“Compulsion is despair on the emotional level. The substances, people, or activities we become compulsive about are those we believe capable of taking our despair away…Compulsive behavior, at its most fundamental, is a lack of self-love; it is an expression of a belief that we are not good enough.”
-Geneen Roth, When Food Is Love
For many abuse victims, food takes on an importance far and above its ability to nourish. We eat our anger, stuff our guilt (misplaced though it is). We use food both as a reward and a punishment.
The smallest morsel can set in motion a binge.
Weight issues feed into the sense of loneliness and isolation abuse victims already feel. The life opportunities of which weight deprives us should be penalty enough. But our losses generate regrets, and we carry those regrets forward, along with the pounds.
Purposes Behind Compulsive Eating
Like drinking to excess, compulsive eating serves two basic purposes. While ostensibly numbing our pain, it actually recreates the emotional experience of abuse – our fear, our helplessness, our shame, our rage. And it re-affirms (albeit in a dysfunctional way) that we deserve to have our needs met.
“We had nothing to do with the reasons our parents abused or left or violated us. We believed we did because blaming ourselves for the sorrow gave us some measure of control over it.”
-Geneen Roth, When Food Is Love
Though we were not abandoned, neglected, or abused because of what we weighed, weight issues become a “safe” focus for the emotions associated with our abuse.
We can now blame ourselves for the negative feelings the abuse caused, rather than blaming the loved ones who inflicted it on us. But the least dieting failure feels like a sin, as well as a defeat.
Abuse leaves us vulnerable to spiritual attack. We are more likely to believe the lies which are Satan’s stock in trade. Here are a few examples, relative to compulsive eating:
- I’m starving. I need this food. I have to have it.
- I’m disgusting. I can’t even control myself.
- I’ll never find love. I don’t deserve to be loved.
- How can God can stand me? I should just kill myself.
Binary or rigid, black and white thinking (known psychologically as “splitting”) is one approach Satan employs to convey these lies.
Binary thinking reduces all situations to two, mutually exclusive options . Under such reasoning, we are either perfect or hopeless, ideal or dreadful. There is no room for nuance, no room for error. And no possibility of God extending us mercy.
This is, however, a false dichotomy.
Breaking the Chains
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?” (Isa. 58: 6).
By His death on the cross and Resurrection, Christ broke the chains of sin and death that once bound us. It is not His desire that abuse victims stagger forward under insupportable burdens of despair, regret, self-blame, and self-loathing.
This knowledge will not produce an overnight cure. But it does have the power to sustain us, as we work through our pain. With counseling and God’s help, we can leave the weight of sorrow behind.
 The TalkSpace Voice, “5 Ways Black and White Thinking Poisons Your Perspective” by Reina Gattuso, 7/31/18, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/black-white-thinking-ways-poisons-your-perspective/ .
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