Why Negative Self-Control Is Gaslighting Your Body — And How To Stop

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It's your responsibility to take care of your body. Unfortunately, the self-controlling way in which you have been going about is all wrong.

Believe it or not, trying to exert excess self-control over your body when it's giving you clear signals isn't just unhealthy — it's a sign you're inadvertently gaslighting yourself.

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.

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Collaborate with your body, instead of controlling it.

So, why do you keep repeating the same unhelpful mistakes? Because there is one truth everyone forgets: You are not "in control" of your body. You're in collaboration with it.

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

Surely, you can nudge your body toward 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.

For example, when you eat something, you can't control how your body digests, assimilates, and excretes that food.

Likewise, you can't control whether your body aches, where it’s stiff, or how it’s holding onto water from the day before. And when you take a breath, you can't control how your body uses that oxygen.

Here are 4 ways your attempts to practice self-control are actually you gaslighting your body.

1. You condemn the signals your body gives you as "wrong."

First, it's important to understand what gaslighting is. This 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 their own sense of self and 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 it," or, “There’s no way I’m letting you eat what you want. You’re only getting what I say you deserve.”

It turns your body into an untrustworthy, insignificant, or dangerously impulsive animal that needs to be controlled. To create even more confusion, your mind occasionally does nice things for your body with the intention of further disorienting it.

Think about the last time you "indulged" by eating rich foods, knowing the next day you were going to punish yourself for it at the gym?

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!

2. You constantly verbally abuse your body and feed it negative reinforcements.

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.

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.

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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.

3. You base your self-worth off of what society says your body should or shouldn't be.

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 skewed in favor of logical ego-thinking as a means to dominate and shame the unruly needs and shapes of bodies.

This orientation of self-control and gaslighting is not only harmful to you; it's characteristic of an unsustainable society.

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

This belief may be fueled by sociocultural forces, like patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, and white supremacy that normalize the domination, oppression, and taking advantage of those who are different.

These issues can be exacerbated by hectic, overscheduled work culture, media (e.g., fashion, beauty, and fitness industries), the idea that you "need" to control your body and reduce empathy for yourself.

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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.

4. You don't practice self-compassion.

If you truly want to stop gaslighting your body and finally experience freedom, love, and pleasure in your skin, you must walk 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.

You're more than just your body, and you are more than just your thoughts. You're an ecosystem of head, heart, and belly living within a larger ecosystem of relationships, environments, and cultures.

When you truly allow these perspectives to sink in, you begin to see how limited this ego-mind view of reality actually is. You must shift your connection with yourself and the world.

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'll need guidance and support from others, as well as the courage to fight social currents that promote disembodiment and oppressive thinking.

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.

Control is always an illusion.

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

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

Choosing to stop gaslighting your body is the first step toward health and healing. 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's one way our culture can escape the extreme individualism, narcissism, and domination of people and the planet that is undermining our collective well-being.

Stopping the abusive relationship inside yourself helps stop the abusive relationship externally.

The path away from gaslighting is a path toward healthy integration of bodily trust and mental discretion. It holds good faith in the body, as well as awareness of its ingrained biases.

Plus, it holds good faith in the mind as well as its ability to be corrupted by toxic beliefs.

When you can learn to hold a perspective that embraces these tensions without disintegrating, you 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.

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Jeff Siegel is a health coach and a dynamic eating psychologist. If you’re tired of dieting and being unhappy with your body, download his free eBook, The 9 Weight Loss Mistakes And the Radical Ways To Overcome Them. If you’d like to explore health coaching together, you can schedule a private 20-minute consultation call.

This article was originally published at Jeff Siegel Wellness. Reprinted with permission from the author.