Conspicuously absent, that is what I’d call the care, attention and love that’s missing in the narratives of many dysregulated eaters toward themselves. I know this because clients come in talking about all they’re doing for everyone else in their lives and, if or when they shift to a self focus, it’s to talk up their shortcomings. I can almost see the outpouring of energy that they give to family and friends and feel how parched they are for care and attention.
This manifests itself in several ways. One is that we may give others what we want but fear asking for (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/giving-others-what-you-want) either because we believe we shouldn’t need it or are ashamed that we do—we give in the hope we’ll get back, rather than ask directly for help, support, care, or attention. The other issue is that people who tend to take care of others and not themselves are often co-dependent (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/co-dependence-and-dysregulated-eating), a pattern that begins in ongoing childhood caretaking of parents or siblings.
But back to conspicuous absence. I’m talking about clients who tell me about all the nutritious food they feed their children but eat low nourishment food themselves. Clients who listen ad nauseum to their friends’ complaints and drama yet feel uncomfortable bringing up their own problems. Clients who swear they have no time to exercise but endlessly ferry their children or grandchildren here and there to activities. Clients who cook for neighbors who are sick but eat drive-through food themselves.
Sometimes I actually need to drag out of clients what they’re doing for themselves because they’re so uncomfortable bringing up the subject. It’s as if there’s a picture of their family, friends or community within them and where a photo of them should be, there’s only a ghostly outline. There’s no substance, no ongoing giving to themselves to build their inner resources and expand their lives.
Is it a surprise that such people (usually women) turn to food as a way to give to themselves? Many feel unentitled to and undeserving of anything more, and only comfortable doing something they’re ashamed of because they then can punish their “greedy” selves after mindless eating. If they take a class or join a group or even read a book, they feel guilty. They worry that if they don’t keep giving and giving, they won’t be loved (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/do-you-need-to-care-for-others-to-be-loved).
If the above describes you, it’s time to take time for yourself and feel good about it.