Fear, guilt, and shame destroy peace, joy, and love. A dysfunctional relationship with food not only arises out of these negative feelings, it perpetuates them. These negative feelings whisper, and sometimes scream, the following messages to the sufferer:
- You’re not good enough.
- You’re never going to be good enough.
- You don’t deserve to be loved.
- You’re responsible for what happens to you.
- It’s your fault.
- You should do better.
- You should look better.
- There is something wrong with you.
- You don’t deserve to be happy.
- No one will ever love you.
When these messages are repeated over and over, you believe them. You look around and see ample proof of your imperfection, your weakness, your unlovable nature, your worthlessness, and your abysmal lack of control. That dreary picture looks correct to you because you’ve seen it before.
For many of you, this dreary picture was painted in childhood by the very people who should have loved you the most. But parents, being imperfect, can become so bogged down by their own darkness that they fail to realize they are bringing down their children with them. In order to recover and heal, you must take an honest look at the source of your negative messages and confront the real truth behind those messages.
If your parents were pressuring you to live a perfect life, they may not have even been aware of the damage of this pressure. Your parents may have tried to live vicariously through you, trying to force you to correct those areas of their lives that they were unable to master themselves. They may have rationalized this pressure as a good thing, desiring to protect you, their child, “from making the same mistakes I did.” In their desire to protect you from any mistake, it never dawned on them that you were suffocating.
This pressure to be perfect, to succeed in order to protect your parents’ image, may have revolved around food—thinness, having the “perfect” body—or it could have been goal-oriented. You may have felt forced to pursue certain education goals, job goals, marriage goals, or money goals. When you did not meet these goals as your parents expected, you may have begun focusing on weight and body goals as a way of “making up” for your inability to conform to your parents’ wishes in other areas.
Your current relationship with food and the behaviors it has brought to your life may also have had its roots in feelings of abandonment. This abandonment could have been physical—an actual withdrawal of a parent’s presence—or it could have been emotional. If your father was emotionally distant, never mentally “there” with you, you may have felt abandoned even though he was physically present. This contradiction was probably confusing to you and might have led you to wonder if there is something inherently wrong with you that caused your father to think you were irrelevant.
Feelings of abandonment often go hand-in-hand with guilt. When you were abandoned, somehow you felt responsible. This guilt over the devastation of your family and your anger over your inability to control what was happening in your life could have caused you to turn to ultimately self-destructive eating habits in order to cope. You were really trying to regain some semblance of control over an uncontrollable past.
Besides being abandoned, you may also have been abused as a child. When abuse is present, it increases the feelings of guilt and deals death blows to one’s self-esteem. If someone was abusing you sexually, for example, this person probably told you that what was happening was your fault, adding to your guilt. You probably concluded that you were being abused because you had been “bad” in some way. The abuse you suffered then, and that abuse you subject your body to now, may be justified in your mind as atonement for the guilt you were made to feel over your abuse.
The roots of your dysfunctional relationship with food go deep into your past. You need to allow that past to come to the surface so that you can look back at the experiences of your childhood, now that you are an adult, and begin to put your life into perspective. As a child, you couldn’t understand what was happening to you. As an adult, you must. Only then can your healing go forward.
Although crucial to the recovery process, diving into a past riddled with bad memories, trauma, and pain, can be a terrifying undertaking. For this reason, many people suffering from eating disorders or disordered eating habits seek the help of professionals to identify and confront the source of their eating disorder. The team of eating disorder treatment specialists at The Center • A Place of HOPE Eating Disorder Treatment Program can guide you through this process. If you are ready to heal from your past and regain physical health, call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone from The Center • A Place of HOPE will be in touch with you soon.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.