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The Importance of a Sense of Self

The Importance of a Sense of Self

What is your sense of self and how might it affect your eating and body image? Do you know what a sense of self means or what yours is? Do you understand what having a healthy one entails?

Research by Christopher Basten, Ph.D. and Stephen Touyz, Ph.D. “lends some empirical support for the often-cited observation that eating disorders (EDs) occur in those whose sense of self and identity is weak.” (EDRS Post Presentation Summary 2018 Manual, “The relationship between sense of self and pathology in eating and body image,” Basten and Touyz, accessed 10/20/19). According to them, a weak sense of self includes “lacking a sense of wholeness, authenticity, continuity, and vitality.” 

Many eating disordered clients hold a view of themselves that is fragmented, That is, they see themselves as parts that are unintegrated with other parts to form a sense of wholeness. For example, they view their work value as distinct from their social value and generally feel somehow incomplete, as if something is missing in them. This lack of integration is a barrier to a sense of wholeness that says, “I am all of me at once” and “I am enough for me all the time,” mindsets which are necessary to function effectively in the world.

Authenticity is almost always an issue with dysregulated eaters. They hide aspects of themselves, act “as if,” have difficulty being authentic with others or themselves, and fear rejection or shame and humiliation when they’re genuine. They say they’re fine when they’re not. 

Lacking a sense of wholeness, they fail to experience continuity within themselves, known as a stable sense of self. Chameleon-like, they reflect what (or who) is around them and are dependent on others’ approval for their own self-value and self-approval. Vitality, aka self-agency or empowerment, is often low because they get thrown by indecision and suffer severe self-doubt. Rather than feeling energized by who they are, they suffer from a perceived inner emptiness which leads to apathy and inertia.

If any of these descriptors apply to yourself, especially in a major way, it’s time to set things right. Therapy can help enormously. Your therapist will understand your wanting an improved sense of self and will help you develop skills to develop one that is strong and stable.



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