My 10 extra pounds and Human Giver Sydrome (Episode 44)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin gets real about the 10 extra pounds she’s put on lately and how her thoughts about her weight are all tied up with the Human Giver Syndrome culture. Why does it matter so much that we are expected to appear a certain way to make other people comfortable and to help them accept us? That’s Human Giver Syndrome – and it doesn’t have to be that way.  

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: My 10 extra pounds and Human Giver Syndrome (Episode 44)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. This is episode 44. Before we get started today, I’ve got a little bit of housekeeping here. As of the date this episode will go live, my next webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, August 26th at 2:00 PM eastern time. The focus of this one is going to be on human giver syndrome and boundaries because it is actually the number one topic I get questions about.

There is never a bad time to learn more about boundaries, but I thought this would be a particularly good time because a lot of folks in the sandwich generation those of us who are caring for children and an adult at the same time and I’m one of them, our kids are going back to school. So this is a good time to take stock of ourselves and the ways we want to dare to live our own lives and figure out how to do that. The link to register is in the show notes and at slash learn more and that learn more link is also the place where you can download my “disrupt human giver syndrome” guide. And it’s also where you can find a link to join the From One Caregiver to Another support group on Facebook.

Today, I’m talking about the 10 extra pounds I’ve put on lately. And the way I’m thinking about my weight and appearance now that I have a better understanding of human giver syndrome. But first I really want to tell you why it is that this is coming up for me now. In June, my family and I were able to take a really wonderful vacation to the mountains in the American west.

And about three days into our vacation I started to notice my slight weight gain and the way my clothes were looking and feeling kind of tight. And I started to tell myself some horrible things. In my mind, I was saying things to myself like you’re ugly, you’re worthless. You’re a failure because you put on this weight, you are a healthy person and you should know how to avoid putting on 10 pounds.

And after about two days of this, I noticed how bad I was feeling in general. And I, I started to notice what I was doing and saying to myself because of the work I do in my own mind. And because of the process I use with myself and with my clients, I knew then that the place I had to start to help myself feel better was just with this noticing, just noticing when I was saying these awful things to myself, judging myself for being a normal human with a normal weight.

And I made this intentional choice to spend the time I needed noticing my thoughts about myself before I would make any decision about my weight. If you’re not familiar with human giver syndrome, it’s the set of beliefs that says some people are supposed to pour out everything we have to take care of the people around us, to make sure they thrive and succeed and have all their needs met at all times.

Well, one piece of human giver syndrome I haven’t talked a lot about is this belief that we have to be givers in exactly the ways other people want. And this includes our appearance that we should look the way other people think we should. And that will lead to other people being most accepting of our appearance and most comfortable with the way we look when we’re with them and around them.

It should come as no surprise to you that in the U.S, and unfortunately, in most of the rest of the world now, too, we value being thin, especially for women. Which also means that a human giver who has mastered the art of living our lives to help other people, well, we’re going to pay special attention to our appearance because of those other people around us.

So then being thin becomes the ultimate goal, of course, but if we can’t do that, if we can’t be thin, we givers really ought to be well put together and stylish. And if we can’t manage that, well at the very least, we can’t be slobs. When you go out for a walk, it’s better to wear yoga pants and an athletic t-shirt that fits well rather than, you know, sweat pants and an old comfortable t-shirt that makes your belly and your butt look big.

Because if we are slobs, well, then we know as givers, that will be a signal to other people that we are total failures. Because if we look like slobs, we obviously can’t be trusted in any meaningful way to care for the people around us. Right. Well, that’s the story, unfortunately, that we’ve absorbed into us over our lifetimes.

And that’s pretty brutal. I mean, can you hear that? Can you hear the self brutality in there? Yikes. And that’s what I’m dealing with in my own head.

Like a lot of humans I’ve put on a little extra weight lately. Probably about 10 pounds total. I don’t really ever weigh myself anymore. I just kind of keep an eye on the way my clothes fit.

I’m a fairly short woman. I’m really only just a little bit over five feet, one inch tall. So 10 pounds can really look like a lot on my frame. It is noticeable. Now I want to just tell you right here that my weight gain isn’t happening because something is wrong with me. I’m an extremely healthy eater. I’m a plant-based eater. if anybody is interested to know that. So I get tons of fruits and veggies, tons of legumes, tons of fiber in my diet, but you know, I’ve been eating more of those very healthy calories than my body needs to stay at a lighter weight and I’m physically quite active and in excellent health.

As of the time this episode airs, I will have just turned 48. So I’m also dealing with the regular hormonal changes that come with being a woman of my age. In other words, I’m just normal. I’m a normal, healthy human woman. And I really want to say this here for the record, that if you’ve never heard it before: there is no evidence to prove that being extremely thin or even very thin is healthier than having a little bit of padding like me. I’m not a health professional all right. I just want to say that right now. But it’s pretty clear that the very idea of BMI or body mass index is a hoax. If you want me to cite some sources for you, send me an email and I’ll be happy to do that. And I’d be happy to talk plant-based eating with you too. So send me a message If you want to talk about that.

