Tag Archives: eating disorders

Punishing Ourselves, Part 2 – Emotional Hunger

“Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors Brought to Jacob after Joseph Is Sold into Slavery” by Diego Velazquez (1630), El Escorial (PD-Art l Old-100)

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3: 21).

Human beings inherently crave connection.  When our basic need for relationship is denied, abuse victims can develop an intense emotional hunger.  Some of us attempt to satiate that hunger with food, others with possessions, still others with sex.

But these will not satisfy us.  So the emotional hunger returns, and the cycle begins all over again – each time destined to fail.

Punishment and Reward

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age.  Also he made him a tunic of many colors.  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him…” (Gen. 37: 3-4).

The reward – whether of food, material things, or sex – becomes punishment.  Each stop gap measure has negative consequences.  Each leaves us feeling empty.  Our sense of worthlessness resurfaces with renewed force.

Then the reward used to stem our emotional hunger becomes, itself, a source of shame.  It takes more and more food/things/sex to bring us even temporary relief.  Our desperation increases.

Punishment and Self-Forgiveness

“ ‘…inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25: 45-46).

Consciously or not, we ache for forgiveness, someone to take the guilt away.  And there is Someone who can do that.  In fact, He longs to do that.  He died on a cross to do that.

But we did nothing to “deserve” abuse.  We do not, therefore, need forgiveness for our abuse.  What Jesus Christ does to relieve us of the false guilt for which we have been punishing ourselves is reveal a truth it would have been too painful for us to accept as children, i.e. that our parents and caregivers were the ones at fault.

Where their love failed us, His will not.  And the life He offers us is everlasting.

This series began last week with “Punishing Ourselves, Part 1 – Numbness and Deprivation”

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: https://alawyersprayers.com

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Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD – Part 1

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893), National Gallery, Norway (Accession No. NG.M.00939), Source WebMuseum (PD)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
…” (Ps. 46: 1-2).

Most people have experienced anxiety, in one situation or another.

The death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, job loss, and moving are recognized as major stressors [1].  Other anxiety producing occasions include public speaking (always a favorite), waiting on approval for a mortgage, meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and having the in-laws over for Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there are a host of phobias.  As a general rule narrowly focused, phobias are no small matter for those suffering from them.  Phobias include the fear of heights, spiders, snakes, birds, tight spaces, bridges, flying, and blood [2].

Purpose of Anxiety

Anxiety is intended to alert us to potential danger, and prepare the body for it.

A part of the brain called the amygdala releases neuro-transmitters that initiate the so called “fight of flight” response, producing the sensations of anxiety [3].  The heart rate climbs; blood rushes to the muscles; the lungs work harder.  This process is largely autonomic.  We have, by design, very limited control.

For most, the panic associated with stressful situations quickly subsides.  Shallow breathing deepens and slows.  Rapid heartbeat subsides.

The audience does or does not throw tomatoes.  The in-laws smile or grimace – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference – and swallow their turkey.  We eventually get the mortgage.

In short, the body figures out we are going to survive.

Anxiety Disorders

About 40 million Americans, however, suffer from anxiety disorders [4].  Severe anxiety, whatever form it takes, is debilitating and can be crippling.

A. PTSD

The severe anxiety resulting from traumas such war, rape, or child abuse is better known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [5].

Whatever its origin, PTSD can cause recurrent, powerful, panic attacks, with or without an identifiable trigger.  These attacks are typically accompanied by heart palpitations, chest pain, the sensation of being smothered, and a feeling of dread.  A panic attack can, also, be experienced as paralysis and overwhelming fear.

PTSD sufferers may, in addition, experience flashbacks (vivid and disturbing memories, re-experienced involuntarily).  I have discussed these elsewhere [6]. Continue reading

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Ice Cream

Blackberry ice cream, Photographer gordonramsaysubmissions https://www.flickr.com/people/54397539@N06 (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

“I scream
You scream
We all scream
For ice cream”

– “Ice Cream” by Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, and Robert King

We have all at one time or another over-indulged, whether in a pint of our favorite ice cream or a family size bag of chips. And will again. Food may not be a substitute for love, but it is readily available.

