aka What does vulnerability have to do with an eating disorder?
aka Why don’t you like taking magic carpet rides?
These are GREAT questions.
So here’s the deal, feeling vulnerable in and of itself does not make a person under-eat, over-eat or vacillate between the two.
It’s not like a virus, say HIV, that eventually turns into AIDS.
Vulnerability is a feeling.
Vulnerability is hairy. So let’s call it Harry.
We all have met Harry before.
Harry is a throwback to infant days. When we were small, couldn’t take care of ourselves, and all we needed was hugs, kisses, and a bottle (or a boob).
As we get older, things happen that leave us feeling exposed, just like we were when we popped out as that pumpkin (or whatever kind of veg you affiliate with).
We feel naked.
I don’t know about you, but one of the ways Harry gets a hold of me is when I know that I don’t have the answer.
And that magic carpet that was holding me, all of a sudden has been yanked out from underneath me. Now what? I’m free-falling through space not sure where I’m going to land.
And this is where the complexity that you read about in most eating disorder definitions starts to take shape.
Not having the answer, and not getting it right if I do have the answer, is a shame trigger.
It’s like Harry opens the door wide open for Mr Dick to walk through.
Remember that question I used to ask myself: Why am I different? Not different in a good way as in unique, special, precious, etc. but different as in ‘you don’t belong.’ That question was filled with shame.
So when you keep internalizing ‘I don’t belong’, you start to look for places or things or actions where you can belong.
Remember that role I fulfilled in my family? The good, smart kid? Well, take that a step further…
Good = stay out of trouble.
Smart = get the grades and have the answers.
So now, getting in trouble, not having the answers, in addition to getting it wrong, failing, not being perfect etc, starts to feel vulnerable. It’s vulnerable because it triggers shame.
And it’s more than a thought. It’s a FEELING.
Vulnerable feels like this: A knot in the pit of my belly that is so tight, and so large, that I can practically touch it from the outside. I can rub my belly and it feels better. I can bend over and is displaces the pain.
Shame feels like this: A melting of yourself, like the wicked witch in the wizard of oz, where you literally feel like you are sinking into the floor, and you also wish you could. Shame starts from my core, my belly, and it spreads outward throughout my body.
Do you notice anything here?
What part of the body is mentioned in both scenarios?
And what other sensation do you feel in your belly?
Hunger. (Wow, you’re good).
And what else?
The lack of hunger. You know when you are so ‘stressed out’ that even the most decadent piece of chocolate cake or the gooiest brownie doesn’t look appetizing? (Does that have a word? Oh yes, it’s technically called anorexia.)
So now, let’s start putting some of the pieces of the puzzle together.
You have a physical discomfort in your belly, that is triggered by an emotion, that you don’t know how to appease, other than with food.
This is the starting point for food being the answer. The good news is, now we have a place to reverse from.
What if, we found other ways to appease, or, even better, embrace, the emotion? Ways that were not maladaptive, but that were fit for purpose?
What if, when Harry shows up at the door, instead of trying to hide Harry under a mound of ice cream, cookies, crisps, cereal and bread, or…
running and hiding and not eating anything until he leaves…
Harry shows up and, as you might do if Prince Harry rocked up, you say…
‘Oh! Hi Harry! I wasn’t expecting you!’
‘Omg! Harry’s here!’
‘Harry!! I haven’t seen you for ages! Come on in! Would you like a cup of tea?’
Engage with hairy Harry.
Find out why he showed up when he did. (eg What’s triggering the vulnerability?)
What does he want to tell you? (eg What can you learn about yourself?)
Offer him some tea. (eg Be kind to vulnerability. You don’t have to fight it, flight it, or freeze.)
Because when you engage with vulnerability, it can be a beautiful thing. Hairy Harry turns into a butterfly.
Something to think about: What does vulnerability feel like to you? How do you respond to it? Do you like free-falling in the air after the Magic Carpet’s pulled out from under you?
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