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Acting Out Internal Conflict in a Positive Way

I was speaking with a client a while back about the war within her among what she calls her “wild child,” “the helpless onlooker,” and her “nurturing overseer.” As we talked about each facet of her personality that surfaces around her unwanted eating, I had an idea. Sometimes words, especially those in our heads and unspoken, just don’t cut it. Instead, I thought of a way for her to act out her inner dialogue.

What better vehicle than to use sock puppets. After we had a giggle over my suggestion, we got down to some serious discussion about how this sock puppet drama might play out. She could either make them the old-fashioned way, out of a sock and tennis ball, or she might find a more sophisticated version in a store. Going with the home-made version, she could draw a face on the puppet that expressed what it was feeling. The wild child could have a dazed, crazed look that is how we feel when we’re driven and desperate and feeling out of control around food. The helpless onlooker could appear frightened, powerless, paralyzed, while the nurturing overseer (my client’s words, not mine), could look benign and compassionate.

Then we decided she could even add voices. Think about it. How would you make the helpless onlooker sound? I’d make her voice barely a whisper, as if she didn’t dare speak. Or maybe even not have her say a word but act out her feelings behaviorally, in her own sock puppet way. I’d give the nurturing overseer a sweet, kind, gentle voice that was full of wisdom and compassion. And, the wild child—she’d scream and use her best bullying, demanding tone and tactics. She’d try to overtalk the other voices, the onlooker might cry, and the nurturer would speak sense ever so gently.

The goal of the exercise would be to give voice to all these voices who speak to us in their own ways in order to highlight the parts of ourselves that struggle over food decisions. If we don’t hear them, how can we understand what they really want? And if we don’t understand them, how can we deal with them to serve our best interests? Moreover, how can we find other ways for them to express themselves more appropriately? Let’s face it, unwanted eating is all about being on autopilot and shoving away any kind of meaningful internal dialogue. I really hope some of you try out this sock puppet suggestion. If you do, please share your experience on the  "Food and Feelings" message board. I’d love to hear all about it.