“I’ve never owned this body to begin with.”
“I don’t know what living inside of it would feel like.”
“I don’t know what clothes to put my body in.”
“How to do my hair; what make-up actually looks good on me?”
“How can I teach my kids that their body ‘belongs to them’ if I don’t even know what that means for me.”
These are just a few responses I received since admitting a few weeks ago that I struggle with accepting my body. I was moved, particularly from those around my workplace. I work with survivors of domestic violence, both adults and children. Domestic Violence can take many forms, including, but not only, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Survivors admitted they too struggled to “reclaim” their bodies; though some also admitted to trying to “reclaim” a body that has never actually felt their own.
I have been humbled and awestruck by the honesty, as I am also struck by how much these disclosures resonate. “You said it’s complicated and painful for you, but how do you teach your kids to own their bodies.”
Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services reports that one in four women and one in six men will be sexual assaulted. CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in four women will experience serious physical violence by an intimate partner. Statistically, for so many of us, our bodies have not been our own. As we work to reclaim our bodies after experiences of trauma, we are struggling to figure out how to teach our children to do the same.
In my home, opportunities to teach about owning our bodies are plentiful. I find myself unable to visit the bathroom without accompaniment, or my clothes stretch three sizes in five minutes as I’m yanked about by someone who wants to “show me something.” Yesterday, as I cuddled with my daughter, I playfully asked, “are you a joey climbing into Mommy’s pouch?” She said “yes” as she began to LITERALLY try to climb inside of my clothes with me. Backfire. Within seconds my son was climbing on my lap as well. My playful inquiry turned to anxiety as my personal space was being invaded by
aliens my children. At times I catch myself just wanting to scream out, “My Body Belongs to Me! Mine, mine, MINE!”
As I ask my children for the one millionth time to respect my body and my choices about my body, I’m hoping the modeling helps them to see healthy ways to do the same. We talk with them directly about their bodies and the bodies of others in terms of daily activities, “We don’t splash another person in the pool unless we ask them and they want to play that way.” “We don’t woof like dogs in someone’s face after they’ve asked us to stop.” We also try to talk with them about setting their own boundaries. It is far more complicated and repetitive than reading a book about “touches,” while that matters too.
For the trauma survivor, it can feel awkward, unfamiliar and embarrassing to have an open relationship about bodies when you’ve never seen it modeled in a safe or healthy way. Like so much, we don’t have to teach our kids perfectly or with ease. Stuttering and stumbling through will get us there. I know that’s the very best I’ll be able to do. Yet, by simply being open to talking about questions they have about their bodies and their choices, we can raise them to own their bodies from the start.