aka How cake and salad can both be on the ‘good’ list
aka How my lizard brain works
I know, tell me about it right?
It’s crazy! We live in a world where this is the norm, practically an expectation. Deprivation is rewarded and commended.
‘She’s so good, she only had just a bite of cake.’ ‘He’s so dedicated! He goes to the gym every night after work.’
Why is only one bite of cake ‘good’? What’s wrong with having a full slice and enjoying every bite of it?
Why is dedication put on a pedestal? What about commending a commitment to one’s health, regardless of how many trips to the gym it takes?
And Indulgence? We’re invited to Indulge on a daily basis through marketing and advertising tricks, and if we give in, it’s seen as either acceptable to jump on the bandwagon, or just a wee bit naughty.
‘Would you like to supersize that?’ Oh sure, why not as I’m at it already.
‘I bought some chocolate and had a few pieces last night. I know I should’ve stopped at two but the box was just staring at me!’
And it’s not a phenomenon just with food. It’s everywhere we look.
- Sure, I can stay late again at work (even though I’ll be missing my kid’s baseball game for the 2nd time in a row.)
- Oh no, it’s fine, I can watch your kids (even though what you really need is an hour to yourself before your own family gets home.)
- Just buy another TV and put it on a zero interest financing deal (because you really need another TV or even A TV.)
- I’ll just watch one more episode (even though that’s the 3rd time you said that.)
When we foster this pattern, we give in to a way of living that denies our true wants, needs and desires. We send ourselves a signal that they are not worth it. That we are not worth it.
But if I deprive myself of them, I am somehow raised to the level of domestic goddess and now I’m worthy of love and belonging. (Faulty logic btw.)
Except prolonged deprivation is not sustainable. Picture a see saw, an extreme dip on one end begs to be balanced out. So we give in, go the other extreme, indulge, and soon the floodgates open.
And when that happens, it is clear I am definitely NOT worthy of love and belonging. Because who could love that kind of behaviour?
I’ve seen this pattern in my own life in more places than I care to admit, but here goes. In addition to adopting a deprivation/indulge pattern with food, it was there with sex, money, and emotions.
I grew up in an abstinence culture. You either had sex (indulge) or you didn’t (deprive). There was little room to acknowledge someone’s budding sexuality or engage in any kind of nourishing discussion, exploration, or acknowledgement of desires… another form of deprivation. As you can imagine, ignoring something doesn’t make it go away ; it doesn’t take away the feelings. But when they occurred, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do: just ignore them and wait until you’re married. Unsustainable in the long run which meant I then indulged the desires, but without really knowing why I was choosing to. It’s a great way to foster guilt btw.
I also grew up on a budget. The budget rarely allowed for spending on items that I saw as pleasurable; brand-name backpacks, sweaters, shoes. The choice was often, you can have one sweater from the Gap, or three from JC Penneys. I’d often go with quantity over quality so that at least I’d have a variety of clothes to wear. But in doing so, I denied a desired pleasure. To own a beautiful, quality piece of clothing. When I started making my own money, I tried the budget approach for a while, but I could never stick to it. One month I’d splurge on clothes, the next month, I wouldn’t spend a dime. And the crazy thing was that in the splurge months, I still wasn’t giving myself what I really wanted. I’d buy/consume a large quantity, but it wasn’t necessarily what I had my eye on. I’d still shop the sale rack or buy stuff that didn’t quite fit right but was ‘good enough’. I was still depriving myself, leaving the desire unfulfilled.
This next one is an adoption of the stoic British motto: Keep calm and carry on. Whether nature or nurture, I rarely expressed my feelings. But when I did, Lordy did you know it. I’d be thinking or feeling things for months, keeping it all bottled in; calm on the outside, but seething on the inside. I’d be depriving myself of feeling the actual feelings. Which inevitably meant that later, I’d explode in a seemingly insignificant situation that ignited those bottled feelings (indulge). Just for the record, it can be a real hang up as an adult as you are trying to build meaningful relationships with partners. It’s not a recipe for success that is for sure.
And of course, the binge/purge cycle that exists within bulimia is just another manifestation of deprive/indulge. Deprive self of food that you really desire, then indulge with a binge. The purge starts the deprivation cycle again; purge and then restrict for as long as possible until the binge happens again.
Do you see the common theme in all of this? What is actually being deprived here?
Whether it’s our deepest and most vulnerable sexual expression, our intense and charged emotional expression, or an outward expression of what we value and what see as beautiful and pleasurable (ie with food and money), it all comes back to the same thing…. the essence of who you are.
When you deprive yourself of this, the message you are embracing and emulating is: I am not good enough. I am not valuable enough. I am not worthy.
There he is again. Mr Dick.
So what’s going on? Why would we ever want to ignore, quiet, or deprive the world of our self-expression?
Because when we pick up signals that our self-expression, a reflection of ourselves, isn’t going to get the approval, applause, love and acceptance, we’re really good at adapting to what will. Not sure if it’s our lizard brain or monkey brain, but either way it’s a pretty good survival mechanism.
Here’s a 3rd option that’s a bit more sustainable.
Instead of asking, will they love me? (And sometimes dare I say, Will I love me?)
Ask, what would nourish me? What would bring me and those around me pleasure and joy?
What would feed my mind, body and soul right now?
Maybe one day it’s a piece of chocolate cake. Another day it’s a gorgeous green salad.
Maybe one month it’s that beautiful red dress that you saw hanging in the store window. Maybe the next month it’s honoring your commitment to save.
All of these choices can be equally nourishing and pleasurable when you know what you want, and why you’re choosing what you’re choosing.
As I’ve started down this path I can now tell when I need/want a good cry and a release of emotion, and I’ll give it to myself. I can also tell when it’s not the right time and ‘keep calm and carry on’ is the better option in the moment. However instead of creating a bottleneck that is ignored, it’s pressing the pause button for a more nourishing time.
And as I’ve allowed myself to feel the feelings, express myself, nourish my desires, it’s been easier to allow for pleasure and nourishment with food too.
Something to think about: Where do you see the deprive/indulge cycle in your own life? What do you think would change if you allowed for more self-expression?
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