Image by Debbie Digioia
One of the major problems of dysregulated eaters is difficulty being alone. I’m not talking about the occasional feeling of loneliness that we all experience at various points in our lives. I’m speaking of actually feeling distressed when you don’t have people or a good deal happening around you. In too many of these situations, dysregulated eaters may become so uncomfortable that they seek relief from food.
In “The Empathy Gap” (Psychotherapy Networker, Nov-Dec 2016, p. 32) psychologist Sherry Turkel stresses the need to learn to be by ourselves in order to have a functional adulthood. She says, “Children learn the capacity to be alone by being ‘alone with’ caring adults. Gradually, the child becomes comfortable being alone with him or herself.” There are many ways that this result may be derailed. Parents may be out working, too busy with their other children, or too preoccupied with their own needs to spend time alone with each child. In some cases, children are left alone far too often, for too long, and at too young an age, and the experience is deeply frightening. So, as adults, aloneness is paired with fear and is, therefor, an upsetting internal experience.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents so afraid themselves of being alone, that they need to keep their children around them practically 24/7. They will interrupt their children’s activities to “come be with Mom or Dad” and will deter them from going out with their friends. In short they will prevent them growing up into independent individuals. Moreover, children often pick up parents’ discomfort about being alone, think that it is something to be feared, and subsequently avoid it themselves.
If you automatically and desperately seek out people when you are or know you will be by yourself, need to have the TV or radio on 24/7 to fill uncomfortable silence, must be digitally connecting to your friends from morning til night, and seek food when you’re not hungry as a relief from aloneness distress, you likely have difficulty being alone.
If you think that this is a problem for you, consider what you learned about this state growing up. Notice what emotions arise when you are or anticipate being by yourself: panic, fear, distress, depression. Quiet this fear by doing self-calming, relaxation or meditative exercises. Tell yourself that you’re capable of being alone and keep reassuring yourself. Reframe being alone as positive and pleasurable, a time to enjoy activities—reading, puttering, gardening or hobbies and recharging your batteries. The more you learn to enjoy your own fine company, the less mindless eating you’ll do.