Repeated patterns are a window to your needs and the process of lasting change will help you address those needs. For every pattern you repeat, for example: overeating, purging, or restriction, there is a need which is being met within you. Your inability to change the undesirable pattern has nothing to do with lack of willpower or discipline. The pattern is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. If you direct your efforts only at attempting to eliminate the symptom without putting effort into understanding and dissolving its cause, you are setting yourself up for a very fatiguing and defeating battle.
Understanding the Process of Lasting Change
Awareness is the first step in changing any behaviour. You must first become aware that you are doing something which is detrimental to your values and life plan. Resistance is often your immediate reaction to becoming aware of what you are doing and why. This makes perfect sense. You have lived your life with a certain set of behaviours and beliefs. Given this, change, even if desired on some level, often feels less like innovation and more like annihilation of your entire existence as you know it. You wonder what will be left of you, your relationships and the life you know, when you have made the changes necessary to free yourself of this debilitating behaviour. This really means: when you are fully aware of the underlying need that led you to execute this behaviour, will you still choose the people and things you have chosen thus far? From this perspective, change can look very scary and the outcome very lonely. This is why so many of us have to hit our own personal “rock bottom” before we are ready to challenge old, harmful patterns of thoughts and behaviours. You must reach a place where you say, “I don’t care what the outcome is. Just make it stop!”
And yet, questioning what life will look like when you are “done” is a wise and significant thing to do. It implies that you know you can change, and on some level you know that your current behaviour is providing you with a way of remaining in an uncomfortable situation without having to fully feel the discomfort being generated. In other words, you know you are numbing yourself to certain aspects of your life, and, because you have chosen this approach to problems for so many years, it is a little scary to imagine being fully present and aware. You are saying that you want your life to be different but are fearful of how this change might appear. This sounds reasonable, from the perspective of the person who has yet to experience the benefits of the change and can only imagine the void which will remain by the removal of the old behaviour. Until you have experienced the pleasure and freedom that is created by letting go of the old pattern, you are naturally going to have some discomfort and doubt about the change.
It is human nature to seek familiarity and feel comforted by it. Often, even when the familiar behaviour is harmful to your essence and prevents you from fulfilling your dreams, you will cling to it because of the comfort provided by the familiar. This very tendency in all humans is why lasting change must happen gradually. When you demand immediate and complete change, you deny yourself time to learn the lessons that the problem or situation you have created is meant to teach. And you certainly don’t have a solid base or foundation in place to feel secure as you move into unfamiliar territory. This means you are likely to flounder and find yourself returning to your old familiar behaviour when things get a little challenging. This can leave you feeling defeated and hopeless.
Just think of any diet or “nutritional plan” you have tried. You no doubt discovered that your attempts to heal your relationship with food and body-image focus, prior to understanding the cause, set you up to have short-term success. Your success could last only for as long as you did not require those coping strategies, that is, as long as nothing in day-to-day life upset your apple cart! This is why, at the pinnacle of our Diet Mentality, many of us can stick to a diet or some form of restrictive behaviour for only about 12 hours! Max! You can be “good” during the day when you are busy, out and about or in front of others, but when you get home, or the chores of the day are mostly attended to, you decompress with food and the whole cycle repeats itself. If the underlying trigger that leads you to use food to cope is unattended, you will be in trouble when something happens that you hadn’t planned for, or didn’t happen the way you had hoped. The feelings and unmet needs, which naturally and appropriately get triggered in those life situations, currently drive you to restrict, binge or purge to cope.
To be successful in changing an old coping strategy, you must have the confidence of knowing that a nurturing force is standing by, ready to catch you when you start to naturally default into those old patterns. And this force must be predominantly found within. Building a solid, nurturing, supportive and understanding relationship with yourself can take some time as it would with others; however, you will begin to see the benefits of this stronger and more supportive internal relationship immediately, in your awareness of what you are thinking, feeling and needing in that moment and in your ability to respond to those thoughts, feelings and needs respectfully and appropriately.
With a greater sense of trust, security and awareness of yourself rather than the impatience your Drill Sgt. was throwing your way, you will feel a sense of relief which allows you to relax and trust yourself to make life-enhancing and dignified choices around food, yourself and others.
And know this as well: you own this process of change. It does not own you. You can take it as fast or as slow as you like and as you have time and space for. You can look at as much “stuff” and be as aware as you want at any given time, and you can make as many changes as you wish; furthermore, you can return to your previous comforting behaviour whenever you feel the need for the old numbing peace that it brings. Soon, you will naturally find that the old, comfortable coping behaviour no longer fits. It just doesn’t feel right any more. It is not who or where you want to be, nor will you really feel the need to find “security” this way. You will naturally choose not to use it, opting to engage in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours which you have had some practice with and that are coming to feel so much more respectful and natural, so much more “right” – on a gut level than that old coping strategy ever did or ever could. You have found yourself. You have found peace.