Occasionally I’m asked how I got to
know so much about my work and I usually answer that I’ve been taught well by
those I treat and try to educate. By listening to the deeply (but often mistakenly)
held perceptions of clients, workshop attendees, and Food and Feelings message
board members, I get a clearer understanding of what holds them back from greater
emotional health, especially around food and feelings.
Take the issue of psychic pain. Many
clients I work with suffered trauma, abuse and neglect or generic mistreatment
growing up. Back then, the actions of others caused them pain—hurt,
disappointment, shame, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, etc.—which they carry with
them today stored in memory. Even as I attempt to help them keep the memories
and shed the pain, they hold onto their hurt because it’s part of their
history, their life experience, and often their identity.
Pain is the proof that they were
wronged, that people hurt them. Letting go of it (yes, this is a volitional process) feels like tossing out the evidence of
the crime. The problem is that many troubled eaters use their current pain to
validate that emotional “crimes” did actually happen to them—they were
humiliated, ignored, beaten, sexually abused, manipulated, shunned, bullied,
teased, humiliated, and made to feel that they were defective and unfixable.
They were also told that they shouldn’t or, worse, didn’t, feel this deep hurt
so that hurting has been the primary way to prove to themselves that they
did. Their current pain validates that they suffered.
But consider the paradox this
generates: I must feel yesterday’s pain
to know it happened, even though it hurts me today. Is there no other way to validate that people did bad things
to you? No healthier avenue to verify such knowledge without re-experiencing it
now? Choosing to continue to suffer is like taking the long way home.
The way out is to recognize that hurt
and fear are automatic, evolutionary responses meant to warn you of emotional
and physical threat. You don’t need to hurt now
to know that you hurt back then. That's
like still wearing the cast you wore on your arm in 7th grade to
prove you broke your arm. You can recall the fact of the experience without having the affective response to it. Your memory record of the factual data is
all the validation you need. It happened. Talking about your pain to others who
believe you validates it even more. That’s why it’s so important to share your
suffering. It was real and it hurt you deeply. Knowing that is why you can stop