The theme of “making mistakes” (from the last 2 weeks) seems to have hit home with many readers, and with good reason. One of the main reasons we use food to cope is because we are so anxious all the time about saying the right thing; doing the right thing; being perceived as good and kind and generous and smart and sexy and “together.”
The pressure to perform and to conform to others’ expectations of who or what we should be creates a chronic state of anxiety that I call “the permeating level of anxiety” (PLA) and it is this chronic sense of disease or distress within that triggers us to restrict, or binge or purge.
If a child is raised in a home where the parents/caregivers have rigid standards and “tell” the child what to think (“you should/you shouldn’t” “here’s what to do …”) rather than “teaching” the child “how” to think (ie. “I trust you to figure it out, and I’m here if you need me” In other words: let the child figure out a solution and then offer them a little guidance if needed), the parents are rampant with all-or-nothing thinking and they will train-up little people in their right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, all/nothing way of seeing the world. These little people will struggle until they learn otherwise to trust their own gut intuition about what they feel and need and what is right and wrong for them in that moment. They will be filled with judgement towards themselves and often towards others who dare to deviate from the “right” way, while they suffer and struggle to be “good” and to do the “right” thing.
This all-or-nothing training sets us up to enter adulthood with a lack of trust in ourselves and our perception of the world which makes us very fear-based and often leads us into relationships with people who are dominant and rigid, just like our caregivers. Thus, because our primary relationships have always (or primarily) been with people who are dominant and who judge us as bad or wrong if we disagree with them, we begin to develop or to solidify a perspective of the world that is completely wrong and extremely stifling. We begin to believe that these dominant, rigid folks are “right” and that everyone, even if they don’t say so, thinks and feels like they do; that everyone is really as judgemental and as rigid even if they seem to be nice and open and non-judgemental.
In other words, we fail to see the world as it really is in all its color and diversity and we cement ourselves into looking for and seeing only those people and circumstances that support our world view. Thus we get to be right! Yay! The only problem is we’re not “right.” We may be right in our assessment of certain people or circumstances but we are not right about everyone or about the world at large.
When we are kids and we are judged, shamed, berated, called names, put down, sent to our room without supper, get hit or threatened with harm, or other forms of rejection, it panics us. Our sense of self is so fragile as kids, and our need for the love and approval of the key people in our lives is so great – our survival depends on it – that any whiff of disapproval from a caregiver is traumatic to us. Until those key people wrap their arms around us and tell us they love us again, we are living in a state of PLA – constant anxiety – where we simply can’t relax and become hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive to every sound, gesture, look, movement etc. from the object of our need.
If you were raised in a family where all-or-nothing thinking abounded, chances are you felt rejected, judged and anxious a fair amount of the time and that even if your parents offered you “forgiveness” it felt conditional and that at any time the rug could be pulled out from under you again. Your fundamental sense of safety and security was undermined time and time again and that feeling of uncertainty and distress became such a constant companion, you hardly notice it now in your day-to-day life.
Thus, you can naturally feel hurt or upset or anxious or uncertain about many things over the course of your day, and even though that PLA arises in response to your hurt and uncertainty, you don’t even notice it, you’re so accustomed to its presence. But when you get home at the end of your day, or finally find yourself with a few free minutes, that feeling that has been there all along hits you like a tonne of bricks and overwhelms you, triggering you to head for the food, pronto!
It will seem to you like that anxiety arose out of nowhere and that it is proof that you just can relax or trust yourself around food.
The truth is, that anxiety has been building for years and over the course of that day as well, and it’s only when you stopped efforting for one moment that made it arise.
Here you have a choice. You can continue to judge and shut down to your anxiety – as you had to learn to do as a child – or you can finally stop doing to yourself what was done to you and instead of judging your appropriate response to stress (anxiety/PLA), you can say, “I’m feeling anxious, there must be something causing me stress right now, what could it be?”
The first step on the path to complete and lasting recovery from using food to cope requires your willingness to at least allow for the possibility that perhaps your perception of yourself is skewed and that you come by that skewed perception honestly – ie. you were taught to see yourself and your world that way. You don’t have to believe this, you just have to be open to the possibility.
The second step is to acknowledge that perhaps the people who trained you in their way of seeing the world had a few things to learn themselves and were therefore unable to teach you anything but their own all-or-nothing approach. It doesn’t make them bad, just limited.
The third step is to begin to get some tools for noticing and for shifting your all-or-nothing thinking. Give yourself the opportunity to explore another perspective on yourself and on the world. You can always go back to your all-or-nothing one if it feels more true or valid to you. But at least then it will be a choice you’re making rather than just continuing to live on auto pilot.
The world is a beautiful, bountiful place to live. You have the power within you to create a heaven on earth for yourself. But as long as you are buying into old training and rigid thinking about yourself and others, your ability to feel happy and peaceful and free and to confidently create the life of your dreams will forever be limited.
You deserve freedom, and it truly is much easier than you think.
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