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Growth or Safety

American psychologist Abraham Maslow is attributed with having said, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” He wasn’t talking in physical terms, of course, but in emotional ones. His quote draws a dramatic line in the sand—we either take risks and charge ahead or hide and remain who we are rather than who we could become. This observation is highly relevant for moving on from disregulated eating, particularly at the dawning of a new year.

You cannot be safe and grow, it’s as simple as that. This does not mean that you must move forward, only that if you wish to, by necessity, you must relinquish the comfort of safety. Fact is, for many people, emotional security is more crucial than reaching their potential. This is especially true for those disregulated eaters who have experienced little emotional certainty or security in their lives. Sadly, they fear surrendering the little they do have, no matter that it is destroying them through food or other abuse. Their safety is found in the familiar and the known, even if it fails to bring genuine, lasting security and protection from harm. Even if it is killing them.

One of the aspects of psychology I’ve always enjoyed is the touch of philosophy in it, and Maslow’s question of growth versus safety straddles both realms. Are humans born to play it safe or take risks? Must we all yearn to grow and transform ourselves into our ideals or is it okay to stay stuck and unhappy? Remember, in the history of the world, the goal of striving for happiness is a relative newcomer. For most of human existence, personal happiness wasn’t on the agenda. Now, it seems, happiness is the agenda.

Whether you’re willing to face your fears and take risks or not is an issue you need to resolve to become a “normal” eater. Is happiness and transformation crucial to you or would you rather stick to the statis quo? Maybe recovering from disregulated eating is something you feel you ought to do rather than something you desperately desire. How much do you value the familiarity of your eating habits, dysfunctional as they are? Are you willing to risk all to let them go? You won’t move forward without such a mindset.

Extending Maslow’s statement, I would add that doing nothing is akin to taking a step backward and, in fact, anything short of taking that tremulous next step is a way of scurrying back to safety. The point is, you cannot have both. You cannot think and behave in the same ways around food repeatedly and overcome your eating problems. Any choice other than stepping forward is choosing to remain the same.