Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Get Out Of Your Head!!!

Get Out Of Your Head!!!

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

"I have read every book there is on eating disorders. I could recite everything there is about eating disorders. I don’t understand why I can’t get it through my head and just eat normally. I don’t know what’s wrong with me."
When I hear this from clients or from members of the ANAD support group, I tell them, "Recovery isn’t through the head, we can’t think our way to recovery, you have to recover through your body." My response is usually met with quizzical looks. Most women with eating disorders live their lives in their heads, almost as if they have vacated their bodies. They are adept at thinking their way out of anything, out of their emotions, even their body sensations for hunger, fullness, fatigue and thirst. In order to recover, they need to get out of their heads and back into their bodies.

"What do you mean get out of my head?" Well first I must reiterate that eating disorders are not about food, eating or weight, but rather a lack of a sense of "self" - kind of like going downhill, on a winding mountain road, at night, in a horrendous thunderstorm, on a bus, WITHOUT A DRIVER!! It is very scary, like life is spinning out of control around you and there’s nothing you can do about it!

The "missing self" is often experienced as an inner emptiness, dark and frightening - and because the person knows something is missing but doesn’t know what - often this emptiness is judged as "I’m wrong, bad or defective. "

But you were not born this way, I guarantee it!

When you were born you were whole and perfect in everyway!! Around the age of 2 you formed a sense of self. Children of this age are very physical and express their likes & dislikes mainly through their bodies and voices. Picture yourself at 2 and maybe you’ll see a child running through a backyard sprinkler, laughing aloud. You felt good about your "self" and about your body.

This is also when you discovered a very powerful word: "NO!" (Kind of like "I disagree, therefore I am!") Each time a child says "No, I don’t like that" she is actually affirming her sense of self. And if you were raised in the "Mr. Rogers" style of parenting you would be told, "You are perfect just being you", "People can like you just the way you are". This also affirms your sense of self.

But most women who have eating disorders were not raised in this manner. They learned early on "In order to be loved by you , I have to give up pieces of being me." (Of course being born a female in a male-dominated society that says "Women should not express anger, be loud, speak their minds, be too physically active, have an appetite for food or sex" just sets the stage for these kinds of messages.)

Think back and remember what you were taught early on about being your "self". Were you called a crybaby, or told you were too sensitive? Then you had to sacrifice your emotions in order to please someone else. And since you couldn’t, you replaced being comfortable with your emotions with shame
"What’s wrong with me that I have these feelings?"

Maybe you were placed in the role of being your mother’s mother. You had to sacrifice your need for nurturance in order to take care of her. Again, when you couldn’t, you thought "I’m too needy." Every time your feelings were invalidated: ("I’m sad." "No, you’re not. You have nothing to be sad about"), you stopped trusting your feelings and self-doubt grew. If you lived in an abusive environment where you were told that you were worthless, unlovable, or unwanted, you stopped feeling good and believed these messages instead.

So, scattered in your past are pieces of your "self", and where your "self" should have been you began to feel a "hole". If you have no sense of self, the body becomes simply an empty container, a thing. And of course how that thing, that container looks becomes very important. "I have to look good in order to be worthy." "I don’t know who I am, so I have to act how others want me to be."

What happens then is that rather than trust our "self" which speaks to us through our body (our gut wisdom), we start to live in our head. We think about everything. And we get very good at talking ourselves out of anything. Rather than trust our emotions, we say things like "He didn’t really mean to hurt my feelings, he’s just tired." Or "I shouldn’t be angry, I must have done something to deserve this." "I can’t speak up, no one will ever like or love me if I complain." And because we don’t trust our bodies either, especially with our emphasis on "looking good" in a society that says you have to be "pin thin" in order to be beautiful, we can talk ourselves out of listening to our body cues too. "I can’t really be hungry, I just ate an apple three hours ago." "No one else is eating, so I shouldn’t need to eat yet either." "I’m not really tired today, I’m just a lazy slug."

"So what can be done about this?" The goal is to turn off the head long enough to listen to that very quiet voice inside that "knows". I’m not talking about a thinking kind of knowing, but a deep "gut instinct" kind of knowing. This is the voice of the "self", what I often refer to as "Wisdom". It is often difficult for clients to listen to wisdom because the voices of their other parts are usually so much louder and more urgent. These voices are also more familiar because you’ve been listening to them so much longer. In order to get to "wisdom", you may need to imagine wading through a crowd of people who all want to get your attention, telling each one, "I’ll be with you in a moment" or "I’ll be right back". Sometimes I’ll suggest that a client visualize turning off switches that control speakers, so that the voices are quiet enough to hear "wisdom".

"So what? Why would I want to listen to wisdom?" When you are in wisdom, in your "self", you feel centered and calm. A quiet peacefulness comes over you. You feel more assured, more confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way. When you find your "self" its like getting into the drivers seat of that bus. Most people say the first thing they would do is put their foot on the brake and slow down. By steering the bus themselves you take control of your life, its not so scary and out of control.

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