I want to share a few points that is central to my work as a therapist. I would like to start with a very important (in my view) premise that every single behaviour, no matter how weird or illogical, is in fact logical and purposeful. It may not appear logical, and it may go against what you rationally want. But it doesn’t change the fact that, considering what goes on inside your mind, this behaviour serves a purpose. There is a reason for it to take place.
It applies to all behaviours of course, even those that feel ‘out of control’. How strange, right? It can be applied to addiction, rage, staying in destructive relationships, gambling or whatever you can think of. Here, I will talk about it in relation to emotional overeating, but, as I said, you can replace emotional eating with any unwanted behaviour if you want.
If you are an emotional overeater, you are likely to be very worried about it because it affects your health and your looks and it makes you feel awful. A while ago, you have decided you wanted to stop it but you can’t. You try harder and harder, without much success and so gradually you start feeling more and more weak, inadequate and ‘broken’. There must be something wrong with you.
It is too tempting to judge binge eating or emotional overeating, as an irrational behaviour. After all you don’t want to do it. Why is it then that you sabotage yourself? It may even feel that something else takes over in the moments of binging, as if you lose all control over your own body, thoughts, actions and will power. Like one of my clients says, you may find yourself ‘inhaling’ food, as if something possessed you.
Over time it becomes a battle that is never ending and start consuming your life. You obsess about food and think about meals and food all the time. Why would you be doing this? What is wrong with you? You look for solution but nothing seem to work or even make sense any more.
If you go into therapy, you may be lucky to find someone who helps you. But most likely you come across someone who will give many labels to your many behaviour and will listen to details of what happened ‘back then’. They will tell you that what happened ‘back then’ is a reason why you are not functioning like a normal person today. After a while, you will be able to name your various conditions and explicate what is wrong with you, but the eating will be still a battle you go to bed and wake up with every morning.
The truth is, what happened ‘back then’ may be the reason you overeat, but not in a straight, linear, causative way you think. The past doesn’t affect you in a direct way your therapists believes it does. The mechanism is a bit different. And once you get it, you will be on your way to be free at last.
Think about it, what happened ‘back then’ doesn’t even exist anymore. It cannot affect you – no matter how tough or painful it was, and no matter how potentially damaging it seemed. Because it no linger IS. You may or may not be living the consequences of it, but that is more about what is now, isn’t it, than what was then. Someone stole from you, broke your heart, you feel poorer and more cynical as a result. The resentment is still hanging about because of where you would have been otherwise.
Or maybe there is something that happened to you as a child. Something you felt powerless about, that instil a sense of helplessness in you. Maybe you grew up feeling unsafe and looking for protection where you couldn’t find it. Or maybe you stayed in a relationship way too long and can’t forgive yourself for being so stupid.
These may seem like reasons to feel bad. But the truth is, it is only what you think about what happened back them, the judgements you make every day about it, is what is tripping you p emotionally.
In other words, it is how you feel about what happened that hurts you every day. And how it appears to you today (including the images, feelings, sensations in your mind and body in relationship to what happened).
What happened back then is not THE reason why you overeat. If that was the case, your power over it would be very limited. To be precise, you would be pretty doomed, because you can’t go back and undo it. But if you know that how you feel about it is the cause, then you can do something about it.
Because what and how you choose to feel and think right now, in this very moment, is fully within your sphere of influence.
The reason for your eating is always a chronic emotional discomfort. Not a simple ‘I had a bad day and so I will have some chocolate’ type of thing. But chronic, ongoing emotional discomfort that is hard to link directly to eating. It is there all the time and so it seems that you overeat for no reason. But it is always this jumble of emotions that over time you become accustomed to, but are still bothering you nonetheless.
A therapist can potentially help you uncover what it is, but very few will show you how to change it. And in most cases this is the only thing you want from a therapist – to change things rather than talk about them. You wouldn’t go to a car mechanic to talk about your broken car week after week, would you? You would expect them to make some changes so the car can drive again.
Stayed tuned, there is more that I want to share.