Many disregulated eaters lack a stable sense of self—an ongoing, permanent self-reflection of being okay and a good person all the time. Internal stability helps you tolerate negatives feelings about yourself because you view yourself as basically good enough. Because people with food problems often eat when they aren’t happy with themselves or to punish themselves, a stable sense of self reduces unwanted eating.
Here are some questions to help you assess your sense of self. When you do something you deem worthwhile, do you think of yourself as a “good” person? Alternately, when you do something you view as hurtful to yourself or others, do you believe you’re a “bad” person? Does your judgment about your self-worth depend on how others view (read, approve or disapprove of) you? Do you base your self-esteem on how much or how well you’ve done or are doing? Does your view of self regularly fluctuate from believing you’re a pretty good egg to falling short and being defective?
If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, you have an unstable sense of self that can cause unnecessary emotional pain (which may lead to non-hunger eating). Emotionally healthy individuals have a unwavering view of themselves as basically decent human beings—they’re works in progress, flawed creatures who will never reach perfection, and are doing the best they can. Momentarily, they feel proud when they do something exceptional or ashamed when they act in ways that hurt themselves or others. However, their basic self-assessment does not waiver because of their “good” or “bad” behavior. Their self-regard is a positive constant and one extreme of behavior doesn’t cancel out the other. They are aware of both parts of themselves all the time.
Children develop a stable sense of self when they’re loved unconditionally, given fair parameters for acceptable behavior, and have adult caretaker role models who are emotionally whole. An unstable sense of self derives from being unfairly and harshly judged and cared for by parents who themselves are unable to hold constant self-regard. An unstable sense of self adds to and is a product of self-disregulation. To develop a more stable sense of self, assume you’re a fine person at heart who will sometimes do wonderful things and as often act unexceptionally or imperfectly. Work on feeling the same—positive, that is—about your core self all the time. Whenever you do “good” or “bad” things, remember that you have done and will do enough of the opposite behaviors to balance them out—which makes you just like pretty much everyone else. Regulating your self-view will help you regulate your eating behaviors.
PLEASE NOTE: I encourage you to comment on my blogs and will do my best to address topics/questions you raise in future blogs. I cannot provide individual responses, but encourage you to post your questions and comments on The Food and Feelings Workbook message board athttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings.