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I was Skyping with a client who mentioned feeling awful about herself because she was having difficulty in a college math class. Many people I treat have a similar reaction—not to math, but to letting not doing well in an activity sour their view of themselves. And, of course, feeling negatively about themselves often primes them for a binge.
Here’s how to think. You want to start from the premise that you are going to do some things well in life and some things poorly, that you have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else, and that your success or failure in an activity has nothing to do with your value as a human being. Working off this assumption, you won’t misinterpret what doing poorly means. Of course, you might still wish to do well in, say, math, but doing well or poorly won’t remotely define you’re worth.
When I told my client that I’d struggled with math my whole life (except in college when, strangely, I did fine) and that in my late 20s I took remedial math at the local adult education center (to no avail, I might add), her face broke out in a broad smile. Did she think she was the only person on earth who had trouble with algebra and geometry? Then, when I told her that I still use a tip table when I go out to dinner, she looked positively ecstatic. Did she think I did everything well? Ha! No one does.
This streak of yearning desperately to be successful and perfect runs strongly and deeply through disregulated eaters who associate doing well with being lovable and doing poorly with being unlovable. However, one thing has nothing to do with the other. Activities are what we do, not our essence. That is untouchable by either success or failure. How you do is not who you are. I would love to have a stamp that could imprint that on your brains, particularly since those of you who struggle with accepting that you’re lovable ignore the positive traits you have and over-focus on the negative ones. C’mon, you know you do. Self-love and self-worth are not conditional. You love yourself for every square inch of who you are because all humans have pluses and minuses.
So, next time you start down the road of being hard on yourself and doubting your lovability because you haven’t done something well (then start thinking about eating when you’re not hungry), make a full stop and recognize that you’re heading for trouble. Allow yourself to experience the discomfort of loving yourself no matter what you did wrong or poorly. You may feel weird, uncomfortable, or downright agitated, but so what? You can’t feel any worse than you would in the aftermath of a binge.
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