Are You Getting Better?
I often hear people working hard at recovering from eating problems say that they feel as if they’re getting worse, not better. More often than not, this complaint is based on subjective experience rather than objective evidence. When people say they’re feeling worse, it usually means that the behavior they’re trying to reduce or eliminate has increased in frequency, duration or intensity, that they haven’t noticed sufficient change, feel hopeless, or that they are in more emotional distress.
First off, people with eating issues often don’t recognize their progress. Problems—they see ‘em all; progress they miss. So I honestly don’t consider their assessment of “worse” as necessarily valid. They could be making strides in many areas that seem trivial and not worth noting—bingeing less often, speaking up, catching themselves in their stinkin’ thinkin’, learning more about their motivations and internal conflicts—and so they miss the fact that they are actually getting unstuck. Second, it is true that behavior sometimes redoubles its efforts to plague us when we are trying hard to suppress it. It may feel as if our destructive habits have taken on a life of their own and are working to defeat us. Old habits do not die easily. If they did, I’d be out of a job. Dysfunctional patterns sometimes seem to increase when we are working on getting better because we are scared to give them up and try new, healthy behaviors.
Third, we often believe that we’re getting worse and not better because we feel worse, but the internal experience of sensing affect is not a measurement of success or failure. Most of the time when folks start experiencing emotions, they do feel rotten. And, of course, being dysfunctional eaters, distress drives them to abuse food. Hence, the subjective experience of doing worse. However, this reaction is merely a phase in recovery. It will pass as we work on developing the healthy aspects of self and strengthen our emotional capacity and good judgment. Many people stop recovery work when they start to feel worse because they believe they’re not getting anywhere when they really are. It’s important to have the ability to reframe this shift as positive and to keep doing what’s necessary to make headway.
If you want to know if you are moving in the right direction, read and use my blogs of April 18 and May 2, 2007 to measure your progress. They will show you how to use changes in thinking and behavior to make an objective assessment of how you’re really doing. Remember, this is a long, hard road you’re on with lots of detours (and company). But, if you keep moving, the road does end!