Anyway, the basic gist of this is that there are a whole range of healthy human body types. And I just don’t have a slender body. I never have, even when my weight comes closer to putting me at that cultural idea of shape and thinness, well, I just don’t have a particularly photogenic body. I never have.

And if I’m going to talk about this, I have to be totally honest with you right now and admit to you that I have struggled with my body image for basically my entire life. I don’t talk about it too much because I think it can really take away from the conversation. But I have to tell you that I did suffer from anorexia for a couple of years when I was in high school.

Thankfully, we had an excellent counselor at my high school, which is something of a miracle given how rural and basically isolated our school was at the time. And this counselor really picked up on my eating disorder very quickly and made sure that I got some help. And Mrs. Mapes, if you ever hear this podcast, I want you to know that I will be grateful to you for getting me the help I needed. I’m going to be grateful to you for my entire life.

So then why am I talking about this today? Here’s why, because now that I do so much work with human giver syndrome, I have a much better understanding of what’s going on around me in our culture and what’s going on in my own mind when it comes to my appearance and my weight.

I understand now that I’ve been telling myself a story of hate and loathing and disgust about my own body for over 40 years. I have been using my normal for me amount of body fat as a weapon against myself to force myself to fit into the thin mold of what is expected of me as a woman, which for me also includes being a human giver, having this human giver role. And it’s a role that I didn’t ask for, okay. It’s a role that I have because of all of the other things that I do in my life as a wife and a mother, and now as a caregiver.

So I’m not even really here today to talk about my weight loss journey. I don’t actually think I need to lose 10 pounds to be healthier, but at the same time, I want to tell you that I did decide to slowly lose the 10 pounds I’ve put on.

Luckily for me losing weight just isn’t terribly difficult. And so I’ll just go ahead and do it right now over these next couple of months, but why would I do that? Why would I put myself through the weight loss? If I don’t think I need to do it to be healthier, this is a little confusing, so I want to explain that right now, I’m in this place of learning to be gentle with myself and with my heart and with my mind.

I’m not broken, not because I have thoughts about my body that have been drummed into my head for 48 years. And not because I have decided to just go ahead and lose some weight, even though it’s probably not necessary for me to be healthier. It’s a paradox in my brain that I think other people who have more body fat than me are completely beautiful, too.

And I can live with that paradox from this place of self-compassion and self-love. I can manage my mind and my body and I can choose to lose some weight. And maybe someday I will be in a place where from self love that I can embrace these 10 extra pounds instead of getting rid of them. But that day is not today.

I can only be where I am right now. And right now I’m not trying to change my thoughts about my body weight. Right now I’m working on learning to love myself and my brain. And for me, that means right now losing these 10 pounds is going to be easiest because I’m going to be able to put more energy and more effort into learning to love myself and to love my thinking.

So am I doing this for the wrong reasons? Because human giver syndrome tells me I should look a certain way so the people around me will be more accepting of me. Well, yes, that is why I’m doing it. I understand human giver syndrome. I understand how that’s playing out in my life right now, but no, it’s not the wrong reason. It’s a reason. And that’s enough.

I don’t need to keep judging myself for this choice. I just need to keep saying, oh yes, I get it. I understand it. I see what my brain is doing. And I love myself for it. My work right now isn’t to change this thinking about myself and my body image. My work right now is to love my brain anyway, right where I am, with all of my paradoxes and challenges and the dissonance in my mind and everything else.

And the more I can do this, the more compassion I have for me and for everybody else I come across, because we all have these struggles and it’s not with our weight, but it’s with our brains. So I’m not telling you what to do about your weight, but I hope that you will share in my journey of learning to notice my thoughts about myself, that you can learn to notice your thoughts about yourself.

And that when I tell you about these stories that I’ve noticed in my head, these stories that I’ve been telling myself for so long, because I’ve been steeped in this culture of human giver syndrome, well, maybe you can notice that in yourself too. For me right now, my weight is actually nothing more than a cue to notice what I’m thinking.

And right now, it’s also my cue to train myself to say, oh, you’re so human. Look at that brain. Look what it’s doing. What a great brain. I love this brain. I made this decision to lose a few pounds right now. And that’s what’s right for me now. No self-judgment needed here. And I have to wonder for you, if it’s not your weight, that’s bothering you, what else are you doing because human giver syndrome has been telling you that you should do or be or want or not want.

What stories are you telling yourself that are not filled with self-love and can you learn to just notice when those thoughts come up? So that you can look at yourself too, and at your life, from a place that’s not filled with negative self-talk, but from a place that’s filled with self-love.

Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at facilitator on fire dot net. That’s facilitator on fire dot net. And there’s a lot of really good stuff there, including links to my book and to learn more about human giver syndrome and all of my webinars.

If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram and there’s a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please subscribe and leave a review, which will help other caregivers find their way here too. And definitely consider telling a friend who also happens to be a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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