If there is one thing I’m sure to hear every week from clients, it’s their “need” to get through something. Maybe it’s getting over a break up or a job loss or having their teenager arrested for dealing drugs. Sometimes, it’s their “need” to lose weight or get their act together around food. Whether the challenge is big or small, they tackle it the same ineffective way by believing that if they want something enough, they’ll make it happen. Do you ever fall into this trap?
The way discussion usually goes is that a client raises a topic, say, “getting over” a break-up, then says repeatedly in our session, “I’ve got to get past this,” “I can’t keep feeling like this,” or “I have to get on with my life.” What these words tell me is that the only way they know to feel better and move forward is by bullying themselves into it, using brawn not brains. The truth is that they lack the appropriate life skills to manage their feelings post-break up and, instead, rely on “pushing through” difficult emotions.
To a person, these clients who try to power through adversity are hard on themselves, had dysfunctional childhoods, and never learned how to manage their emotions effectively. If no one ever taught them or modeled useful skills for tough times in childhood, they had nothing to bank on but sheer will to pull or push them through. And this is why they use this ineffective I-must-do-it strategy as adults.
Don’t get me wrong: A can-do mindset is crucial to overcoming life’s difficulties, but it cannot succeed alone. We need the skills of self-soothing, patience, goal setting, self-compassion, mindfulness, positive self-talk, self-regulation and more to ride through challenging times. And these are the exact skills that most dysregulated eaters lack. Moreover, most have had childhoods in which they never learned that it’s okay to feel sad, mad or vulnerable and to be comforted by and depend on others. So they try to empower themselves by repeating their broken record of self-insistence.
The next time you face a challenge that you would normally try to power (or eat) your way through, practice new skills. Talk softly to yourself with heartfelt compassion for what you’re experiencing and express kindness to yourself for your suffering. Lovingly tell yourself that you’ll manage in time and that healing is a process, not an event. Lean on friends and share your woe or grief with them. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel vulnerable and that you need not be strong all the time. Focus on taking care of yourself and knowing that tomorrow will be a better day. Have a little fun. Most of all, go easy on yourself and cut yourself some slack to cry your heart out if necessary.