Many dysregulated eaters find it difficult to keep a Stable Sense of Self at all times, that is, to hold a core, positive regard for themselves that is undeniable and unwavering—no matter what. With an unstable sense of self, you feel fantastic about yourself when you’ve done well or when people like and praise you, and equally awful about yourself when you’re rejected or criticized or don’t live up to perfection.
Here are some examples of an unstable sense of self. Failing to make the tennis team, you’re full of shame and your self-esteem plummets. Being asked out on a second date by someone you like makes you feel lovable and valuable. When you don’t clean the house after promising yourself you would, you feel like a terrible, lazy person. Only by winning a short story contest do you allow yourself to believe you are a decent writer.
With a stable sense of self, you always hold yourself in high regard. It doesn’t change due to praise or criticism, success or failure. When you’re unconditionally loved as a child—whether you do right or wrong—you develop a constant view that you are okay no matter what you do. Your worth and value do not fluctuate whether you’re the best or the worst. One reason that therapy is so powerful is that the therapist provides the client with this kind of unconditional acceptance and caring.
Here’s a personal example of what having a stable sense of self means. A few times a year, I go online to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to check out reader reviews of my books. No matter what the book, reviews run the gamut from “best book I ever read” to “such a waste of time, I wish I could get my money back.” My self-esteem remains the same whether my books get high praise or condemnation. With an unstable sense of self, I’d love myself only after reading complimentary reviews and feel unlovable after reading critical ones.
Notice when your sense of self-worth is predicated on comments or actions of others or when you need reassurance that you’re okay or a fine person. To become emotionally healthy, you must stop looking to others for a sense of wellbeing and value. Instead, with intent and practice, you can develop the ability to always hold yourself in high regard. This means loving yourself through every miserable mistake and failure and never forgetting your frailties when you’re praised to the sky or put on a pedestal nor your shining virtues when you’re criticized. Your worth and lovability are a constant, a steady flame that continues to burn brightly within you every minute of every day.