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.
When an emotional imperative becomes a physical compulsion, the desire to find relief can be overwhelming. In relationship dependency, the brain in the present has been trained to respond to certain conditions by the past. Because of ingrained dependency traits and past experiences, you have written your own list of what creates pleasure for you and what creates distress.
At first, your mind was in charge, but over the years your body has become highly influential. You find yourself in the backseat of your own life and responses. You have trained your body how to respond, and now it’s reacting in the way it’s been trained, even if you want to feel something different.
Retrain your Brain. Change is Not Impossible
The silver lining in this scenario is that you can retrain your body to react in a different way. Because we are conscious, thinking creatures and not merely reactive, instinctive creatures, we have the ability to change the way we think and feel.
Change is not impossible. People with phobias of spiders or airplanes or bridges have been taught how to experience and enjoy normal life without terror. People with phobias can learn to grow out of them.
Relationship dependency is really of phobia of being alone. We have seen many people over our decades of counseling learn to push through their fears. We have been privileged to watch as they embraced the essential value of their own self-worth. On this solid, personal foundation, they have restored and entered into relationships with something precious to give — not acts of subservience or demands of control, but the gift of a healthy self who understands, experiences, and gives love.
Understanding How To Change
If you have an idea that you cannot change because your brain has been altered, this is your dependency talking. Refuse to listen. Understanding the factors – emotional and physical – that contribute to certain behaviors, either with a single relationship or within a relational revolving door, is important. Because you may have trained your brain to react in a predetermined way, you can retrain your brain to respond differently. If retraining a brain was impossible, there would be no recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, or shoppers.
When working with someone who is fearful of heights, that person needs help understanding that climbing the stairs, or riding in an elevator, will not result in injury or death. They must understand the flawed nature of their own internal dialogue. The outcomes they tell themselves are inevitable are not true. Once they recognize how much control they have over their feelings of pleasure and distress, their brain can be retrained.
In the same way, you can understand that your internal dialogue, which predicts disaster if you are not in a relationship or if you are alone, is not true. You can take control by climbing back into the driver’s seat of your life and redirecting your brain to respond differently, to create a new template for what is pleasurable and what is frightening, inside and outside of a relationship.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. For over 30 years, The Center has treated thousands with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Recognized as a Top 10 Center for the Treatment of Depression, The Center utilizes the whole person approach to care. Dr. Jantz 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 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
As parents, we need to fight against the illusion that everything is always fine with our teenagers. Teens often hide their pain behind the “Fine” sign — which is another way of saying “Keep out of my life.”
Parents can have difficulty believing their teenager is undergoing some of the most painful experiences they’ll have in life, while that teenager lives in their house, eats their food, and sleeps under their roof. How can pain be happening in a place with Internet access, food on the table, and clothes in the closet?
Here are some tips for dealing with a teenager that has a broken heart:
Pay Attention – Parents can have difficulty realizing their teenager has an emotional need. What parents must pay attention to is when their teenager’s behavior changes.
- Your kid who’s never been much of a talker emotionally vanishes for days or weeks.
- Your kid who’s a drama queen about everything flatlines emotionally for an extended period of time.
If things like this start to happen, pay attention. Check in with your teen and ask how things are going. If they don’t reply, acknowledge that they don’t want to talk and don’t push them. Instead, leave them an open invitation to talk.
Check Yourself – If your teen experiences a broken heart over a known event, such as a relationship breakup or a divorce, a death, or a best friend moving across the country, keep track of how your teenager is navigating those waters. It is possible the event that’s upset your teen has also upset you. If you’re experiencing a broken heart as well because of what’s happened, seek out help for yourself. The last thing an emotionally wobbly teenager needs is for you to start leaning on him or her for your own support. Both of you are bound to fall.
Avoid Judgement – Avoid judging what hurts your teenager. When a teen is in pain, it doesn’t help to hear you consider the reason to be stupid or meaningless or, worse, childish. Pain can be universal; everyone who hits their finger with a hammer will yelp. Pain is also personal; what injuries one person may have shrugged off, another person might feel more deeply. Even though you shrug off your teen’s pain, your teen still hurts.
I encourage you to get to know your teenager, to get beyond your irritation at their behavior, and to pay attention to what that behavior tells you about your teen. There seems to be an inverse reaction common among teens — the more they hurt, the more they hide. But pain cannot stay hidden indefinitely. Pain will come out. As a parent, you need to watch for signs of pain coming out.
- Watch for changes in behavior over an extended period of time. A couple of days of isolation are probably pretty normal for teens, but not a couple of weeks. The more significant the shift in behavior, the more you need to pay attention.
- Don’t expect an immediate response. The first time you ask your teen how they’re doing and he or she says “Fine,” don’t stop there if you suspect things are not fine. Let your teen know you’re concerned and specifically why.
- Communicate your willingness to talk about anything at any time. Then, be prepared to follow it up, even if your teen unloads more than you want to know two hours past your bedtime on a weeknight.
I can’t emphasize enough the pain teenagers hold in. They get hurt in so many ways that fly under their parents’ radar. Sometimes that pain translates into depression, eating disorders, anxiety, or substance abuse — behaviors that push the familial panic button and clearly signal something is very wrong.
