list of ineffective rules and negative beliefs, most of which were entirely unconscious. I thought that if I looked a certain way and had a big enough collection of achievements, I’d be able to feel good about myself.
I was competing internationally as a kickboxer and boxer at this stage, so the achievements I wanted were trophies and belts and the body I thought I needed was strong, thin and muscular. The thing is that, over the first few years of fighting, I got all these things. I won national, European and world titles, and my body was, for want of a better word, shredded. Yet, regardless of all that, I still didn’t feel good enough.
Over time, the shame that I felt after every attempt to counter my self-doubt led me to strive too hard – searching and searching for a victory big enough to believe in. The result was chronic anxiety, an array of eating disorders and, eventually, burnout.
The gift that therapy gave me was a mixture of self-awareness, self-acceptance and a brand new perspective on life. First, I had to face my fears and make those unconscious beliefs conscious. This was painful at the time, but it meant that I could rewrite them. I swapped “I can only feel good when I look like superwoman” for “I’m enough as I am”. And I swapped “I’m worthless unless I’m clutching a gold medal” for “I’m worthy. Full stop. Any title this amazing, human, perfectly-imperfect body manages to win is just a bonus”.
As I made these shifts, everything started to change. Gradually, my health improved because I stopped depriving myself of food and pushing my body to the limit. When I got back into training, I rediscovered a love for my sport that had long been left behind. On top of those things, I felt more creative, more connected and infinitely more capable of achieving the goals I set myself.
These sorts of improvements don’t happen overnight, and I’m still making changes now. The wonderful thing about working as a therapist is that, with every session I lead, I get to compound these empowering beliefs. And with every client that walks through the door, I am reminded that we’re all in the same boat. No matter how accomplished or beautiful someone looks, and no matter how together they seem at first glance, we are all human. And to be human is to have fear and doubt and shame. In short, my job helps me to find a real beauty in the ‘negative emotions’ that most of us see as the enemy.
I wrote an article about this topic:What if contentment were a choice? Five life-changing lessons that I learned from working as a therapist
Are any women exempt from the pressure to look a certain way?
Exempt from the pressure? Probably not. And I feel I should add that men aren’t exempt either. I think it’s undeniable that the world wants women to look a certain way and that the standards we’re expected to live up to are, by and large, unachievable. So, it’s tempting to say that we have it harder than those who identify as male. But that’s a short-sighted perspective, and ultimately it’s a potentially damaging one because it positions us as victims in this social drama. We aren’t alone in our shame. It just manifests around some different measures for men. Once we can see this, it becomes easier to fortify ourselves against the pressures of societal expectation because our struggle is everyone’s.
So, let’s not put ourselves in the one-down position. Every person will encounter the pressure to be something they are not. Our ability to withstand that pressure and feel strong regardless is all about stepping out of the role of Victim and into a world full of people we can see as our equals.
Within your own practice, what do you believe are the main ‘limiting beliefs’ that women have about themselves and their bodies. For example… I don’t like my ________ and it stops me from doing ________.
It usually comes down to a sense of inadequacy – ‘I’m not *something* enough’.
Not thin enough…
Not pretty enough…
Not strong enough…
Not different enough…
Not similar enough to those other people…
We can hang the hat of our shame on any number of different hooks, but the specific focus we choose is never the real issue. The limiting belief is “I’m not enough”, the *something* is just a rationalisation. The problem here is that the rationalisation clouds our vision and hides the deeper issue, so we go about trying to right the wrong problem. Getting thin doesn’t solve the pain of “I’m not thin enough.” It just causes us to hang our hat on a different hook. To change things effectively, we need to learn how to feel enough just as we are. We can still lose weight or get stronger if we want to, it’s just that these need to be enjoyable goals to work towards, rather than pre-requisites for our feeling of worthiness.
What are your top three tips for women who are at the very beginning of their journey to accepting their bodies; where should they start?
Like I did, they will need to begin on a journey of self-awareness and self-acceptance if they want to change their perspective and step away from the pain of “not enough”.
My top three tips are:
1. Be aware of your fears and doubts. But know that you are greater than those things.
To face our fears, we need to get real about what they are. This means we have to stop going into denial or numbing the thoughts that hurt most with food, drink, drugs, TV or work, etc. Instead, it’s powerful to welcome our self-doubt and shame as a part of being human, and to sit with the discomfort for a moment when those darker thoughts crop up. Only with awareness can we find acceptance, and only with acceptance can we rewrite the stories we tell ourselves.
So, don’t be afraid to acknowledge the things that hurt the most. But when you feel that hurt, know that it’s both temporary and a matter of perspective. The way you see the world is entirely unique to you, and for every fear you have there is a counter-truth. It’s when you find the courage to be with the hard stuff that those better perspectives will make themselves known.
One of the very best ways to practice the ability to accept and rewrite our limiting beliefs is to literally re-write them. I task therapy clients with writing projects often, and those who engage tend to get better faster. As with everything I’m mentioning here, it begins with awareness. Writing about our fear, shame and pain teaches us about these experiences. We tend to think we know all about our darker experiences. After all, we’ve lived with them for years. But, when we endeavour to put those experiences into words, we usually find that we knew very little.
If you begin exploring your struggles in writing, I’m sure you’ll see the benefits before long. There are, however, some guidelines best followed. For anyone who wants to begin this process, here’s an article I wrote on Expressive Writing and the vital skill of ‘self-distancing’.
3. Let go of social comparison.
Of all the symptoms of the ‘not enough’ problem that come up in therapy, the destructive habit of comparing ourselves to others (and finding that we fall short) is one of the most pervasive. To compare ourselves is natural. We’ve all been doing it since we were children, and it’s how we’ve learned to be who we are today. In fact, it’s precisely because it worked so well in the past that we still reach for social comparison when we feel at a lack as adults. But, of course, our comparison ceases to have a positive effect when all it does is compound a long-standing feeling of inadequacy.
If you struggle with this problem, then it’s well worth putting in a little effort to change it. And as with any negative pattern, it’s entirely possible to let go of the social comparison habit. It just takes a little knowhow and practise. I think the session we wrote for this problem in the ‘Body’ series is my absolute favourite.
Can you recommend any good books/articles/podcasts that will help women to accept their bodies?
Obviously, I’d have to recommend my own book: The Mind Monster Solution (formerly published under the title of Fight), in which I tell my story of striving, shame and burnout followed by an account of my therapeutic recovery. It has many tips, tricks and processes for people to counter their ‘not enough’ problems.
I’d also recommend any of Brené Brown’s books, talks and workshops. This woman has, almost singlehandedly, changed the way we understand shame and vulnerability in our society. Her work is a must for all of us. Here’s her first TED talk, a global sensation.
To counter your habits using self-acceptance rather than self-criticism, I’d recommend The Kindness Method by Shahroo Izadi. This is another amazing woman who gets the incredible value of self-compassion as a modality for change.
Try the new ‘Body’ sessions in Clementine App. There are 21 in total – longer recordings, shorter (five-minute) ones, and mantra-based sessions (‘Repeat after me…”). The cover feeling sexy, eating happily, exercising, less comparisons and more.