When you were growing up, you may have been told over and over, in a variety of ways, that you weren’t good enough, smart enough fast enough, thin enough, or just plain not enough of anything to please your parents. In order to numb this crushing sense of failure and the guilt that inspired, you began to control your anger by controlling your own body–how it was maturing and what you weighed. By concentrating on food, you learned how to temporarily drive out all painful thoughts.
Anger, fear, guilt, and shame may now be the only emotions you allow yourself to feel. These may be the only ones you’re comfortable with because you don’t feel worthy of the others. You don’t permit yourself joy because you have too much to feel guilty about. You don’t laugh because there isn’t any room in your heart for delight.
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.
As you look to rediscover your childhood through adult eyes, below are questions and statements for you to answer.
- In my family, the thing I feared the most growing up was ______.
- My parents disapproved of me when I ______.
- These are the things that my parents put the most emphasis on when I was growing up: ______.
- My mother’s definition of success is ______.
- My father’s definition of success is ______.
- To be successful for me means to be ______.
- I turned to my physical appearance as a way to gain acceptance because I couldn’t ______.
- I feel guilty over being abandoned for the following reasons: ______.
- When I was growing up, I thought the following things were wrong with me: ______.
- Even today my parents still want to talk about the following things: ______.
It’s important that who you now go back and connect with the child you were, to help that child understand what happened. You must give that child the comfort you never received and provide that child with a sense of your protection. That child still remains inside of you. Until you can give it what it needs, your inner child will thwart the journey toward healing. The child inside is pleading with you not to abandon it on your way to health.
If you have a doll or stuffed animal, especially one from your childhood, get it. If you don’t, you might want to consider buying one that you’ve seen as an adult and wished you could have had as a child.
Hold that doll or stuffed animal. Hug it close. Give it all the comfort and love you never received. Tell your doll all the words of affirmation and acceptance you so desperately wanted to hear while you were growing up. Hold your doll and tell yourself (as if it were you as a child) that it wasn’t your fault. Remind your doll that you’re here now, and you’re not going to leave.
Keep your doll near to remind you of the child within. For right now, funnel your feelings through the doll. Later, you’ll be able to see it for what it is — a doll — and learn to give those feelings of love and comfort directly to yourself.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
Perfectionists walk an incredibly narrow road. There can be no deviation from the prescribed path, no sidetracks, and certainly no missteps. There can be no slowing or stopping for others, who are expected to keep up and keep straight, regardless. Perfectionists understand the road is going to be difficult and take great pride in navigating it successfully. They must be constantly on guard for any obstacle in the path, any breath of wind that might knock them off their course. Vigilance and an ongoing state of alertness are key.
With perfectionism, there is no standing down, no acceptable periods of relaxation. Perfectionism is, therefore, both exhausting and unattainable. Addiction can creep in and promise a form of momentary relief from the unrelenting anxiety of trying to be perfect. Addiction can also promise to numb those times when the reality of the unattainable becomes overwhelmingly hard to bear. Addiction promises you can spend a few hours looking away from the shame, blame, and guilt nipping at your heels unless you are perfect. Addiction promises to shield you temporarily from the fear that you are, sadly and tragically, like everyone else—flawed, imperfect, unworthy.
Angela felt she didn’t deserve to be happy. After more probing, I discovered she never had. Any success she’d experienced had been a sort of “cheat,” she said. If people really knew who she was or how much work she’d put into it or any number of factors, they would know she didn’t deserve success and it would be taken away. How could anything she did be worthy when she wasn’t worthy herself?
Angela grew up in a household where nothing she did was right. When she brought home good grades, it was assumed the teacher hadn’t applied the proper standards or she’d gotten away with something. Good things were suspect, but bad things were expected because of who she was. She knew who she was—the one who would “never amount to anything.” She was the one who would “never be like [her] sister.” The one who couldn’t “do anything right to save [her] life,” even though she always tried.
Angela was deeply ashamed of her addiction; part of her was also incredibly angry. She was angry because being trapped in the addiction proved she was weak and everything that had been said about her was true. All her life, Angela kept trying to “make up” for the mistakes she’d made, and the addiction kept putting her further and further behind. She’d never catch up, and with the weight of the addiction added in, catching up seemed to take more energy than she had. She’d been foolish to think she could ever do or be anything other than a failure. “What good is today,” she’d asked, “if I can’t have tomorrow?”
Angela’s addiction subverted the positive roles of shame, blame, and guilt and used them to convince her she wasn’t worth a positive tomorrow. She was especially susceptible to this tactic, since shame, blame, and guilt had always been used as weapons against her while she was growing up. Addiction strips away self-esteem. This can be particularly damaging when you started out with little or none in the first place, as Angela did.
For years, I’ve been speaking out against the tremendous damage done, especially to children, through the tactics of emotional abuse. My book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse has been a pivotal resource in this effort for more than twenty years.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
Jillian looked around her room at all the boxes piled in the corner and felt an urge to weep. She wanted to but she wouldn’t. There was no point in crying; that wouldn’t solve anything. Nobody asked her about the divorce. Nobody asked her if she wanted to move to a different state. Nobody asked her anything. She was supposed to shut up and do what she was told; the only person allowed to cry was her mother.
