Body Images

From the moment we are born and experience ourselves in physical and personal contact with another person, we begin to develop an image of who and what we are. The development of this image or picture of ourselves as a person and as a physical being, depends upon an enormous amount of factors. Fundamental to these is the gender we are, the size, health, and shape of our body, and how others respond and deal with us.

Less important but still powerfully influential are what culture we are born into, what body and mind ‘fashions’ are prevalent in that culture, and what images are frequently used in conversation or in a graphic way to depict ugliness, beauty and sickness.

The very fact of having a body that through our usual sensory impressions appears completely separated and distinct from another person, immediately leads toward developing an image of ourselves as in some way alone and unconnected with others. This leads on to the awareness that just as we look at others and have feelings and thoughts about them, they will look at us in some way, perhaps critically or with feelings of repulsion, or perhaps with affection and pleasure. See Victims

The shifting images we have of who and what we are must not be seen simply as interesting but largely ineffective imagination or conceptualisation. The self images we hold deeply influence behaviour, relationships and health. It is fairly obvious that if we have an image of ourselves as unlikable, unattractive to others and without skills, then the way we present ourselves to others and in job situations will be much less effective than if we have an easy confidence about what we can do and who we are.

What is less recognised is that because body and mind are not two distinct and separate things, what is thought and felt deeply influences the system, organ and cellular functions of our body. In the entry dealing with death from fear the way this works is clearly described. Death through the emotions and ideas we hold as real is of course an extreme result, but what you feel and fear about yourself definitely influences how well your body survives and deals with infections and everyday life. Another description of how we influence how our being functions is given in energy sex and dreams.

Dreams particularly illustrate in very clear ways what self image we have, and how it is influencing our body health or the way we express and deal with life. In any dream in which you are clearly aware of you, you usually have some image of your body and its condition. But in some dreams the condition of your body is stressed. In the following dream this is very clear.

Example: I looked in the mirror and saw that my face had certain Down’s Syndrome features, especially the lower lip. Realised that I had always had these, but they had remained latent. In the dream I knew that this was Bright’s disease, of which I would surely die. Then it came to me that this had all come about through stopping sex and if I started again the features would go. Mike.

Mike’s associations with his dream were as follows:

I see the Down’s Syndrome features as representing mental imperfection. The protruding lower lip along with the other features on my face suggest I must ‘face’ them. They are coming into consciousness, whereas before they were unconscious or I wasn’t ready to ‘face’ them. The feelings probably arose from a fear of not being normal that I picked  up from my mother. The Bright’s disease is something I read about a few days ago. It was in connection with premature death, so probably links with fear of death. My mother had screamed at me as a young teenager that if I masturbated I would die. So the wrongness, the association with death, all connect. That this has been faced through stopping sex is probably to be taken literally. The biological energy builds up, and the pressure reveals the weaknesses of the personality structure. An unseen crack becomes now a gaping wound, open possibly to infection.

Mike’s self image, helped along by his mother’s emotional attack, is of himself as a person facing death through his sexual urges. This alone puts him in conflict with his own nature. But it leads on to him seeing himself as deficient mentally, and as he so clearly says, the pressure within him builds up, perhaps like an overheated boiler, and any weakness will be revealed. So the self image results in very powerful changes in his life and body.

Mike’s body image deals with feelings and fears he has that influence him. Other body image dreams deal with actual physical situations, and some times use the symbol of the house instead of a direct reference to your own body. Others depict powerful traumas that occurred resulting in enormous damage to ones sense of self.

A study that appeared in the PsycLIT Database of the American Psychological Assn, was conducted on the nightmares of three women, aged 22, 26, and 48, and one man aged 32. Each of the subjects had been severely sexually abused as children. The study suggested that each of the subjects showed “profound and pervasive effects on the development and consolidation of the body image.” The author of the study goes on to say that the nightmares showed distortion, fragmentation, disintegration or persecution of the body in their imagery.

Those are severe cases, but most of us, even competent and well functioning people usually carry self images that need dealing with in order to move toward greater wholeness. The following dream was experienced by a female university researcher and uses the house to illustrate functional damages in her psyche and their influence on her body.

