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A major blunder in all-or-nothing thinking is that your dysregulated eating or other unhealthy behaviors are either the fault of your parents or because you aren’t doing enough to clean up your own act. Neither position is the true one. The explanation for why any of us do what we do is far more complicated, and you’ll have a better shot at changing your thinking or behaving if you understand why.
Part of the problem is confusing cause with blame. Cause is a neutral term, while blame is a negative one, implying fault or wrongdoing. Although seeking to identify the roots of behavior is useful, it works against us when we hold onto feelings of hurt or anger that come with assigning blame. Moreover, though there may be a correlation between, say, our eating and how we were raised, it’s too simplistic to point a finger and say with 100% certainty that what our parents did caused us to be as we are. There’s often a relationship between events, but not a direct path from one to the other.
Using the parental fault or self-responsibility model, we usually blame ourselves if we decide not to blame our parents. Instead of faulting them for how we turned out, we take total responsibility for it, as if we were raised in a vacuum tube or popped into adulthood fully formed. You can see how ridiculous this notion is. Of course, parents had an influence on us. Of course, our upbringing has some bearing on how we view ourselves, each other, the world and, specifically, our relationship with food. How could it not?
Taking responsibility for your eating is crucial to changing it, as is understanding the impact your childhood had on how you relate to food and your body. However, for successful resolution of eating problems, both need to be done minus blame. Your parents didn’t get up every morning and decide to mess you up, nor is your intent in mindless or emotional eating inflict harm on yourself.
For example, even if your father, as mine did, wouldn’t let you get up from the table until you cleaned your plate, his intent wasn’t to sow the seeds of an eating disorder in you. And when I continued this behavior well past adulthood, it wasn’t because I wanted to hurt myself. Obviously, there’s a connection between his clean-plate mentality and my adopting it though I knew it wasn’t good for me, but there was no malice in either case.
Move forward by identifying the early forces that helped create your dysregulated eating and also be fully accountable for changing it. Sidestep the blame game and engage in this process with love and compassion for yourself and for those who raised you in spite of their mistakes and yours.
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