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Clients and message board members sometimes mention that they’re “private” people, meaning that they tend not to share much about themselves with others. The problem with the word is that it sounds so above it all and benign, when the roots of “privacy” are often anything but. What if being private isn’t beneficial to recovering from eating problems? What if, in fact, it exacerbates and perpetuates them?
In this let-it-all-hang-out culture in which we can’t turn on the TV without someone baring their innermost indelicacies, it might seem as if private is the way to go. But, when I advise loosening the reins on the sharing front, I’m not suggesting you go out and blab the secrets you’ve been holding onto for a lifetime around town. The idea is to achieve a balance between keeping everything (or practically everything) to yourself and opening yourself up with people you trust.
We become “private” when we’re taught that it’s not okay to go “public” with our feelings or fears. We watch our parents sit on their emotions and avoid intimate discussion. We pull inward after being hushed for telling “outsiders” what family members think, feel, or do. We get the message loud and clear to keep it, whatever it is, to ourselves and come to believe that’s the way we should be—the way everyone is and should be.
What happens to you, though, when you’re so private that it feels shameful to share your inner world? I’ll tell you: You think that there is something wrong with you, that you are the only one who feels as you do, that you’d better keep your mouth shut or you’ll be laughed at or humiliated, that people won’t love you if you reveal the real you. That’s all wrong, so very wrong. When you keep inside who you are, what you feel, how you think, and the things you believe for long enough, it can take a crow bar to pry them out. And, as your world shrinks, you avoid seeking out people to make yourself feel better. Instead you depend on—you guessed it—food or a weight obsession.
The way out of the box you’ve been locked into is to slowly start opening up. Tell one person a truth about yourself, then tell two more. See how it goes. Choose intimates carefully and use how they react to your sharing to determine if they’re trustworthy with your vulnerabilities. If not, pass and move on. If so, try them with another bit of personal information. There are hordes (yes, hordes!) of trustworthy, reliable, caring, empathic people out there who will treasure you just as you are. But to find them, you have to take down your “private” sign and replace it with one that says “open to the public.”
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