I received this great follow up sharing and question in response to my answer to K’s question about meeting our needs for connection. I am sure you can relate.
Read on to see what I had to say.
“Michelle, what you’ve said makes sense, and I am aware that I use food as a coping strategy to deal with painful emotions. However, one of my painful emotions is the sense that I’m all alone, and that I can’t cope (feeling overwhelmed and panicky). I usually don’t have difficulty knowing what I am feeling, but to know what the need is, and then to meet the need…that part I don’t seem able to do. E.g. The feeling of being alone, the need to be connected with others emotionally/share life with friends = I don’t take steps to meet that need. I don’t reach out and build relationships, even though I definitely have the skills to do that. Why? That’s the part I’m stuck on.”
Hey K, before I can answer your question I need to ask another one – when you say “I’m all alone and I can’t cope” – what do you mean exactly – can’t cope with what?
“It’s the feeling deep inside that I can’t cope with all the pain inside. It feels like there is a ROARING amount of pain inside me that is ready to wash over me at any moment; that I will be flooded by it. That I can’t bear to be conscious b/c I will be overcome by pain. If I try not to use food to cope, I feel ABSOLUTELY overwhelmed and panicky. Panicky, I think, b/c the pain starts coming up and is unbearable (times I’ve tried to ‘sit with’ it have resulted in suicide attempts, sleeping pill abuse, cutting, etc; which is not good b/c I’ve now probably “proven” to my internal self that I really can’t cope with it), as is the feeling alone. It just overwhelms me.
Re: the feeling all alone. It’s both the physical fact of being alone (no friends/supportive family). But it is more a feeling of abandonment/aloneness in the world. Being alone feels awful for that reason, yet being with people often feels just as bad (feel unheard/uncared for/used).Basically, nothing feels good emotionally for me. Using food to cope feels bad (loss of control, physical effects, loss of self-esteem), but not using food to cope feels unbearable (awareness of emotional pain/aloneness). Being alone feels awful, but being with people feels too painful. I’ve got myself painted into a corner.”K
Thank you K. I am grateful to you for being willing to allow me to share this question and my response with others. Your response to my question reminds me of me in the early stages of my healing journey. It was hard for me to imagine that the answer was as simple as it was and I kept trying to make each and every situation unique and therefore, requiring a different approach. This only served to make me feel anxious, overwhelmed, stuck and frustrated. Once I began to realize that the solution truly is much simpler than I had been imagining, and allowed myself to let go of needing it to be difficult, things began to flow quite smoothly – except when I forgot the solution and tried to make a situation difficult or unique yet again.
Food Coping and Being Alone With Unbearable PainYour question above can be broken down into the following statements.
- I’m all alone.
- I can’t cope with all the pain inside.
- I don’t know what the need is.
- I don’t know how to meet my need(s).
- I don’t know why I don’t reach out and build relationships.
- It feels like there is a ROARING amount of pain inside me that is ready to wash over me at any moment.I will be flooded by it.
- I can’t bear to be conscious b/c I will be overcome by pain.
- If I try not to use food to cope, I feel ABSOLUTELY overwhelmed and panicky.
- The feeling of being alone overwhelms me.
- I am alone in the world.
- When I’m with others I am unheard/uncared for/used.
- Nothing feels good emotionally for me.
- Using food to cope means I have no control.
- Not using food to cope is unbearable.
- I can’t tolerate the awareness of my emotional pain/aloneness.
- Being alone feels awful, but being with people feels too painful.
- I’ve got myself painted into a corner.
Each of the key statements above is a story. There are parts in which it is clear you know it’s your story in that you use quotation marks around certain words to indicate that it’s an exaggerated statement or perhaps not true and yet you’re mind is attached to that story and can’t let go. This is a step in the right direction – to be able to identify the flaw in your thinking – even if you don’t know yet how to change it.
So, for each of the stories above ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there any all or nothing thinking in that story?
- What are some other possibilities? (come up with at least 3)
- Do any of those alternative possibilities seem equally or more likely than the first, all or nothing, one?
- What would you like to see happen?
- What needs to happen in order for you to feel peaceful?
Your mind will naturally and freely attach to one of the alternative possibilities once you reveal to yourself that you’re in all or nothing thinking and that it isn’t serving you.
Let’s work a few examples:
I am all alone.
- Any all or nothing thinking? Are you truly all alone or are there people in your life you could connect with or have a deeper relationship with if you felt more competent, capable and safe to do so?
- Other possibilities? I am not all alone; I could have deeper connections with so and so if I just put some effort in; I have people on the periphery of my life that I’d like to know better if I just felt more confident and secure in myself; There are people who would like to spend time with me I just don’t feel safe doing that right now or feel deserving of that right now.
- Any of those possibilities feel better or more likely than the original (I’m all alone) one? Yes! All of them!
Let’s try another example:
I can’t cope with all the pain inside.
- Any all or nothing thinking? Yes! I am coping with all the pain inside – I’m going to work – doing my thing – using food – I’ve found a way to cope so clearly I can and that statement is all or nothing and keeps me shut down and not only not looking for a life enhancing solution, it prevents me from seeing how I am clearly coping now (even if I’d rather cope in a different way it is not true that I’m not coping).
- Other possibilities? I can cope with all the pain inside; I don’t have to feel it all at once – I can cope with some consciously and some with food until I feel able to move through it all and be done with it; I can find some life enhancing coping strategies to use while I’m starting to invite myself to be more conscious and therefore use food a little less because I can do things like journal, meditate, walk, read, etc. sometimes when I feel able to do that instead of eat (ie. when the intensity of the emotions is less) and sometimes I will let myself use food to cope with my feelings and then when I can I will use my new tools.
- Any of those seem more likely than the original all or nothing: I can’t cope!? Yes, all of them!