The need for love and connection is closely related to that for sustenance. The need to reproduce is equally primal. Human beings could not have survived without these needs being met, which is why they are so deeply ingrained in our nature.

Weight, however, is tied to self-loathing in our culture. What American woman has not stood naked on the scale, waiting with bated breath for the dial to stop?

As many abuse victims know, the shame of abuse can be transferred to our weight. The ongoing battle with weight provides us a permanent opportunity to vilify ourselves. Inversely proportional to our weight, our self-esteem can, quite literally, be measured by the pound.

When the damaged self-esteem resulting from abuse and the pressure on American women to be a certain size coincide, eating disorders frequently result. Anyone acquainted with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating knows these are often hidden. The shame of these disorders coupled with the shame of abuse can be overwhelming.

There is worse. Some of us have eaten out of the garbage can. This practice is not limited to the homeless among us [1]. There could hardly be a more apt symbol of low self-esteem. Continue reading

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Intimacy and the Real Self

As abuse victims, the majority of us have trust issues.  Intimacy, in other words, is a challenge for us. Lovers are likely to be selected for their inability to permit intimacy (or might as well be). The closer they get to us, the greater the chance they will run.

In the agony of trying to hold onto someone unwilling to commit, we lose sight of one essential fact. The closer they get, the greater the chance we will run. The attraction evaporates.

Our trust issues may be such that we cannot even allow for friendships. If we have managed to form valued relationships, we may still keep friends at arm’s length. While we need not fear or distrust genuine friends, it can be difficult for us to believe friends would remain loyal, if they knew all our flaws.

Our “true” selves.

Safety Zone

Painful as it is, abuse victims often rely on distance – geographic and emotional. Intimacy can be so unfamiliar it makes us nervous. Distance provides us a “safety” zone within which our secret selves live.

There is no actual safety in such a zone. It is merely a no man’s land with which we surround ourselves. Isolation takes the place of barbed wire, keeping us in and others out.

The Secret Self

Secrets can flourish within that zone. We need not explain the myriad after-effects of abuse (after-effects for which we may have been rejected in the past, for which we may despise ourselves).

We need not explain our eating disorders or sexual difficulties.  We need not explain what has compelled us to sleep with “so many” – or “so few” – men (or women, for that matter). We need not explain our complex reasons for remaining in abusive relationships – reasons we may not fully understand ourselves.

The Hidden Self

None of these secret flaws – these “terrible” aspects of what we view as our true selves – is harmful to others [1].

Strangely, we take no notice of our many positive qualities. It is as if these qualities were invisible to us, hidden in the same way we hide the worst details of the abuse and its after-effects from others. Continue reading

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In the Aftermath of Abuse, Part 2 – Guilt and Shame

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in Me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ ” (Matt. 18: 6).

It is easier for children to believe they “deserve” the evil done to them, than to take in the fact an adult who should care for them actually has little or no regard for their well-being.

The Statute of Limitations and other obstacles can make it difficult to hold child molesters accountable legally.  Even with a conviction, however, the feeling of “sinfulness” may rebound from an abuser to his victims.  This in no way implies that they were at fault. Victims, however, relive the trauma of having been treated as worthless. They are often left with a vague sense of unworthiness that can permeate their lives, and undermine subsequent relationships.

Though this feeling of their own “sinfulness” can be overwhelming to abuse victims, the conclusions they draw from it may not be accurate.  Victims did not warrant or invite the abuse.  They remain deserving of love.

The feeling of “sinfulness” is just one of the scars left in the wake of abuse.  Other symptoms can include anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug addiction, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction.  These behaviors either stem from the pain or are attempts to numb it.  All of them “punish” the victim, who was never at fault in the first place!

The symptoms of abuse may, themselves, become a cause of shame to victims.  Self-destructive behaviors shift the focus away from the abuse, while silently declaring it to the world.  Imperfect as coping mechanisms, these behaviors can have dire consequences but are, in effect, a cry for help.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT:  http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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