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 Pain
Your 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!
What you’ve just discovered in doing this is that there are stories beneath the original story that are stopping you from moving forward. Stories like: I am not safe; I can’t trust anyone; I can’t trust myself; People don’t like me; I am undeserving of friendship and healthy relationships; I am incapable of creating healthy and safe relationships; and so on.
For each one of those underlying stories that you reveal and process with the all or nothing process you will feel freer and freer to just be as you are in the moment and trust that you are a beautiful person of worth who deserves peace and love and joy at all times and is capable of creating that for herself and honoring herself first and foremost at all times.
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!
As you use this tool and reveal the all or nothing thinking that is alive in you you will immediately feel a sense of release. It may be replaced by another all or nothing thought about how it won’t work for other things or how this was a fluke or how much work it’s going to be etc. etc. etc.
Let me tell you something. Many of my clients are moving through the bulk of their healing around using food to cope in just a few months or less. This isn’t “hard” work. It’s not about battling it out with yourself and others for the rest of your life. It’s about learning a new way of being; your natural state of being and simply noticing when you’re not in your natural state of being and bringing yourself back, gently, lovingly, to reality.
If you’re starting to go into resistance and tell yourself that can’t be true for you – ask yourself: Is there any all or nothing thinking in that story?
Yes! Just because you’ve been told, or you’ve chosen to believe that this pattern will take forever to change, or that it’s “who you are”, doesn’t make that true and you don’t have to continue to believe it – just reveal the all or nothing thinking to yourself and come up with other possibilities and prove to yourself that you are safe, you are free – except when you tell yourself you’re not.
I encourage you all to feel free to email me questions about this or any stories that you feel stuck on.
Once you get through the all or nothing stories you can identify what is reality – what is true in your life ie. I don’t have many close friendships because I have a hard time setting boundaries and it doesn’t feel safe to invite people into my life because I fear they’ll overrun me and I’ll end up feeling worse.
Now, there’s still some all or nothing in that story – and, you’re much closer to figuring out where your energy really needs to go! First into enhancing your self-esteem so you know you’re deserving of what you want and need. This means you feel entitled to set boundaries and you openly and easily challenge people who violate your boundaries. It also means that you’re going to be drawing into your life people who are healthy, confident, secure people who will not intentionally violate your needs or boundaries and will hear you with respect and love when you ask them to do something differently if it makes you feel unsafe or disrespected. That’s where you’re headed. And with the all or nothing thinking running rampant you’re stuck on the surface focusing on all the thoughts and feelings and behaviours that are just coping strategies and not at all on the underlying needs of safety and security within yourself and within relationships with others.
Give this a try any time you’re feeling stuck, resistant, or hearing yourself say any of the above statements or feeling anxious or using food to cope (those are all your primary coping strategies). You’ll feel a shift immediately and be able to identify what you really need in that moment (ie. safety, love, ) and then you can start to explore how to give that to yourself.
And, if you want to learn more about this process and experience recovery from using food to cope, consider picking up a copy of my book (http://www.cedriccentre.com/books) or joining our new web program (http://www.cedriccentre.com/ )! You deserve to be free and it’s much easier than you imagine.