Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Self-Image: What Men Need to Know

In previous posts, I have spoken extensively about every women's battle with their own self-image. Whether it relates to weight, food issues, one's view of their beauty, I am convinced that every woman has internal struggles about her image. All of us have different degrees to which we wrestle with our own [false] ideas about ourselves and each individual's battle will look different. Admittedly, it takes time and energy to understand our own hearts, and the thoughts that too often plague us, but this is a crucial step in diagnosing the root of our problem and seeking grace from the only One who can truly heal us.

Recently, I spoke with a friend who described an extremely disheartening conversation she had with a guy friend about his response to her openness about her self-image struggles. This guy friend expressed his feelings of insensitivity, frustration, and disinterest in helping my friend deal with these deeply personal issues. It broke my heart to hear. But I believe the reason for this man's reaction was one thing: a misunderstanding of a women's struggle with self-image. I can attest to this reasoning because, 1) I have a husband, and 2) He doesn't always understand. Most men know very little of a woman's constant struggle with her image. It is not that men don't care, but for the the most part because they haven't experienced this to a similar degree, it is hard for them to be empathetic. On Friday, Chance and I were discussing this very topic as I shared some things that I have been dealing lately, mostly due to the trials of pregnancy. From that conversation, I would like to offer some counsel to all men about how to understand a women's struggle, and how to lovingly help her.

I cannot speak for all women, on a specific level, but I can speak for myself and my husband: this has been tremendously helpful. I have realized my frustration when Chance doesn't seem concerned or careful with his words regarding the distorted view I have of myself. I have attempted to be patient with him on recent occassions, to explain a women's desire for attention and for love. Deep inside of us is the innate desire to be wanted and when we feel ugly, we are ashamed and discouragement sets in. Many women struggle with their weight, which makes them self-conscious and timid. Other women struggle with distortions to their eating, problems that can be as severe as anorexia and bulimia, or as common as condemning thoughts about eating 2 extra slices of Papa John's (sound familiar?). The desire to be loved is not wrong, but because of the fallen nature of man, that love seeks its fulfillment in 'unnatural' places: unhealthy relationships, comfort from sweets, finding one's worth in exercise and seeking the 'perfect body.' God has created all of us for the purpose of worshiping our Creator, whose image we were made in the likeness of. But sin has caused our worship to go awry, which is why I believe all women have degrees of struggle with their own self-image.

Like I said before, the reason why most men don't seem empathetic is because they just don't understand. Women, on average, are the ones who most often deal with problems relating to "body issues" or "food issues." The first thing our male counterparts can do to help us women, is to understand the language and specifics. When I say, "I feel gross today," I am probably saying, "I am not believing that I am truly beautiful...in my opinion, the way my body is making me frustrated." Women tend to express feelings of self-pity (not okay) when we are discouraged about our outer appearance. Although the Scriptures address this specifically: "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she will be praised" (Prov. 31:30), it will likely not be helpful if you, husband (brother or friend) rattle off this verse and assume that this will solve the problem. Understand the language. When you pray for your wife, don't just say, "Lord, Kathryn is dealing with food." What does that mean to me? Am I having trouble shopping for it? Or am I dealing with self-condemnation in regards to my eating habits? See, the language is important.

Now women, this doesn't get you off the hook either. You need to be willing to explain to your husband (brother, friend, etc.) the specifics of your struggle. Don't just assume that he knows what you are dealing with, and don't write him off or get frustrated when he doesn't automatically 'get it.' Be patient and take the time to explain your heart - trust me, it will do you both a world of good.

Secondly, men, listen to your wife. I cannot express to you enough how much this matters to her. When a woman chooses to open up about her struggle with her self-image or a matter concerning her relationship with food, she means for you to listen to her. She needs you to. Loving her, as a sister in Christ and as Christ loved his bride, means listening patiently and actively. I know that my husband is listening well when he asks me questions to get me to explain more thoroughly, which in turn helps me to open up. I know that he cares, that he loves me, and that he genuinely desires for me to be helped through my battles. So listen up men!

Lastly, I eluded to this in the previous paragraph, ask leading questions. If I am sharing that I am discouraged about how I look today, you might want to ask your wife, "Sweety, what do you mean by that?" or "What kind of thoughts were you having?" I have often been helped when others ask me questions that cause me to think actively about something I have just said passively. I am able to go through my thought process, consider what made me think that way, and likely see what lie I am believing about myself or my situation. A husband will understand his wife better if he listens attentively and asks her questions that explain her heart to him.

In conclusion, our husbands are instruments God uses in our lives to help us see truth, and fight the lies that our hearts believe. Men, please take heed to these instructions and lovingly seek to understand, listen, and ask questions of your wife in order to empathize with her situation. You may not ever fully understand, but she will certainly appreciate your genuine effort.

"By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." -1 John 3:19-23

[Note: I used husbands as the prime example here, but the principle is applicable to brothers, fathers, uncles, friends, boyfriends, fiances, etc.]

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Kat. I'm taking notes for (future) Mrs. Mesa.

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  2. Thanks! I have my struggles keeping balanced. Thankfully, I do have a guy who listens but I do not know how to define our relationship; it is complicated.

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  3. We're not talking and We are both where we need to be, He is in yet another state. Here is a link to the TX style council on Fb. featuring @Words of Williams. Keep the Faith!

    https://www.facebook.com/TxStyleCouncil/photos_stream

    ReplyDelete