Jung At Heart blog

Must I be beautiful?

Recently my book was reviewed in the journal Fat Studies. It is an interesting experience to read how someone else interprets what I wrote, and by extension, my life. The review is positive and I am grateful for it. But there was something at the very end that gave me pause and has had me thinking for a couple of weeks now.

In the book I wrote:

"For all the work I have done to come to terms with and embrace my body, for all that I have embraced fat acceptance and eschewed dieting and body loathing, there remains a pocket of shame about my body that gets reawakened every summer – I have very fat upper arms and though there is no sleeve that would hide that fact or make my arms look slender, the thought of baring them in a sleeveless dress fills me with anxiety and shame. It is as if every bit of shame and anxiety about revealing my body becomes located in my arms and only if I keep them covered, can I dare go out into the world. I seize upon this wonderful quote: “when it comes to dressing myself, i live by a very simple principle. i am fat, therefore, i look fat in everything; consequently, i can wear anything.” (Selling, 2013). I chuckle and I get it but still, sleeveless? How could I move about in the world knowing there is no way for my invisibility cloak to hide my arms? All this work and the thought of showing my arms undoes me. The work goes on. I support the right to bare arms. Maybe next summer my arms can go bare.” p. 134

My point in writing about the fact that I still shy away from going sleeveless in the summer was to show that coming to body acceptance is a process, a journey rather than an event. We all have good days and bad days. Days when we feel on top of the world and invincible. And days when we can’t stand ourselves. That is how it goes. In an interview in Huffington Post, Leslie Kinzel who has been writing and talking about fat acceptance and body acceptance for years now says:

I am in a place where I love my body! I got there mostly because I worked really hard at it. It’s possible in spurts, but we also have to acknowledge that there are also going to be days that you hate the way you look. For me, it’s [loving your body is] a code for acknowledging that I’m going to have good days and I’m going to have bad days, but I’m not going to beat myself up about either. I’m just going to accept that these feelings about my body are going to change from day to day, as well as 10-20 years from now. This is a process. It’s not a destination.

That is how it is with me and my upper arms. And as I have talked with other women over the last year, lo and behold, I discover I am most definitely not alone in my feelings about my arms. 

Comes and goes

IMG 6846

This is the view from my window this morning. Four days ago the park below was under two feet of snow. Then came a 40˚ F increase in temperature and a day of rain and in 2 days, almost all the snow disappeared. The deep freeze arrived again yesterday. As I type this it is 5˚F. And there is a skim of ice on the bay. Winter is not gone, not by a long shot.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting my thoughts about whether feeling beautiful is a necessary part of body acceptance.

New year, new plan

In a few days it will be 11 years since I began this blog. At the beginning I posted every day. And over the years, especially in the last couple of years, my posts have been less frequent. I come back and promise more but somehow that has just not been happening. I know myself well enough to know that I need to take heed of this and dig into what is going on with me that I do this.

The fact is that I feel I fell into seeing writing here as a chore, a chore that lacked the delight and even excitement of those early years. I remind myself again and again to write something here but the desire seems not to come. So how do I find that again? 

One thing I am doing is again taking down The Fat Chronicles. I will instead put my thoughts about fat here, in this space, the space where I feel they belong. Keeping 2 blogs going just doesn’t work for me.

I like thinking about and writing about psychotherapy, being a therapist and things related to them. So that will continue. And hardly a day passes that I do not note something about fat issues — something that makes me angry or curious or just wanting to say more. Back when I first started this blog, I also wrote about knitting and cooking and shows photos of my town and things that matter to me. I want to do some of that again. And also to pull quotes from my book and expand them. As I sit here writing this post, I see there’s plenty to write about, lots that I have things to say something about. 

The Fat Woman’s Dilemma

In order to be good, I have to feel bad. In order to feel good, I have to be bad.

If I want to be perceived as good, I, and fat women in general, must present myself as the Good Fatty, the fat person who accepts the socially dominant viewpoint that my number one goal in life is losing weight. All I have to do is talk about trying to lose weight, about my desire to be thin. I can say I have lost 10 or 15 or 30 pounds and I will be praised for my efforts, even if it is a lie. The Good Fatty is apologetic for being fat and is in a perpetual state of trying to become thin. The Good Fatty doesn’t’t threaten thin people because she tells them she is engaged in the same struggle to subdue her body that they are. The Good Fatty is apologetic for her fat, as if she must ask forgiveness for committing an aesthetic crime with her too-muchness or must do penance for taking up too much space. She doesn’t complain that very few stores carry clothing in her size. She accepts as just that she pays more for her clothing, health care, and seats on airplanes. Because she knows she deserves it. She accepts without protest the “helpful” advice and criticism she receives from others because she is trying to become better, to become thin. She swallows her anger because she knows it is all her fault, that she has failed, and is getting what she deserves. She manages her fat identity by covering, by accepting that she should not be fat. She tries to cover her failure by always being in the process of trying to change, a perpetual state of atonement for the sin of being too big and too much.  She can be good so long as she feels bad.