Jillian could still remember how she’d felt when her mother told her the divorce was final and about the move. Jillian had started to cry and then her mother had started to cry and told her not to. It wasn’t fair. Jillian had to leave her school and her friends and she wasn’t to cry about it. Fine, she’d make the best of it. A new school, new friends, a time to reinvent herself. She had all summer to lose weight so she could start high school thin. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about finding friends; friends would find her. She wouldn’t cry or complain; she’d do what she needed to do—whatever it took.
Abused children are often not allowed to respond to trauma or traumatic events in appropriate ways for children. They are expected to act as “little adults.” Sometimes wounded adults call on them to take on the role of comforter or companion. They are expected to disregard their own needs and fulfill the needs of others. In some abused children, this unrealistic expectation and disregard of their feelings produce feelings of anger and rage. If these reactions are also quashed, the anger and rage must find a substitute outlet.
In some abused children, this expression leads to an eating disorder. The child may begin to control body weight as a way to control at least one thing in their life. That control of their body may come in the form of restriction, in anorexia; of bingeing and purging, in bulimia; or in a preoccupation with weight and image, in body dysmorphia. Some abused children seek out the comfort of food and engage in binge eating but without any purging, resulting in more and more weight gain.
Are you consistently thinking about how you look? What you eat? Do you experience a sense of satisfaction when you reach certain weight goals? Have you disregarded the concern of others over your eating patterns or your weight? Do you feel you deserve to be thin? Do you feel you deserve to be fat? Is food the one com- fort, the one sure thing in your life? Food is a mood modifier and can be used—either by undereating or overindulgence—as a way to cope with psychological stress.
If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
The physical side effects of a dysfunctional relationship with food are not unlike the environmental complications that have arisen from pollution in our world today. You may have trouble imagining your body as polluted, so do the following exercise using graphic pictures that depict the damage pollution is causing to the earth.
- Collect some magazines and make a collage of beautiful pictures of the earth; sky scenes, landscapes, seascapes. If you can’t find appropriate images, draw a picture in your journal of a beautiful world. This world represents the way God intended your body to be.
- After that, find pictures of the ravages of pollution. On the next page in your journal, draw or paste pictures of how pollution has harmed the world. These images represent how your eating behaviors have polluted your body. Be aware of your physical reactions to these different pictures. Does the beautiful scenery make you feel calm and peaceful? Does the polluted world give you feelings of sadness?
- At the bottom of each picture, write a brief description of how you feel about what you’re looking at. Just as the awareness of pollution’s dangers has caused people to repair the damage done to our earth, so also your own awareness of the real toll you are placing on your body can give you added motivation for discovering the source behind the pollution of your eating behaviors and putting an end to them. Looking at the picture of the world (my body) as God intended it makes me feel…. Looking at the picture of the world (my body) as it has been polluted makes me feel… Fill in those blanks and reflect on your feelings.
All your life you’ve heard the expression, “It’s never too late.” You need to believe that now. Yes, there has been damage done to your body, but that damage can be dealt with and, in most cases, reversed.
In the past, you have spent a good deal of time focusing on how your body looks from the outside. Now it’s time to look at your body from the inside. What is happening to you on the inside affects how you look on the outside. Your relationship with food has not brought you to the point of vibrant health. Instead, it is robbing you of your well-being, little by little.
Before, you were concerned only with the end result, attaining some sort of desired result. Now you need to be concerned with the means you are using to that end and the damage it is causing. To be thin is not necessarily to be healthy. To put on weight is not necessarily to be fat. Vibrant health is what you are striving for physically. Proper nutrition can aid your body in regaining the health of its systems.
Learn more about how nutrition can have an impact on your mental health.
If you or a loved one show signs of having an eating disorder, you may benefit from consulting an eating disorder specialist. Our team of eating disorder professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE focus on whole-person recovery, and take special care to understand the many aspects in a person’s life that may be contributing to their eating disorder. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to get more information or to speak with an eating disorder specialist today.
Everyone feels lousy sometimes. Everyone experiences days when they just don’t want to get out of bed, when they’d rather just roll over, pull the covers up over their head, and call in sick to their life.
Depression is more than an occasional I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed day. Depression is a condition marked by three characteristics: frequency, severity, and duration.
To help figure out if you are depressed, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- How often does this happen? (frequency)
- How bad is it when it happens? (severity)
- How long does it last when it happens? (duration)
The more it happens, the worse it is, and the longer it lasts, the more likely you are not just having a bad day—you are dealing with depression.
But what exactly is depression, especially when everyone has bad days, and people come in all sorts of emotional shapes and sizes? Depression is an overall category of specific feelings and behaviors. However, if you are depressed, that depression may look very different from your cousin’s or aunt’s or the person’s down the street. Trying to compare the way you feel, and matching it up with how someone else feels, may not help define whether or not you are depressed.
Instead of comparing one person to another, try comparing the way you feel with the following two lists. The first I call my Yellow List, which describes symptoms that signal caution, and a need to be monitored.
