Too Emotional For Patriarchy

 In Comfort Eating

eating with emotionI find that generally, people become wary of me when I start talking about the emotional side of existence. They often immediately assume a posture or attitude of defence. It is obvious that they want to stop this line of enquiry. Some people even get quite aggressive.

Does there have to be emotion behind what I’m doing?”

Working with people to help them understand binge-eating and comfort eating, this is something people ask me, all the time. It’s hard for them to understand that this is a question inspired by emotion and defensiveness.

We all eat junk food, shop a little too much, or drink to some degree, so is it emotional for all of us?

I think the answer is, actually, yes, even if it is just an association or habit. We are emotional creatures with complex psychologies. I don’t think there can be much that we do that doesn’t involve emotion. Even if it is just that it feels nice to eat that particular thing at that particular time. That is still an emotional response.

It’s just that for many of us it’s going out of control. Like any addiction, tolerance levels creep up for the substances we consume, and habit increases quickly. 

We don’t like the idea that we are losing control. It’s hard to admit it. But clearly, over consuming is a big problem in our culture. Especially now.

We still live in a society that prizes action and toughness. Not wanting to admit to emotion or vulnerability, belies a survival fear of failure and rejection, and an aversion to difficulty.

This is often what I see in the eyes of the person who wants me to stop talking about emotion.

We love a quick fix, as humans. We are averse to pain and discomfort, by nature. Furthermore, we are pleasure seeking. So, we instinctively go for the thing that, we think, will feel good, immediately. Again, some people are more attracted to this than others.

What determines whether we are more ‘pleasure seeking’ or ‘quick fix’ oriented than others?

Probably partly how we’ve developed and what we’ve learned as we grew up, but, could it also be the level of discomfort?

It may not be immediately recognisable what emotions lie underneath your habit or addiction, but somewhere there may be discomfort of some kind, demanding to be soothed or dissolved.

In my experience, it’s often the most sensitive of people who struggle with obsessions.

That’s not to knock the sensitive. In fact, in my book, they (or I should say we) are the most interesting of all the creatures on the planet! Because we are the warm and caring ones, who are creative, and connective.

It’s just that some have lost their way, in the pursuit of toughness and productivity, so prized in our cultures, and in patriarchal society.

You’ve heard it said that a large part of what we do is unconscious. Something I know, as a therapist, is that it can be a difficult job getting to know the unconscious. What we really feel can be buried very deeply, particularly if we’ve used a substance that numbs and helps us to check out, repeatedly.

But, once there, it’s the only way I know to heal. Because the only way to change the unconscious is through the unconscious!

So, a question to determine whether your habit IS emotional or not, could be:

What would you be left with, if you didn’t do it?”

Something I also hear people say a lot is that it’s hard to be addicted to something that we have to use every day, to survive. It’s true, ideally we would be able to enjoy some comfort foods without having to devour the whole packet, the entire cupboard, or without thinking about eating obsessively.

But, my thoughts around this are that it takes a huge mindset shift to stop comfort eating, the same as it would for any addiction. The actual substance you’re addicted to is not really the point. More, the habit is about squashing emotion. So, this is the thing that needs to shift. You need to find a way to uncover what’s going on in your psyche, and take steps to learn to treat yourself better. That way you’ll stop turning to something outside you for comfort, naturally. The same applies with any obsession, addiction, or repetitive reliance.

So, start by taking an inventory of your life. Draw a timeline of all the ups and downs in your life changes. Then, alongside that, jot down what was happening in your life at those times. Soon, you’ll start to see that many of these changes were accompanied by emotion. 

See if you can identify emotions that may have triggered your need for comfort, or the need to pretend everything was fine.

We like to think that we are simple creatures. But the truth is that we are emotional, reactive, defensive, and that we have baggage. Embracing this fact, and finding your core confidence, through kindness to yourself, is the road to recovery and feeling more fulfilled.

Next week I’ll be talking about that voice in your head that says you are not enough and don’t fit in, so stay tuned!

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