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You Don’t Need to Hurt Yourself

Many people hurt themselves with food. As a recovered world-class binge-eater, I have vivid memories of how I used to eat until my stomach ached. Until my heart was full of sorrow and disappointment in myself. Now, decades of healing later, having learned so much about the pain and healing of eating disorders from my clients, I realize that there are several reasons that we inflict pain on ourselves.
We are used to hurting, and life feels weird without the pain—to live happily, enjoying ourselves, accepting our bodies and our faults is not possible because we are supposed to strive to be—and be—perfect. If we don’t have a perfect body, it’s not worth trying to have a barely acceptable one. If we don’t have the perfect life, including a job we love and a partner to love us, what’s the point of pretending to be satisfied with less.
We hurt ourselves because we dare not hurt others. When we are children, if our parents mistreat us on a regular basis, what do we do with the awful distress and upset that ensues. Complaining or fighting back may make things worse, so we remain silent. We’re not cowards. We’re children who have very little say and virtually no power over our lives unless our parents grant it to us. If they don’t, we have to endure the pain and the way we do that is through fantasy, denial, rationalizing, dissociating or hurting ourselves. It feels much safer to turn our anger toward ourselves than at those on whom we depend. Our anger is from displeasing our parents (again), failing at staying in safe space only (again), and at having whatever imperfections we believe we have that we constantly disappointment others and therefore ourselves.
We hurt ourselves because we can control the infliction of this pain. At least we, not someone else, get to turn it on and off. There is satisfaction in knowing when it’s going to start and when it’s going to end. A binge has a beginning and an end. It’s over when there’s no more food to eat. Hurtful self-talk ends when there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said. But being mistreated by people who are supposed to love us, that’s another story. The hurt comes when we least expect it. Arising seemingly out of the blue when we were sure that things were going so well, it takes on a life of its own and we never know when it will stop—or, worse, if it will stop at all.
There’s just so much tension from hurt that a body can hold. When hurt, humans naturally want to strike back and, when we can’t, the tension in us builds and becomes unbearable. So we eat. The antidote to self-hurt is self-compassion. To not do what was done to us. To changes lanes, change the conversation, change the game. To provide ourselves with healing, not hurt. Recovery begins with an act of courage, self love instead of self harm.