Presenting Issue: Emotional Eating
Forgiveness is a radical act of self-love.
When Annie* came to see me, she was struggling with patterns of self-sabotage, specifically around food and emotional eating.
Self-sabotage is a key defence mechanism that our brain engages to help us manage our early development.
When we are developing, the most important thing that we need to believe is that our parents are safe, that they're ok, that they make the right decisions and that we are safe in their care. In fact, we need to believe this, because if we didn't have that psychological safeguard, then everything would be in question and little children would constantly be at risk of a breakdown.
This primary belief would be perfectly benign if our parents and guardians were perfect, but that is unfortunately not the case. The problem occurs when our parents or caregivers behave in ways that aren't ideal, and because we have to uphold the belief that they are right and that they are safe to avoid a nervous breakdown, we have to make sense of it in some other way...
We start to believe that their behaviour was appropriate because of something to do with us. We start to believe that it's our fault and the narrative of I'm not good enough, of I'm bad that sticks with us for a large portion of our lives is born.
There is a part of us that actively wants to believe that and that is actively going to be driving behaviour that holds that belief in place, because, if we believe that we are OK, that we are good enough, that we aren't bad, then the unthinkable must be true. Our parents weren't ok, weren't safe. They let us down and while as adults we have mostly come to terms with this fact, and in a lot of cases consciously forgiven our parents, there's is often a very young part of us that still thinks that whatever happened is their fault and has been sabotaging us with incredible skill ever since!
The resolution to our patterns of self-sabotage is to accept that we were let down as children on a deep, subconscious level.
Annie* had a significant amount of childhood trauma and while she objectively knew that it was not her fault, the subconscious self-sabotage mechanism was still at work upholding the belief that 'she's bad' and can't 'be good' when it came to food.
The first stage of our work together focused on the subconscious acceptance of being let down as a child and a subconscious forgiveness of her abusers.
Consciously, it can be difficult, in some cases almost impossible, to contemplate forgiving those that have truly harmed us, but the subconscious mind knows that forgiveness isn't a cop-out. It's a radical act of self-love.
Denver-based pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talks of forgiveness as a radical act in these terms: "When someone else does us harm, I believe that we are connected to that mistreatment like a chain. [...] So what if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way of saying it's OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that links us. Like it's saying what you did is so not OK that I refuse to be connected to it anymore."
The work with Annie focused initially on severing the ties of harm by forgiving her abusers and firmly placing the responsibility with the adults that let her down. The ongoing process is one where, using a combination of techniques, Annie is able to re-parent herself and treat herself with the love and kindness that she has always deserved.
After two sessions, Annie reported that while the binges had not stopped, there was some improvement & in particular, she had gone from binging on chocolate bars to a more healthy choice of yoghurt or cereal. She had however not started to loose any weight and was keen to focus directly on beliefs, patterns and behaviours around food.
Our final session brought us directly into contact with the psychological controllers of Annie's eating patterns and her ability to process food.
Our patterns and behaviours have a rational cause. The trick is to find out what is at play and enter into discussion with the subconscious mind. There is no conflict, the saboteur is on our side, we just need to start working together.
* Name changed to protect the client's anonymity.
For more on self-sabotage, watch Tom Fortes Mayer, the Founder of The FreeMind Project & creator of the FreeMind System, explain how to remove the most common success block. This one defence mechanism causes so many challenges and yet it is only trying to help. This about how we manage one set of thoughts at the cost of the quality of our life.