Betrayal and what comes after

Many years ago someone told me that the Chinese character for crisis is composed of the characters representing danger and opportunity. I don’t know if this is actually the case, but I do know that it expresses a truth. Crisis offers the opportunity to change course, to come to consciousness, to grow from the shattering of illusion. It also presents the danger of destruction or even death. It is hard to believe, in the pain suffered after a betrayal, that anything good can come of it. But even the most painful betrayal brings the possibility for growth and positive change as well as the dangers we are all so familiar with. The dangers -- revenge, denial, cynicism, self-betrayal – are all possible outcomes of a betrayal but so is the opportunity which lies in forgiveness 

To forgive is to give future to a relationship, to be willing to continue in relationship with the betrayer. But before this can happen, if it can happen at all, we must first feel the betrayal deeply and fully, allowing in all the pain and hurt and humiliation. Often we desire to preserve the relationship, avoid the pain, and jump quickly to a hasty demand for apology and then to offer forgiveness. Doing this saves both parties from the searing pain of grappling deeply with what happened and what it means. The process of grappling with betrayal can become quite ugly and nasty and painful, something many people seek to avoid. It is far easier to put a band-aid over the wound and preserve the safety we find in the relationship. The path to honest forgiveness is far more complex.

The shape of the tree

People come to therapy expecting cure or healing from their problems. I don't think of therapy as healing in the usual sense. To heal means to make whole or healthy, to recover or restore and comes from the root kailo meaning whole or uninjured. In order to think of what I do as healing, I would need to see the people I work with, and indeed myself, as broken, ill and I don't, not in the sense of illness. Barbara Stevens Sullivan has a wonderful way of putting this:

"In some sense, a person is her wounds. A sapling, planted beside a supportive stake that the gardener neglects to remove, will grow around the stake. The stake's presence will injure the growing tree; the tree will adapt by distorting its "natural" shape to accommodate the stake. But the mature tree will be the shape it has taken; it cannot be "cured" of the injury, the injury is an intrinsic aspect of its nature." (The Mystery of Analytical Work, p. 175)

I do believe that all humans are wounded, varying in degree and type of wound, but we are all wounded. My first professor in abnormal psychology put it this way -- from the moment of conception we are bombarded by influences of all kinds, both noxious and helpful and as adults we are who we are at least in part due to the effects of these influences. Some of us will be more scarred than others, but none of us will be unmarked by the experiences of our lives. So wounded per se is the normal state, not a state of ill-health. 

Now, the extent to which our wounds make our lives complicated and/or difficult is where therapy enters in. Problems in living are what bring most people that I have seen into therapy -- the desire to experience life in a different way is the motivator. There is no procedure or pill or technique I can apply that will close the wound. Whether or not healing is the appropriate description for becoming conscious of something that is an integral part of us, an unerasable part of our history, is something I balk at a bit. I can become more conscious of the ways I have internalized people and issues in my life. Becoming more conscious of them increases the array of possible responses I have available to me, so I can choose differently and thus find myself not in the old familiar ruts but in very different relationship to myself and those around me. That is what I believe therapy does for people and indeed is what I have experienced in my own therapy. I cannot be what I might have been had I not had the mother I had or the experiences in life I have had -- I am indelibly marked by them. But I can be freer in how I live my life and perceive my possibilities through the process of examining my thoughts, behaviors, history, dreams, reactions. That is what talk therapy as I know and do it is about.

On memory, perfection and knitting

 In her post today Effy talks about failure and by implication imperfection. Which made me think about something Jung said:

"If a woman strives for perfection she forgets the complementary role of completeness, which, though imperfect by itself, forms the necessary counterpart to perfection. For, just as completeness is always imperfect, so perfection is always incomplete, and therefore a final state which is hopelessly sterile...the imperfectum carries within it the seeds of its own improvement. Perfectionism always ends in a blind alley, while completeness by itself lacks selective values." ~C.G.Jung,

and something I wrote about in my book. The following is adapted from my book, The Fat Lady Sings (Karnac Books, 2017). 

