It’s Historical, Cultural, and Individual
I believe that, for womxn, our lack of trust in our bodies stems as much, if not more, from our historical and collective cultural experience as it does from our individual life experience. It’s hard for womxn to trust our bodies when we’ve been told for centuries that they’re dangerous or bad and then punished for it, too. Wise women and healers (witches) were considered a threat and burned at the stake for embodying their feminine gifts. In her book Patriarchy Stress Disorder, Valerie Rein, PhD reinforces that “Most women are constantly at war with our bodies. It’s not our fault. It’s the millenia of the war on women and our bodies, internalized.” (Rein, p. 79)
Our modern day patriarchal culture also promotes collective distrust in our bodies because patriarchy inflicts trauma on womxn that breeds this mistrust. Trauma is more than catastrophic life events. It’s chronic stress stored in the body. It’s also anything that is too much, too fast, too soon. Trauma, according to Valerie Rein, is “any experience that made you feel unsafe in your fullest authentic expression and led to developing trauma adaptations to keep you safe.” (Rein, p. 18). It’s hard for womxn living in our patriarchal culture to feel safe being authentic when we’re told that our bodies, minds, and hearts are wrong. We’re bombarded by ads for products that will fix our wrinkles, dimples, and emotions. We’re disregarded and told the “doctor knows best” when we share the truth of our pain (see below for articles on this topic). Our innate feminine energy is devalued with a focus on logic over intuition, busy-ness over rest, and producing over nurturing.
*Note: I have a special interest in womxn’s health and healing, which is why I’m choosing to focus on womxn in this blog. I recognize men are negatively impacted by patriarchal culture and ideology as well.
We may also lack trust in our bodies through our own personal experiences as well. It can feel hard to trust our bodies when it’s not been modeled for us or when it seems our bodies have betrayed us. For myself and so many other womxn I know, we learned early on that it’s not safe to show up in our joy, beauty, carefree-ness, brilliance, because we’ve been burned, shut down, or violated when we show up so freely. So we protect ourselves, withholding our authentic expression. As developing girls and aging women, it may also feel like our changing bodies are betraying us. Whether it’s our appearance, chronic physical symptoms, or emotional experience, we learn to control rather than trust them, because controlling often feels like the safer option. We wind up living in and from our heads, our bodies becoming an afterthought. This perpetuates the cycle of mistrust in our bodies, as our bodies must work harder to get our attention, which can also feel scary and lead to even more self-protection and mistrust in our bodies.