As part of my training in psychology, I’ve learned about borderline personality disorder. Maybe I’ll go more into depth about it another time, but a “love/hate” tendency is one of the defining characteristics. I have noticed in myself that when others anticipate my needs and go above and beyond in satiating them, I practically fall in love. And when I have to explicitly state what I need, or do not get what I need – it can take only moments to relegate a person to the “doesn’t really understand/love me” category.
At the same time on the flip-side, I feel that when I respond to others’ needs well I deserve love, acceptance, and praise. And when I fall short, there is justification for when I am treated badly. When you add in perfectionism, this leads to a constant struggle to meet others’ needs in order to feel secure, and a constant falling short and consequent feelings of deserving maltreatment.
How does this relate to food, and the title of this post?
Well, for most of my life up till now, I did what I was told. I was a “good girl.” I followed paths that are sanctioned by society as “smart,” “safe,” “good,” “responsible,” “productive.” And whatever I did (which was mainly school), I did extremely well. And I received what comes along with that: people always saying I’m so smart, scholarships, people talking about my potential, people treating me like I’m a “good girl.” I played by the rules no matter the cost and I got the rewards that those particular games offered.
The thing is, when the rewards just don’t do it anymore because you’ve burnt yourself to a crisp, you come face to face with something: your own abandoned dreams, the rules your heart would like to set for the game of life.
Which is all well and good, except when you are used to being a zombie in exchange for people praising you, it can be extremely difficult to learn true accountability for one’s actions, as well as how to relate to others in a way that relies on mutual exchange rather than sacrifice and reward.
So. At the moment, I’ve freed myself from the predetermined “good girl” path. And, as I begin to allow myself to imagine different new paths for myself, I find myself stuck in certain ways. Just the thought of picking anything is strange to me, because I think, “Well, if I pick that, it will just be because I picked it, not because it made sense, it was a good idea, my parents would like the idea, it would be good for my future, it’s the only option, it’s the only choice I can make while I also have to do ______, etc.” It appears that I am having great difficulty with valuing my own choices on the merit of simply being what I want. It feels like I’m waiting to get called on the phone and yelled at for not remembering that this or that is most important right now so I can’t just _______ (fill in the blank with whatever I want).
To get back to the borderline concept, the way I’ve operated most of my life is to feel that I owe others and that they owe me based on whether or not we are meeting certain expectations. However, now, trying to stand only on my own two legs as the foundation for my choices, for my being… Separating my intrinsic value from “doing as I’m told”… I can no longer expect others to treat me a certain way just because I play by their rules, since I realize I can play by my own now and that each person is entitled to this.
I’ve never been thin before, and for most of my life I had a frying pan poised over my skull, with the threat, “YOU BETTER DIET OR YOU’LL BE UNACCEPTABLE FOREVER.” So I dieted every day for 10 years.
Then I threw dieting in the garbage where it belongs, and began therapy in which I have for 3 years expressed “I need to do something about my eating, though, really, seriously, oh my god.” And I do not mean to diminish the true suffering here in any way, it’s real. But – in both this case and with dieting, the issue of addressing my eating has not been treated as a choice. It’s been treated as: You are expected to fix this, and if you don’t, it’s a fucking problem. And the game I’ve played with myself is that as long as I’m suffering enough about it, obsessing enough about it, I meet my own quota for suffering necessary to be a good person and then deserve the reward of bingeing.
I am beginning to glimpse an alternative. If I want to eat differently, do not make it a game with myself, seeing how badly I can demand myself to suffer, and how well I comply. Do not pretend that the “streaks” of doing well, as long as they’re often enough, prove that I’m valuable otherwise I’d just be shit. Rather… Make an honest evaluation, then make a decision, then take responsibility for seeing it through. Every action everyone takes is calculated to be the best action according to underlying beliefs, values, and emotional issues. Everyone is physically in control of the actions they take. So before you take an action you don’t want to take, you can make it your responsibility to find out what underneath is leading to that impulse. You inquire, you figure it out. You don’t ruminate, you don’t pretend it’s unsolvable, you don’t let it go on and on and on. You reckon with it until it’s known.
If you’re completely up and down with your eating, you need to find out what it is that you truly want, and then you need to be ready to commit to it. Decide if you want to live or not! For those with histories of depression or suicidal thoughts, you may need to go back to this most fundamental of questions. If you’re reading this, it’s extremely likely that you do want to live – which means the part of you that’s causing ambivalence is made up of emotional leftovers that you should not allow to run your life. If you want to live, decide if you’re willing to spend more time causing yourself suffering or not – decide EXACTLY how you are going to take action on your own behalf, and know that you can.
There’s a difference between force and threats, and firmness about the fact that you are the only one who gets to decide what’s valuable to you and the only one who is in charge of whether or not you get that value into your life. We can have compassion for the parts of ourselves that need attention, the parts that cause us to act out; however, we do not want those echoes of the past running our lives. We want our best selves and our true desires and values running our lives.
This post was inspired by a conflict with my boyfriend which was essentially about the need to manage one’s own expectations. We have been together for almost 7 years. We know each other, and we know each other’s basic traits, capabilities, habits, communication styles, etc. I like the example I used in the last post, of how people don’t try to jump in the air when they know they can’t fly that way. It would be the hallmark of not accepting one’s own responsibility, if someone yelled at the sky every day, “Oh yeah??!?? Again not letting me fly?!?? You make me sick!!!! You don’t understand me, you don’t love me.. Screw you, sky.” What a way to emotionally drain yourself every single day. Not to mention destroy your relationship with the sky.
If the reality is that this person was actually carrying around a broken heart about not being able to fly, it would be time for them to acknowledge this and to decide whether or not they are going to commit themselves to their dream. Are they going to begin training to become a pilot or an astronaut? Are they going to conclude that what they wanted was an unrealistic expectation and let it go? EITHER one of these, whichever is true in their heart, will bring peace and renewed energy, wellness and direction. Why? Because in either case, even if the answer is to let the dream die, you are no longer raising your blood pressure and releasing the chemicals of stress into your body and soul every day screaming at the sky.
FIND where in life you have conflicts that seem to have been there for a very long time, which you have been unable to solve. Of course we can use the example of food, but as the relationship to food is really only the surface indicator of deeper emotional truths, you must find these conflicts elsewhere as well.
Always all-or-nothing or back and forth in the relationship to food? Decide whether you are ready to choose life over bingeing, then commit to healing through eating when, what, and how much the body needs and doing inquiry when you want food but are not hungry.
Love/hate in your relationship? Decide what you really need, and then commit to getting that, whatever that implies, whether it be weekly conversations to assess the relationship, breaking up, starting therapy in order to sort out which are your own issues, or whatever else is needed.
If you’ve lived a life of having to prove yourself for love (and likely learned to make others prove themselves to you as a way of showing love), it’s time to find the freedom in declaring your own value and respecting the inherent value of others. If you don’t like something, do not expect that enough suffering or enough passive-aggression or enough waiting or enough hinting or enough tolerating or enough despair will make someone else make it go away because you deserve it to. There’s no more deserving in terms of being treated well. You’ve got to want it, and then you’ve got to make it happen. This is not the same as saying “you can only ever rely on yourself” – but in terms of others in your life, you still choose who is in your life and the extent of the chosen ones’ abilities to treat you well.
Let’s not delay in discovering what we truly want and need.
Go get it.