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Opaque versus Transparent

If you have difficulty regularly regulating your food intake, you probably have problems with the flow of your emotions as well. The goal is to become so emotionally flexible that you know, as the song says, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. That doesn’t mean becoming perfect at handling emotions, just that, for the most part, you’ll be able to appropriately let go of or contain intense affect depending on what’s necessary.

I think of people who don’t show feelings as opaque. They cut off emotions so quickly that they barely and rarely feel them. No matter what angle you use to try and connect with them, no feelings shine through. They are often cerebral and intellectual people or such busy bees that they (intentionally) never have time to stop and feel.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are people I think of as emotionally transparent. You may view them as dramatic, over the top, oversensitive, or wearing their heart on their sleeve. What they feel, they immediately show. They have difficulty shutting off emotion or containing it. Everything bubbles right up to the surface and overflows. They’re easy to read and can’t stop exhibiting their feelings even when they want to.

Neither attitude itself is unhealthy unless you’re rigidly stuck there—always transparent or opaque. It can be enormously beneficial and freeing to let go of and let out your feelings. People can connect with you easily and know exactly where they stand. Expressing yourself no holds barred is part of healthy intimacy and useful in ongoing close relationships. However, it’s also extremely valuable to be able to contain and restrain your feelings when necessary—in an emergency, in sensitive matters, or in situations that require deeply focused cerebral attention. It’s handy and healthy to compartmentalize and focus solely at the task at hand.

People who are emotionally adapt and interpersonally successful can span the emotional continuum as needed. You can acquire these skills. Whichever extreme you favor, you can learn to regulate your feelings. If you’re someone who tends to be transparent, you can build skills to better contain and modulate your emotions. If you’re someone who’s generally opaque, you can start to loosen up and show some vulnerability by being less guarded. Using containment and expansion in the emotional arena will carry over to your relationship with food, as you get more skilled at self-regulation. As you become more effective at balancing your feelings, you’ll be building skills for “normal” eating as well.