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Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

Has this ever happened to you? In feverish pursuit of happiness, you continue on a path which totally fails to make you happy. Refusing to give up because you believe it’s the “right” path, you redouble your efforts and push harder to make things work. This is the kind of thing that clients tell me all the time with disappointment written all over their faces. What’s usually necessary is to try different not harder and scrub the idea that life (or you) are supposed to be any one particular way. Did you ever consider that you might not have eating problems if you weren’t so attached to specific outcomes in life?

Consider the messages you may have received in childhood from family, religion or culture. There are oodles to choose from. You must be financially successful, a winner, wealthy, smart, sophisticated, athletic, always at the top of your game, thin, beautiful, kind, social, studious, outgoing, a deep thinker, a college graduate, reverent, productive, a lawyer/doctor/entrepreneur/farmer/soldier, Democrat/Republican, wife/husband, mother/father, a freethinker, community minded, unselfish, altruistic, or popular.

Are you still doing what you think you’re “supposed” to be doing although every cell in your body is screaming to please stop now? Are you still trying to be what you think you should be when it’s never made you happy? Are you trying to fulfill someone else’s dream so as not to upset or disappoint him or her? Are you living someone else’s dream, even if the person is no longer alive, but you quiver at the thought of what he or she would say if you were doing what you really wanted to do?

It makes sense to please your parents or other relatives when you’re a child because you’re dependent on them. And, often they are giving excellent advice when they tell you to study hard and pay attention, or listen to what adults have to say. Much of what they tell you may be full of wisdom. But not all of it. Some of it is not remotely related to guiding you toward a life that will be best for you. Often parents have unmet dreams that they project onto you: they never went to college and desperately want you to graduate, they passed up exciting careers to live a humdrum existence, they failed to follow their artistic instincts and wish they had, or they followed their artistic instincts and now regret it. They want you to live out their “best” life, not yours. Or they fear you failing.

How much of your mindless eating is due to living in a way that pleases others and not yourself? This is an important question to consider and answer, not just at this moment, but throughout your life. Really, whose life is it, anyway?