Emotional pain and anxiety that plagues you if you have an eating disorder, limits your thinking, perceptions and your appreciation of your authentic self. If your entire life has been fraught with neglect, abuse, disrespect, with few healthy boundaries established for your daily life, you may never have had a solid appreciation of your identity. So how does healing happen?
Courageous people come to my psychotherapy practice to find relief from their eating disorder. They don’t know they are courageous. They don’t know they can heal. The just don’t want to binge or starve or throw up any more. They don’t want to be too big or too small, or believe that a perfect and beautiful body would end their suffering. . *pix
- Margo comes to therapy because she wants to be thin and doesn’t know how to stop binge eating.
- Karla comes to therapy because she’s lonely and wants love. She thinks losing weight is her answer.
- Diane doesn’t want to live with what seems like endless fear every day.
- Nora comes to therapy because she wants people and activity in her life but she’s afraid to step into the world.
- Annie is a creative business woman who squelches her ideas and creative vision to serve and please people who work for her. She lives in fear of being punished for taking a firm stand in her own business.
Each person has a hope that psychotherapy will remove their suffering and their life will change for the better. They don’t know what to believe, but press on knowing they can’t continue their lives as they’ve been living them. They look to the psychotherapist as the person who knows the way to their better life.
Intellectually most know that therapists don’t have super powers. I can’t stop abusers or change the past. I can’t vanish an eating disorder nor can I make the world safe. And I can’t create a secure path for a hiding creative soul who feels guilt for barely existing to emerge free and strong.
Yet, over the years, I’ve seen people in their situations achieve their dreams. They drop an eating disorder. They develop strong loving bonds with quality people. They sleep peacefully without anxiety or nightmares. They stand up for themselves and step forward into life making wonderful achievements that honor their souls.
How does this happen? Yes, I create a therapeutic space with strong boundaries to protect the work. Yes, I have studied for many years and have therapeutic skills. Yes, I respect and understand at least some of the human condition. But this is not enough to bring about long lasting and deep healing changes in a person’s life.
The answer lies more within the partnership that develops between me and my patient. We may talk for months and sometimes years about the specific problems, issues, fears, anger, yearnings that govern their lives. Within that talk we are establishing a trust, a bond and a joint awareness that between the two of us we can make good things happen.
Over time the real theme of healing emerges and that is harmony. And I don’t mean capitulation to others’ agendas or people pleasing while sacrificing your own soul desires.
I mean harmony within. When the patient’s goal becomes inner harmony based on personal integrity many solutions to problems fall into place. For example, the powerful obsession with food, eating, weight and exercise can come from an unconscious drive to protect a weak and vulnerable aspect of yourself. The eating disorder activity, while protective, is not in harmony with the rest of you. The weak part may be an authentic and solid aspect of your identity that needs less protection and more nourishment and support. This is what allows you to honor your heart and soul as you step forward into a better life.
Courage is required to follow your journey to inner harmony. Inner harmony expresses itself, eventually, in making choices in your life that are in harmony with your soul. This will take you to a life you honor and enjoy.
People and agendas you supported in the past based on your fears and weaknesses will do their best to pull you back into your old ways. If you stand firm in your health and internal harmony they will stop protesting or leave. You might feel lonely or afraid with their loss but that will pass.
You enter a new way of living where you do not sacrifice yourself to exploiters. You discover yourself and make strides toward what is meaningful to you. Plus much of what you genuinely care for comes to you. When you live in harmony with your authentic self what you care about and respect recognizes you.
The butterfly developed into its authentic self. So did the flowers. They exist in harmony where the flower calls to the butterfly and the butterfly is attracted to the flower. When you are in harmony with yourself, what is in harmony with you will call you, and you will respond. JP
An earlier version of this article was originally published on The Eating Disorder Recovery for Women site.
*pix Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius), picture taken in Athens, Greece (March 27, 2005) by Tim Bekaert. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97235