 I am a knitter. Knitters come in two basic types. The project knitter buys yarn and pattern for a specific project and knits that and only that until it is finished. Process knitters knit to knit. We love to look at, touch and acquire yarn and usually have several projects going at the same time. The finished project is nice but it is the process, the knitting itself that is engaging. Sometimes the project is never completed or it is unraveled and the yarn used again for something else. I love the feel of the yarn as it slides through my fingers as I knit. I stop frequently and pull the fabric into shape and touch it and look at it and enjoy the color and shape. Knitting a sock, knit from top to toe with a single thread that is never broken, I marvel at the genius of the first person who figured out how to "turn the heel" and change the sock from a simple tube into something that hugs the form and shape of the human foot. These days I knit a lot of lace, knit with fine thread on small needles with intentional holes, for lace without holes is not lace at all.

The Turning

The other day I read somewhere that this season, this time at the end of summer when already we can see and feel that  fall is coming, is The Turning. The time of turning from one season to the next. 

Here in coastal Maine the light in late August already heralds this time. Light takes on a bit of a golden tone. The leaves no longer look fresh as they too prepare for the on-coming autumn. The flowers in gardens are at their most glorious, slinging color out before frost knocks them down and turns them brown in a few weeks. People who heat with wood are splitting and stacking the winter’s supply. Local newspapers carry pleas for where dry cord wood can still be obtained. Canning and preserving this year’s harvest. A time of plenty and of scurrying about getting ready for the winter which lies not that far down the road.

My birthday was at the end of July. This year I turned 71. I noticed last year that the turn in my 70s was different in subtle ways from the turn to earlier decades. For indeed this is the time of the turning in my life and in the lives of all of us in our late 60s and early 70s. We may still have big ideas and things we want to accomplish. A pile of books so high we don’t know when we will ever get to the bottom. For me, a supply of yarn greater than I can knit in the time left to me. Netflix, Hulu, Acorn queues longer than can be viewed this lifetime. So much living left to do. And yet, the turning. Knowing that we draw ever closer to the end. Knowing we will leave things left undone. This bittersweet time of the turning when we are neither where we were when we were young yet not yet at the end either.

Can I do this?

Effy Wild, a wonderful artist whose Book of Days project I belong to, is working on jumpstarting her blog with a plan to blog every day in September. As any of you who read along here know, I keep meaning to blog more frequently and then get distracted, which is a nice way of saying I am nit as disciplined about posting as I once was. 

Nine years ago on January 1, I decided I would take a photo first thing each morning from my window every day for the year. I could not tell you why I wanted to do this but I did. I had no idea if I would sustain my commitment to the project — my ex-husband and I had attempted a 21 day shape up program at least 10 times and had never gotten past day 6, so indicators were that I was posing a real challenge to myself. But I did it. Each and every day, first thing, I took my photo. And at the end of the year I had this wonderful sequence of photos, which I called From My Window, showing the day by day play of the seasons in the bit of the landscape visible from that window.

Things to think about while working on a possible new project

The other day I received two emails which turned out to maybe be pivotal. One from someone I worked on the Jung and feminism book asked me what I am working on these days. Good question. The other was an invitation to apply for a multidisciplinary retreat to develop a next step in our work - intimidating and intriguing. Both emails set me off on a lot of reflection and a mixture of excitement and anxiety. 

As is my habit when an new possibility is gestating, I spent time today cleaning out old files and ran across  this piece on the state  of Post-Jungian psychoanalysis and  psychotherapy by Andrew Samuels. Which led me into the archives of this blog where I retrieved the following post from more than 8 years ago. Still relevant too, I believe. 

It’s time to stop moaning about attacks on psychotherapy, whether it is about the managed care crisis in the United States or a media onslaught in the UK. The managed care situation, in which insurers have declined to pay for long-term psychotherapy, is a disaster in one sense. But it is also a terrific opportunity for American Jungian analysts to redefine their professional identities, and also, in my view, to do something that will be good for their souls. As fees in the United States had got too high, and hence the incomes of some of the analysts had become too large. This was not just a Jungian problem, it is also a psychoanalytic one. It has to do with the professional self-image of the psychotherapists being aligned with the professional self-image and hence income expectations of gynaecologists, ophthalmologists, surgeons and the like. Is that really where analysts are, in terms of their location in culture and in society? Are we not in fact more healthily and usefully and accurately aligned with pastoral counsellors, ministers of religion, social workers, academics, and so forth? I think that if fees are cut, people in the United States will continue to seek out Jungian and indeed other forms of depth therapy in spite of the fact that the bill is not being picked up - or at least not very significantly being picked up - by an insurance company.

Samuels is right that a major consequence of psychotherapy aligning itself with the medical model has been this expectation that we should earn what medical specialists earn. Now whether or not what they earn is excessive is another issue altogether and one I don't want to tackle just now. And yes, I know all about the economics of malpractice insurance costs and the expense of an office staff and all of that, none of which accounts for the fact that every surgeon I know has a bigger house and far more expensive car than I will ever have or even want and that means that there is plenty left over after all that onerous overhead is covered.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.