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Pain Is Unique to Individuals

It’s time for another reminder that we are highly unique individuals. Although we have a great deal in common physically and emotionally, each of us has a different emotional pain threshold that may promote or encourage tolerating discomfort in the eating arena. This is why it’s so dangerous to compare your progress to that of others. Remember, your psychological pain may be greater or less than someone else’s.

Folks who have a healthy balance of neurotransmitters, particularly natural brain opioids and neuromodulators such as dopamine may feel less emotional distress than others. If you have a history of trauma or abuse, you will likely be far more sensitive to emotional upset than a person who had a more functional childhood. That’s why some individuals can fairly easily tolerate the discomfort of saying no to foods and others have a tougher time. That’s also why many disregulated eaters turn to food at the slightest internal distress signal and why others can manage their upset more effectively.

Why, then, do you keep comparing your progress with someone else’s? I hear it all the time: clients put themselves down when they see others growing healthier or overcoming problems more rapidly than they are. My job is to remind them—and you—that you’re doing yourself a huge disservice when you measure and judge yourself in relation to others. Maybe their pain center chemicals are functioning optimally and yours are limping along. People who are chemically well balanced do indeed have a head start in the recovery department. If your pain-ameliorating chemicals aren’t doing their job effectively, you’ll first have to get them in solid working order before you’ll be able to tolerate more discomfort.

No point in feeling like a victim for what you don’t have or, beyond a point, blaming your parents for what they didn’t give you. The question is what you can do now to increase your tolerance for psychological discomfort in the service of self-growth. You can choose healthy foods to nourish your brain, recognize that you have a low pain threshold, reframe your beliefs about pain being bearable, distract yourself from discomfort by doing activities that discharge the feel-good chemicals you do have, stop anticipating how painful something is going to be, start imagining yourself getting through it successfully, and quit telling yourself that life is difficult, hard, and unfair, and start insisting that you’ll manage whatever comes your way. It’s true that life isn’t fair—not with appetite, brain chemistry, childhood experiences or many areas of life—but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with and improve what you have.