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Having Problems to Solve

I was talking with a client who complained about having problems, yet felt she built her self-esteem around solving them. Her thinking made me realize that disregulated eaters often seem stuck on this merry-go-round. If you too are on it, it’s time to get off.

Here’s how her logic went. She didn’t feel she was worth very much as is, and only felt good about herself when resolving difficulties and getting out of jams. She believed that she intentionally attracted problem people and got into thorny situations in order to feel competent and clever through inevitably escaping from these people and predicaments. She went so far as to say she thought she existed to solve problems, yet was totally exhausted by them, feeling as if she was always “fighting for her life.” If she wasn’t struggling to improve herself in some way and be perfect, she didn’t feel alive. So she had to create problems. Although she recognized that she was caught in a revolving door, she couldn’t figure out how to stop generating messes and still maintain high self-esteem. If she wasn’t working to make things better, she felt she had no worth.

This pattern may develop by modeling yourself after parents who created situations in which they had to struggle. I don’t mean simply having problems, but looking for trouble and generating crises. It may also occur if your parents pushed you to do things which were very difficult for you and only gave you praise (or didn’t punish you) when you succeeded. Without the unconditional love of being valued just for being, you may believe that you’re only worthwhile when you’re striving or struggling. It may feel strange for you when life is calm and easy with no fires to put out.

Some disregulated eaters continue to have eating problems because they feel compelled to struggle. They eat “normally” for a while, then resume unhealthy habits so they can once again work to correct them, proving their worth. Freud called this the repetition compulsion. If you’re used to struggling, it might feel downright weird to eat “normally,” do your workouts, and take care of yourself, that is, just roll merrily along.

Consider if struggling is a pattern of yours. Do you not “see” trouble coming down the road and, therefore, get into crisis after crisis? Do you create problems for yourself? Do you generate jams and feel alive and thriving only when you’re trying to get out of them? Are you bored when there’s no major battle for you to fight? You may need professional help to end this pattern, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. Opting out of the struggle mentality may go a long way toward helping you end your eating and weight problems.