Example: I was in a house with my immediate family, i.e. parents and sisters. Every so often there was a shaking like an earthquake. On examination it seemed that some kind of structural joints that had something to do with the stability of the structure had been malformed so that although they articulated, they were not completely sound and had been worn into malformed shapes, so that every so often there would be a shaking, and we (mostly my mother and sisters) were trying to determine how to fix it. Tricia.

Tricia’s dream clearly shows that the malformed factors in the fundamental structure of her psyche, leads to shifts and instability that she is trying to fix. This she is doing through exploring her feelings and associations with her dreams and inner life. Comments she attached to the dreams say, “The other thing is that the neck tension has been relieved and the lump in my throat is there which makes me feel that the issues of self expression have been brought up to the surface.”

The following dream, of a man in his thirties who is just becoming aware of his distortions through his self inquiry.

Example: I dreamt I had, or was, a deformed baby, having four eyes, and a somewhat distorted face. The eyes were operated on, two being removed. But the baby grew up a dwarf, very lonely, and shy. The dwarf and the normal me were one yet separated. He lived downstairs, and would often climb the stairs and stand outside my door hoping I would see him and befriended him. I, inside, vaguely felt his presence, but whenever I got near the door his shyness made him retreat downstairs.

The dream is a wonderfully graphic description of how the image of ourselves as less adequate usually lives ‘downstairs’ in the shadowy, unconscious levels of us. But this denied part of self, and the upstairs outwardly active self, are trying to meet to become whole.

The Time Life book Search for the Soul, Quoting Professor W. G. Roll, says that “Modern science, including parapsychology, sees the self (personality or psyche) as the centre of relationships that extend beyond our usual image of the body and its limitations. The self connects us, in both the receptive mode and the creative mode, to other people and things, although they may seem remote in time and space. When we become aware of this matrix of connections, the self is experienced as the other, and separations of time and distance fall away.” In such a construct, Roll suggests, the soul in life creates its own legacy, its own fate, in what it shares of itself with all around it. “It is good that we are pulling heaven and hell into ourselves,” he says. “Now we are responsible for the world.”

To deal with these distorted feelings and images of oneself we need first to recognise them in our dreams or in our unbidden feeling responses in daily events. The dream images are usually so clear, either as ones own body or as a house or building. An illustration of the building as metaphor of oneself can be see in the following example:

Example: When I arrived home and walked through the garden gate I noticed things about the garden I had never let myself see before. The untidiness and absence of care were no longer hidden by veils. Particularly the track I had worn across the small front lawn. It was worn because I used it as a shortcut instead of walking along the path. But then I arrived at the door, I knew suddenly that it was me. The door was me, and every scratch on its paint was a part of my life, reflecting my state. Opening the door I went into myself. The door and garden had already shocked me with my lack of attention to outer details. Now inside the house, the same things showed themselves in the state of my house, depicting my inner health.

As in the dream of the dwarf, the distorted image need not be of oneself, but can nevertheless apply. The dream says so clearly, “I had, or was, a deformed baby” showing how dreams depict oneself as someone or something exterior.

Once the distortion has been noted, the next step is to explore what associations and feelings you attach to it. Tricia connected her neck tension as a manifestation of the malformations in her house dream, and Mike directly related his body distortions to his inner feelings about himself, and his traumatised relationship with his sexual urges. See Acting on your dream to help with this.

A dialogue with the character or yourself with the distortion can help enormously and deepen your insights into what your dream is portraying. See: Talking with a dream character.

Visualising changes and meetings between your ‘normal’ self and the distorted self can produce transformations also. See: carry the dream forward; Visualisation.

The aim all the time is to acknowledge, to experience the emotions, memories or life experiences involved in the distortions, and thereby meeting those aspects of yourself and bring them into consciousness to integrate and thus allow to grow into useful sources of expression or insight. See Life’s Little Secrets.

Useful Questions and Hints:

What is the distortion in my dream depicting in myself?

How can I become more aware of it and how it entered into my life?

Can I meet this part of myself and open it to becoming a part of me that can leave the negative aspects of it behind?

Use Talking As to find out what your dream is saying.


-khaled 2012-05-16 10:20:54


Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved