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Vulnerability and Strength

Yet another interesting discussion cropped up on my Food and Feelings message board (", this time about vulnerability and strength. You, too, might have concerns about them. If so, read on to learn what these terms mean and how you feel about them.

Troubled eaters often confuse emotional vulnerability and strength with physical vulnerability and strength because if there’s been an attack on your physical self, especially when you were powerless to stop it, your natural reaction was fear—and that fear leads to feeling vulnerable from then on. Before you’re fully grown, you are both emotionally and physically vulnerable and weak because your brain and your body are still maturing. A problem occurs, however, when you’ve become physically able to care for yourself as an adult and are strong of body but still feel weak of mind, as if your emotional self hasn’t caught up to your new, more capable physical personhood. Not that you’re ever entirely safe (no one is), but you’re in better shape and more emotionally equipped to handle physical threats and keep yourself out of harm’s way.

There are two issues going on here: how physically vulnerable/strong you are and how emotionally vulnerable/strong you are. There are four sets of responses: emotionally vulnerable/physically vulnerable, emotionally strong/physically vulnerable, emotionally vulnerable/physically strong, or emotionally strong/physically strong. Take a minute and identify which category you fall into. Your answer will tell you where you need to put your energy in order to develop your fullest capacity. Little explanation is needed for the term physical strength, but you may be uncertain what emotional strength means. In brief, it’s the ability to prevent and avoid emotional harm and adequately recover from it when it occurs, using life skills such as trust, dependence, self-soothing, setting limits, problem-solving, self-care, and finding meaning and balance in life.

Enhancing physical strength entails building muscle. Building emotional strength, though, can be scary because it involves doing an honest self-assessment and engaging in thoughts and behaviors which are new and unfamiliar. You may feel so vulnerable that you shy away from giving up your fear, a necessity in order to grow strong emotionally. Emotional strength is gained by flexibility, not rigidity, and by trying different strategies and seeing what works and what doesn’t. As you mull over this issue, consider what you need to do to make yourself stronger both emotionally and physically. When you’ve achieved these goals, I guarantee, you’ll feel much safer.