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I'm Fine (Not Really)

I wish I had a dollar for every client who walked into my office and assured me that she or he felt fine. It’s one thing to say so in everyday chit chat, such as when you’re in the check-out lane at the supermarket and the cashier mumbles, “How’re ya doing?” It’s quite another to say that to your therapist or anyone close to you when you’re not. But that is what happens too often in the office of the therapist. 

As I’ve said before, most dysregulated eaters have childhoods that have been less than stellar. They’ve grown up with all sorts of dysfunction. They had parents with mental health or addiction issues, who suffered from depression, anxiety disorders or personality disorders. They grew up being emotionally, physically or sexually abused, neglected or otherwise traumatized. Their current eating disorders are remnants of childhoods which were dysfunctional through no fault of their own.

In these cases, children adapt by suppressing internal distress to avoid worsening the situation, taking care of parents’ needs rather than their own to make things better, and convincing themselves that they’re okay. If you are upset as a child and don’t get attention or comfort from others, you may give up trying to get it. Maybe you got a cold shoulder or a whack on the behind, maybe you got yelled at for being a bother or told noting’s wrong with you so stop whining. So you adapted to a strategy of laying low, staying out of everyone’s hair—and insisting that you’re fine.

After all, what’s the point of saying otherwise if no one listens or cares? What’s the point of pouring your heart out if people insist that you’re okay when you’re not. Might as well say you’re okay. In this way, saying “I’m fine” becomes a habit, a default setting that you try to convince yourself is true. This is so common in dysregulated eaters that the two behaviors almost go hand in hand. While the strategy was definitely adaptive in childhood, it’s totally maladaptive in adulthood because now you can find people who will listen and care about you, people who will take you seriously, put your interests before theirs, and help you problem solve to improve your life.

You no longer need to pretend you’re fine when you don’t feel that way. If you continue to do so, that attitude and behavior will only perpetuate your eating disorder. Don’t start a session with your therapist by saying “I’m fine” unless it’s true. Instead tell her that things aren’t going great, that you’ve been having bad dreams or that your panic attacks have increased. Don’t minimize your problems. Be honest with other intimates as well. Stop hiding your needs. Stop feeding your hurts and, instead, start sharing them.



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