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What’s Your Normal?

If you’re being emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually abused by your partner, you’ll likely have difficulty becoming a “normal” eater because of what you accept as “normal” in your domestic life. Several points about such misperceived normalcy were made in Time magazine (9/22/14) after the release of the video of NFL player Ray Rice beating up his then fiancé Janay Palmer and speak to the plight of the victims of abuse.

One of the take home messages in the article is about what seems normal in the lives of people, mostly women, who are abused. There’s a frightening perceived normalcy about how they’re mistreated, a case of the emperor’s new clothes. When everyone else can see how poorly you are treated and condemns your partner’s actions (either because they see what’s going on or because you’ve told them), what keeps you in denial? I believe it’s the fact that being abused or neglected feels familiar and, in a word, normal to you--being hurt, put down, shamed, bullied, rebuffed, controlled, ruled by fear; terrified to speak your truth, putting on a happy face when you’re miserable, and tiptoeing around your perpetrator. All of this feels right on some crazy level.

Speaking of why she didn’t, then finally did, leave her abusive marriage, the actress Robin Givens says, “It’s just amazing what becomes your normal.” (page 23) Craig Malkin, clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, explains why: “The person being abused is focused on the positive and waiting for the next positive. There’s a psychological effect like gambling.” (page 22). Abuse victims tend to over-focus on the positive and minimize the negative, but there’s also—always—an undercurrent of tension about when a perpetrator might abruptly and unexpectedly come after you. You’re always waiting for the next snide comment, rebuff or invalidation, another slap or punch or sexual assault. The physical and psychic tensions are intense and with you 24/7 even when you think they aren’t, held in your body, if not your conscious mind.

How does abuse relate to eating? Being abused makes it simply too stressful to not turn to food for comfort, even when you’re not upset, but unconsciously wait for the next attack. Moreover, isn’t it so much easier to focus on losing weight than on having lost your self-esteem? If you continue to have an eating problem, you can always put your energies into resolving it. If you eating “normally,” you’re faced with your real problem, allowing yourself to be abused. And, honestly, if you don’t feel good enough about yourself to be abuse free, how will you ever feel deserving enough of being a “normal” eater? If you want to become one, you may need to end being abused first.