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Healing Old Wounds

When people come to me for therapy, it’s most often about eating and weight problems (although I treat the gamut of mental health and relational issues). Clients generally recognize that their poor relationship with food is rooted in childhood dysfunction, but may not know what to do with that information. In fact, understanding the dysfunctional events in one’s history and connecting to the emotions they evoke are two different animals. Clients frequently become stuck because they have difficulty facing the past or doing whatever is needed to heal from it. Don’t let that be you.

If specific people—Mom, Dad, a sibling, boss, neighbor—or certain types of people—authority figures, competitors, manipulators, victims—continue to trigger your abuse of food, it’s time to turn back the clock and discover why you’re locked into such intense reactions. That means exploring your early emotional relationship with parents and other family members. Does anyone in the present remind you emotionally of anyone from the past? Do you feel mistreated now in the same way you felt mistreated in childhood or adolescence? Are there themes of unfairness, deprivation, invalidation, or neglect from your youth which replay in the here and now?

For example, let’s say you recognize that it’s Mom or Dad who ignored, shamed, criticized, or in some way victimized you as a child and that you’re now in relationships that mirror this same kind of dysfunction, ie, you feel similarly toward your partner, friend, boss, etc. as you did toward your folks. Your work is to psychically re-enter that wounded time so you can heal and move on. This means experiencing feelings that you’ve been running from all your life—painful, scary emotions that will not mend on their own. The goal is to not merely acknowledge having these feelings, but to make an authentic emotional connection to your rage, terror, confusion, or helplessness at a parent or individual who may be alive or dead. This is a rough process that’s best done in therapy, but also can be managed with intimates with whom you feel safe.

There is no other way to become a whole, healthy person other than to return to, then let go of, the past. It’s time. You can do now what you could not do as a child—understand others’ motivations, put behavior in context, contain and share your feelings, hold mixed emotions, and remain in tact even though you feel as if you’re falling apart or about to explode. To improve your relationship with food and to become mentally healthy, let yourself be guided by Geneen Roth’s excellent advice: “The only way out is through.” Remember through means you do come out at the other end.