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What Are You Trying to Prove?


A pattern that shows up a lot in dysregulated eaters is clients trying to prove something. Their goal is to show someone (or themselves) that they are or aren’t a certain way and they go at it with such a vengeance that it overrides their common sense and ability to make healthy decisions for themselves.

For example, my client Dawn who’s recovered from drug and alcohol abuse has recently taken a part-time, entry-level job, her first since quitting drugs. She enjoys it but working the night shift has turned her life upside down—she’s eating poorly, is exhausted all the time, and can’t attend her usual AA or NA meetings for support.

When I asked why she stays in the job or hasn’t requested a more suitable schedule, she said she’d thought about asking for another shift, but didn’t want people to think she’s a quitter. She expressed fear that her parents already believed she wouldn’t keep the job because of how she failed to hold one down during her drug using days and she wanted to show them that she was different now and could be responsible.

By the end of our discussion, Dawn realized she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone and the drive to do so came from memories of her parents telling her as a child that she gives up too easily. Today we know this isn’t a failure of her smarts but of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Dawn decided to talk with her supervisor about finding another shift for her and, if that wasn’t possible, to seek another job.

Another client, Li, grew up as what he calls a “mommy’s boy” and, now in his Twenties, is struggling living alone. To prove to himself that he really can make good choices and take care of himself, he’s overly cautious, constantly second-guesses himself, and is terrified of making mistakes. Whether it’s making decisions at work or on a date, he’s insecure, afraid that doing something wrong means he’s failing at adulthood.

In this case, he’s not trying to prove anything to his widowed mother—who’d love to have him back under her wing—but to himself. But his determination to be autonomous has made him far more anxious than he needs to be. We talked about it being okay that he has missteps on the path of adulthood and that part of maturity means learning from them. He agreed that he feels better not pressuring himself to do right all the time and acknowledged that he was doing a better job on his own than he expected.

Take a minute and think about whether you’re often trying to prove something to others or yourself, what that is, and how you could give up this behavior to become healthier.