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Cultivating Indifference

You may believe that hate is the opposite of love and that there’s no alternative but to love or dislike someone or something, like food. What if there’s another affective state you could cultivate, an underrated, not often talked about alternative which would bring you peace of mind? There is and it’s called indifference.

When I talk with clients about cultivating indifference, they generally have little idea what I mean. We so often think of indifference as a negative emotion, one to be avoided like apathy. We want to have passions and strong feelings. It’s so easy to fall into love or into hate because both emotions make us feel vividly alive. Some people even think that hate is the opposite of love, but how can it be? They both keep you mentally/emotionally tethered firmly to someone or something, while the true opposite of connection is disconnection.

Whether you love or hate to practice the piano, you’re still connected to those ivories. Whether you love or hate your parents, they’ve still got a claim on your brain matter and heart, taking up a great deal of real estate in your mental landscape. Although it feels crummy to dislike your parents and may even generate guilt and shame, it keeps the connection alive in your mind. When we hate people or things, we often think about them as much as we do when we love them, cementing attachment.

However, when we’re indifferent to someone or something, we don’t think much about it. If it crosses our minds at all, little emotion is generated: “Oh, that,” we think and move mentally on. That’s how you want to feel about difficult people or foods. You don’t really want to hate your parents or ex-spouse or chocolate cheese cake. Rather than have major feelings about these things, you want to shrug your shoulders and not care much.

Consider people about whom you are indifferent. You can take them or leave them, right? You don’t need to be unkind or push them away because they don’t mean much to you in the first place. Ditto foods. If you can take or leave a food, that means it’s fine if you have it and fine if you don’t. There’s no major urgency or energy in either direction.

Reflect on areas in which you could cultivate indifference. Certain people in your life? Specific foods? In particular, make sure you’re not keeping a relationship mentally alive by hating someone or something when what you yearn for is to have a distant, neutral sense of them. Practice cultivating indifference and see how much better you feel.