As you look over the following Yellow List, a word of caution is needed. Some Yellows can be tricky to identify, because they may have been present in your life for a long time. You may be so used to these Yellows they have become normal for you. A Yellow is not normal if it follows the three characteristics of depression symptoms: frequency, severity, and duration.
Here are items in the Yellow List:
- A loss of enjoyment in established activities
- Feeling restless, tired, or unmotivated at work
- An increase in irritability or impatience
- Feeling either wound up or weighed down
- Feeling overburdened with life and its activities
- A lack of spiritual peace of well-being
- A constant anxiety or vague fear about the future
- A fear of expressing strong emotions
- Finding relief by controlling aspects of your personal behavior, including what you eat or drink
- Feeling unappreciated by others
- Feeling a sense of martyrdom, as if you are constantly asked to do the work of others
- Exercising a pattern of impulsive thinking of rash judgments
- Apathetic when you wake up in the morning about how the day will turn out
- A sense of enjoyment at seeing the discomfort of others
- Anger at God for how you feel
- A recurrent pattern of headaches, muscle aches, and/or body pains
- Feeling left out of life
- Feeling trapped during your day by what you have to do
- Experiencing recurring gastrointestinal difficulties
- Feeling like your best days are behind you and the future doesn’t hold much promise
- Displaying a pattern of pessimistic of critical comments and/or behaviors
- Bingeing on high-calorie foods to feel better
- Feeling social isolation and distancing from family or friends
- Feeling that it’s easier to just do things yourself instead of wanting to work with others
- Feeling old, discarded, or without value
- Feeling trapped inside your body
- Dreading the thought of family get-togethers or social gatherings
- Feeling overweight, unattractive, or unlovable
- Sexual difficulties or a loss of interest in sexual activities
- Unmotivated to try new activities, contemplate new ideas, or enter into new relationships
Living in the Yellow means diminished joy and fulfillment, yet some people seem to live in that zone for a long time, finding ways to cope until the accumulated weight of despair or a sudden, traumatic life event propels them into a deep depression.
You can survive in the Yellows for quite a while, but that’s not really living. This may seem like bad news, but it’s actually good news. You weren’t meant to live a life of mere survival, and you don’t need to.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. The Center was recently voted one of the Top Ten Facilities in the United States for the Treatment of Depression. Break free and achieve peace. Call The Center at 1-888-771-5166, or fill out this form to connect with a specialist.
The symptoms of stress can show up in unexpected ways. Consider the following questions and whether you’re experiencing any of the following signs of a stress-filled life:
What is your current resting heart rate?
Stress leaves you energized and may cause you to have difficulty relaxing, so your heart may have difficulty returning to a low resting rate.
What is your resting blood pressure?
The more stressed you are, the harder your cardiovascular system works. This can create a situation where your blood pressure spikes and then takes longer than normal to fall back down to within normal range.
Do you find yourself hyperventilating?
Deep breathing in the face of physical exertion is useful, as it allows for increased oxygen to be used by the body. Hyperventilation, or overbreathing, however, creates a situation where the body releases too much carbon dioxide, resulting in dizziness, tingling, headache, and general weakness.
Has your dentist mentioned that you grind your teeth at night?
Teeth grinding is a known symptom of stress, as clenching of the jaw muscles causes the teeth to work against each other, even during sleep.
Do you find yourself breaking out in pimples, acne, or skin rashes?
Stress produces toxins in the body that can be excreted through the largest organ you have—your skin.
Are you always quick to catch whatever cold or flu seems to be going around?
Stress puts a tremendous strain on your immune system, which can result in lower resistance to illnesses and infections.
Is your interest in or ability to have sex flagging?
Stress can suck all the sexual energy out of a room, leaving you tired, unmotivated, and uninterested. Stress can also lead to painful periods in women and episodes of impotence in men.
Are you gaining weight, or have you lost interest in food?
Food is a common way people cope with stress—either by self-medicating through food or losing their appetites. Large shifts in weight—either up or down—can indicate the presence of stress.
Are you eating normally and easily digesting what you eat?
In response to stress, some people may eat too much, too little, or the wrong types of foods. In addition, the physical effects of stress can interfere with the process of digestion and elimination.
Do you find yourself ranting or venting your feelings of anger?
An emotional rant or venting may make you feel more relaxed, more relieved, because stress can be painful, and people in pain may react strongly in anger. Anger is a powerful physical and psychological response that can bleed off some of the effects of stress.
As a busy professional, husband, and father, I feel the effects of stress in my own life. As a therapist, I often see the effects of stress in the lives of those I work with on a regular basis. For some people, these stress effects are so familiar, they seem normal.
In order to stress less, there are six steps you can take that, when integrated together, provide a pathway to successful long-term recovery. These steps can be found in my new mini-book that discusses the importance of finding recovery from a stress-filled world.
Remember that God has promised to be with us through times of tension and stress. When stressed, we are meant to say, like Paul, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
If you or a loved one is struggling with severe stress, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call The Center at 1-888-771-5166, or fill out this form to connect with a specialist.