We are in the midst of a collective trauma and likely experiencing a range of emotions + behaviors that have us feeling a bit lost and maybe like we've slipped back into old habits. The common phrase I hear from my clients lately is " I thought I was over this behavior but it's popping up again". Feeling frustrated they want to go straight to fix it mode and make it go away. If you are in the same boat, you're not alone. Navigating through something as unexpected as this is can bring up a wide range of ways we cope. For those in recovery from an eating disorder or diet culture you may find yourself feeling more out of control around food (or trying to control it more tightly) and having a heightened awareness of your body.
When things are out of control, the human tendency is to find something to control. This might be a subconscious decision and a skill that you likely developed to keep your nervous system feeling safe at some point in your life. Yes, I said skill. Most of the behaviors we turn to are brilliant ways we have learned to survive, using the skills we had at the time. Our human brain is wired for safety, We don't enjoy sitting in the discomfort (or true lack of safety) too long before our nervous system kicks in and says "we need to fix this, we need to feel better". Without appropriate tools to regulate, we might find ourselves turning to something such as eating disorder behaviors to cope. Whatever is surfacing for you in this moment, know that you are human and every part of you makes sense.
Our tendency is to fix and make hard things go away. So when these behaviors pop up it can leave us feeling anxious and like we are falling backwards. Instead of turning to 'fix it mode' I encourage these 3 things to help guide to healing.
1. Sit with it. Name it. Validate it.
This is such a big step and one that takes ongoing practice. Instead of 'fixing" the behaviors, can you sit with them, name whatever it is that you're noticing and validate. This might look like pausing and saying " wow this is really hard. I am feeling out of control, anxious and overwhelmed right now. Its makes sense that I am turning to ____________ to comfort and sooth myself/feel a sense of control/cope." Tune in to what it feels like to sit with that instead of fix it, ignore it or judge it.
Action: Before turning to a behavior, take a moment to ask yourself "What emotions am I noticing? Where do I feel them in my body?". Reminder: This is out of curiosity and compassion. Not judgment and fixing.
2. Care for yourself> Getting rid of behaviors.
Check in with yourself. Ask yourself "What can I do to nurture and care for myself through this?" instead of "how can I make this go away?". Remember, these behaviors you developed kept you safe at some point in your life. The goal isn't to focus on getting rid of them. The intention is learning how to care for yourself in a way that nurtures + supports your well-being and the life you want.
Action: Once you notice what emotions are surfacing for you, ask yourself "how can I care for myself through this. This might look like calling a friend, watching your favorite show, soothing self touch, a favorite song, a comforting meal, etc.. It can be helpful to brainstorm an ongoing list in your phone or journal of ways to comfort and soothe yourself.
Practicing self-compassion can help us validate what's happening and move through our experience with curiosity. It's all about treating ourselves with kindness, like we would a close friend. And also taking a moment to realize we are all human. We all struggle and we all experience difficult emotions. You aren't alone in this.
Action:Take a moment to do an inventory. Have you been treating yourself like you would treat someone you cared for? What can you do (or not do) today, to show yourself some compassion and kindness?
Remember, You are so worth caring for, now and always.
If you are wanting a deeper dive into self-compassion I have a free download for you below.
Hanna Kuyper, M.A, CIEC. is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT 109748) under the employment and supervision of DaLene Forester, PhD, LMFT, LPCC MFC 33095, LPC 629. ) Hanna see’s clients out of her private practice in Redding, CA. Hanna is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.