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Suffering has a PURPOSE

ALL of our struggles & suffering are trying to protect us– not just body image!

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As a body neutrality coach, I’m always talking about how body image issues exist for a deeper reason, and how they’re actually a part of an unconscious strategy to try to help or protect us.

But did you know the same exact thing can be said for all forms of suffering?

Photo of a person near a window with eyes closed, looking sad

It’s true! No matter the specific topic or details of our suffering, it always exists for a deeper reason, and it’s always a part of an unconscious strategy to keep us safe. 

We don’t normally think of our suffering this way, of course, for two reasons:

1. The first is that the specific topic and details of our suffering are very distracting and


The superficial source of our problems and distress is usually pretty easy to identify, so we tend to stop there. After all, why bother keep digging when you already know the source of your suffering is your anxiety/depression, an inability to break a self-sabotaging pattern, the fact that you’re single, or other people?

Some of the details of those stories might be true, of course, but more often than not, they’re just the tip of the iceberg, and just like with body neutrality, overcoming them requires us to dig deeper, and identify the underlying purpose for our suffering. For example, how might your anxiety/depression, patterns of self-sabotage, inability to find a partner, or need to blame other people for your problems each be part of your mind’s unconscious strategy to help or protect you in some way?

2. The second is that our unconscious self-protection strategies must stay invisible to our

conscious minds in order to “work.”

Let’s take body image as an example here, and say your body image issues exist as part of an unconscious strategy to try to make you feel worthy of kindness, respect, happiness, and love. It’s impossible to ever look “good enough” to earn that feeling, so this strategy will undoubtedly make you feel like a miserable failure, but at least it gives you a plan, and a feeling of control over the situation.

That’s its real purpose—not to actually make you feel good about yourself, but to protect you from feeling vulnerable, powerless, or out of control— and it’s actually pretty damn effective at it. But it can only be effective as long as you believe looking the “right way” can and will make you feel worthy; once you recognize your appearance doesn’t actually have that kind of power, the whole strategy will fall apart, and you’ll have to face all those terrifying feelings. In order to protect you from such a catastrophe, your unconscious mind must prevent you from seeing what it’s doing, and keep you convinced of its lie.

These kinds of self-protective strategies tend to be incredibly difficult to see, because their job depends on you not seeing them.

Photo of a person with hands over their eyes

Now, you might be wondering why this whole thing happens in the first place, and it’s a valid question.  Why do our brains work so hard to try to help us, only to make us feel completely miserable? 

The truth is that the human brain is designed to keep us safe and alive, not to make us happy, and when given the choice, they will choose surviving over thriving every time. 

A good example of surviving-over-thriving is anxiety. Making you obsessively aware of every single potential threat in your environment (including how you look, whether people are judging you, and whether you left the stove on, or locked the door) is just your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe. 

Anxiety might make you miserable and ruin your life, but that’s a trade worth making, from an evolutionary standpoint. And if the brain’s primary goal was making us happy, anxiety simply wouldn’t exist. (Plus we probably wouldn’t have made it this long as a species!) 

This is happening constantly, so I invite you to take a moment and think about whatever it is that’s been causing you suffering lately. 

What external situations have been upsetting you? What internal patterns, qualities, or behavior have you been struggling to change or accept? What story have you been telling yourself about the cause of your frustration or unhappiness? 

Remember that we don’t think, feel, or do anything for no reason. The human brain is extremely intelligent and well designed, it’s just that it’s designed to protect you, not to make you happy. Your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and maybe even your suffering itself, make sense, and are just trying to keep you safe. 

The key to overcoming this kind of suffering— just like with body neutrality– is to shine a light on this unconscious strategy, and identify the deeper purpose and reason for its existence

See if you can identify how your brain might be trying to help or protect you, with regard to whatever it is you’ve been struggling with lately.

  • What crucial needs might your unconscious mind be trying to help you meet? 

  • What danger might it be trying to help you avoid? 

  • How might it be trying to safeguard your sense of self, ego, or worldview?

  • Who would you be without this suffering, and why might your unsconscious brain think that would be too dangerous to allow?

Don’t worry if these questions are too hard to answer right now– that’s normal! But see what happens if you sit with it, and challenge yourself to stay curious and dig deep. 

You might be surprised by what you discover.

Big hug,


PS: I still have a few spots left for my new coaching intensive The Body Neutrality Accelerator! Apply now if you’re ready to dive into addressing and overcoming your body image issues in a fast-paced and concentrated container!

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