Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational, and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life. Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Protecting Your Inner Child

The disordered eater within you is really your inner child that’s doing her best to get by in life—a particularly big job if there was trauma in your past. That’s because the traumatized part of you fears experiencing past pain more than just about anything else in the world. And that part of you will use anything, food or purging, to avoid feeling it.

Whatever type of trauma you’ve suffered, you probably have all-too-real memories from the past that belong to an intensely wounded part of you. Trauma can shake your world and turn it upside down, even if you don’t realize exactly why at the time, particularly if it happens at a very young age. Remember, as children we’re pretty much defenseless and dependent on our care-takers. When they violate our trust through abuse and/or neglect, it’s natural to feel helpless and scared. In terror, we take the most adaptive route to protect ourselves. But, if frequent mistreatment occurs, we may become despairing and give up trying to protect ourselves.

Fast forward to today and you as an adult who finds herself confused or paralyzed in the face of people who shame or hurt you. They act inappropriately and you react by engaging with the painful memories of feeling hurt as a child. Because you lacked a parent to prevent harm befalling you, you missed out on a chance to internalize a protective model and establish a got-your-back aspect of self. Back then, you also lacked the sophisticated brain structures to know that your parents’ behavior was wrong and unjust. Now, as an adult, you still are missing the part of you that should fight back against being shamed or that can side-step going to pieces when rejected. Without a protector aspect of self, you may fall into passivity or fear and allow abuse to continue.

To remedy this situation, you must establish a guardian within you. That’s why friends, family, mentors, and therapists are so important, to help you internalize their drive to protect you and develop a part of you that will brook no mistreatment. When someone tries to hurt you now, you must make a conscious effort to call up the protector in you rather than engage with the “hurt child.” To be a mature, effectively functioning adult, you need to develop a sentinel to watch over you and intervene on behalf of your most vulnerable self. Without it, you will continue to feel defenseless. Start by speaking up. Remind yourself that you’re fully grown and safe or can reach safety if you need to. When you feel threatened, rather than panic and withdraw, call on your protector to rush to your aid and take care of business. Keep seeking her out and after a while, she’ll become a permanent fixture who will always be there to keep you safe.

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