But sometimes that pain is less obvious and the signals that something is wrong get drowned out by the sounds of everyday life. Slowly, quietly, that pain translates into a loss of optimism, a cynicism about life, the gradual strangulation of dreams, and a loss of hope for the future.
Is adolescence supposed to be a time of up-and-down moods and volatile emotions? Yes, but pay attention if your teen spends too much time in the pits. If he or she just doesn’t seem to be rebounding or continually refuses to talk about what’s going on, consider obtaining the help of a counselor. School counselors can be of tremendous benefit, but realize your teen may need to see a professional counselor outside of school. If your teen had a broken leg, you’d seek professional help. Since you’d get help for a broken leg, why wouldn’t you get help for a broken heart?
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 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.
If you are a pessimistic person, I want you to be able to proclaim it, to own up to it, and to accept it. What I have found over my years in practice is that pessimistic people often don’t see themselves that way. In fact, while they view everything else as being universally negative, they tend to view their pessimism as positive.
Instead of interpreting themselves as pessimistic, they instead see themselves as pragmatic, realistic, more informed and enlightened, and smarter. For them, a pessimistic response to the world is seen as protective and even superior to the optimist. Because they approach life believing the worst in circumstances and in people, they feel they are better prepared for whatever life throws at them. They live a guarded, cautious, defensive life. Problems, difficulties, inconveniences, and downright disasters are expected.
Pessimists have what I refer to as a critical spirit. It refers to a person whose inner default mode is to be critical or negative. Picking on people, jumping on their failures, and criticizing their faults appears to be a positive, proactive position for pessimists. However, doing so says more about your own faults than the faults of others.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have been in the counseling business too long to think that pessimists don’t have very specific reasons for being this way. I have heard, literally, hours of reasons why a pessimist’s attitude is really a good thing in his or her life. However, in my experience, I’ve found the reasons to spring from a deep well of pain, injury, abandonment, neglect, humiliation, abuse, and disappointment. Is it any wonder, then, with this kind of well, that what bubbles up in the life of a pessimist is bitterness and negativity?
A pattern of pessimism can be very difficult to give up because it seems safe. If you’ve been wounded, it appears smart to venture out cautiously, carefully, defensively. Pessimism appears to be just the armor you need to engage a hostile world. It can seem very right to the wounded person, but it leads to death, a death of optimism. Pessimism becomes not an armor keeping the world out, but a prison keeping you in. Pessimism is a world that says the worse thing that can happen to you is to be hurt by evil flourishes, where wrongs outweigh rights, where oppression is standard and disappointment is the order of the day.
There’s only one problem with this worldview; it’s a worldview. It’s a view completely obscured by this world. It presupposes that all there is or is ever going to be is this world, with all its faults and problems. This is the type of world described in Ephesians 2:11-12. It is a view “without hope and God in the world.”
But you do have hope, and God is in the world, so this worldview is a lie. Since the underlying assumptions of your pessimism are a lie, it’s perfectly logical, rational, pragmatic, enlightened, and savvy to reject it and instead base your response to life on the truth. And what is truth? Instead of a worldview, have a God view. With a God view, your response to life can change from pessimism to optimism.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 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.
The way to start relationship recovery is to take a step of faith. The late Corrie ten Boom is credited with saying, “Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.” Living a life enmeshed in the throes of dependency can be like living in a relational fog. The fears and behaviors of dependency obscure the truth about all of your relationships – with self, others, and God.
The quotation from Corrie ten Boom is especially appropriate for the journey of recovery because, you’ll note, she does not say that faith removes the fog. Rather, she says that faith acts like radar that sees through the fog. Entrenched patterns of thought, and the actions of those compel, will not dissipate overnight. Recovery is a journey whose destination, but not path, is fog-free.
As you make the journey to your fog-free destination, you will struggle with fog. However, the hope is that you are now more aware the fog exists, more aware of where much of the fog comes from, and have reached the realization that, with faith, you can find your way through.
Below are ten questions you can answer that will serve as a road map to better understanding relationship dependency. The truthful, open, and transparent answers you give can also serve as a road map for others you may be working with on your relationship dependency issues, whether a friend, a pastor, or a therapist.
- What are your most significant past relationships, along with the most significant relationships now?
- Do you find yourself focusing your attention and effort on solving other people’s problems?
- If something goes wrong in your life, do you feel personally responsible?
- Do you try hard to fulfill the expectations other people have of you, and do you feel like a failure if you aren’t able to meet those expectations?
- If someone expresses an opinion that differs from yours, how do you react?
- How do you feel when you’re alone?
- Do you ever remember a time in your life when you felt abandoned?
- What characteristics do you look for in a relationship?
- When you suspect a relationship may be ending, what do you do to keep it going?
- If a relationship ends, how long does it take for you to enter into another relationship?
Take time to recognize some personal patterns of dependency and how these patterns can negatively affect your relationships. The fog of dependency may take some time to be lifted, but hopefully you’re aware the fog exists—a fog that obscures your view of what positive relationships can be.
Our team at The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in uncovering the layers of relationship dependency that may have accumulated over time. We specialize in whole person care—in understanding the full dimensions of an individual, and the life script that brought them to where they are today. Each person that comes to The Center • A Place of HOPE is unique, which means that their recovery journey will be equally unique. We are ready to help you on this journey to uncover your true, healthy, happy self. If you are ready to take the first step on this journey, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak with a recovery specialist today.