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When Things Don’t Work Out

I had a recent conversation with a client about her general fearfulness about “things not working out” and how she spends her life trying to prevent bad stuff from happening to herself and her family. This is a common anxiety among dysregulated eaters, especially those with troubled childhoods. Lacking an internal conviction that they can handle whatever comes their way, they instead focus on controlling externals, ie, manipulating situations to assure themselves that no harm will befall them and that they’ll be all right.

You may recognize these thoughts—I couldn’t bear losing a child, I’ll fall apart when Mom or Dad dies, I can’t stand thinking about getting a fatal disease, I’d be lost without my husband/wife/partner, What if this, what if that. If you repeatedly tell yourself that you won’t be okay, you program yourself to not be. However, if you know—deep in your heart with a fierce certainty—that you’ll be okay no matter what misery befalls you, you don’t need to throw your energy into shaping life to “come out right.” You don’t have to keep a tight grip on yourself or your life to out-maneuver destiny. When you believe that you can survive anything and remain emotionally intact, you don’t want bad things to happen, but you don’t need to spend your life trying to ensure that they don’t.

This faith comes from having a complete set of essential life skills—the abilities to bear painful feelings on your own or reach out to friends, take risks and change course, alter your thinking and adapt behavior as appropriate and, most of all, know that you’ll manage to make things all right with yourself even when life is all wrong. The determination in this conviction is the opposite of victim-think. When you believe you can handle anything—not that you’ll necessarily like or be happy with it—you gain power and a sense of comfort and relief. You don’t have to control the future because you’re in control of you.

The problem with focusing too much emotional energy on making “things work out” so that you’ll be okay is that it’s an endless job and prevents you from enjoying the present. How much better to do whatever you can now to make informed decisions for the future, then let go because you know in your heart you’ll survive. Consider your irrational beliefs about your fears of not being all right if something bad occurs and notice what you tell yourself about future threats. Construct a rational belief system that says you’ll handle whatever happens in life to you and those you love. Make sure the bottom line is knowledge that you’ll survive even if what occurs is the last thing on earth you want to happen. In fact, if you tell yourself that you can bear it, you will.