The big problem
The big problem with trying to lose weight — well, one of the big problems — is that people have learned to distrust their own body. (I mention weight loss because it’s so widely discussed, but this also affects many other areas.)
We have grown up in a world with an increasing disconnection between body and mind. We are taught, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, that our minds are cleverer than our bodies, and that our bodies don’t know what they are doing.
You learn to ignore what your body tells you; to overwork; to drink too much alcohol (or take other recreational drugs) to compensate; to starve yourself (if trying to lose weight); and, when you have the inevitable emotional fallout, to ignore the root causes and let your doctor give you prescription drugs instead.
You learn to blame yourself instead of acknowledging that you have pushed your body and your mind too far. After all, your body and brain are both machines that need careful tending and maintenance. Your mind is a virtual machine, and needs just as much careful tending and maintenance.
Drowning your emotions
Imagine that you feel angry at someone. What you have learned, probably by complete accident, is that the way to deal with it is to divert yourself with your favourite drug or drug-substitute. This could be sitting with a tub of ice cream, smoking a cigarette, injecting heroin, drinking yourself silly, hiding behind your computer, snorting cocaine, cutting yourself… you get the picture.
So, that’s what you do. Your body is screaming at you that there is a problem (you are angry), but instead of dealing with the problem in a way that will solve it (seriously, did anyone ever teach you how to do that?), you drown your emotions in an unhealthy and damaging way.
Losing your way
Sadly, this leads to a vicious cycle. Why? Because each time when you don’t deal with the emotion but instead drown it in an unhealthy behaviour, you lose the chance to:
- Learn healthy ways to cope…
- … or even how to cope at all
- Grow emotionally
- Become wiser
- Develop as a person
- Grow stronger
So, here’s the cycle.
What to do?
Getting in touch with your body again
One of the reasons why mindfulness has become such a big therapy (although some have concerns about its use, and others warn to carefully choose when to use it) is precisely that it puts you back in touch with your body, almost literally.
It’s important to understand what your body is telling you. But it’s vital not to stop there. You need to know how to deal with what your body is telling you.
One of the skills that I teach my clients is how to open a two-way communication. You learn not only how to hear your body, but also how to speak to your body. You learn how to communicate.
A new cycle
What you are looking for is a totally different cycle. A virtuous cycle that looks something like this.
This is easier said than done, of course, especially if you have a long-standing habit of not-dealing with your emotions through a drug or drug-substitute.
Mindfulness is certainly a part of the healing process, but only a part. Becoming more mindful without learning decent coping strategies can have the perverse effect of overwhelming you and making you feel worse.
What’s really happening?
The starting point is to understand that your problem is not overeating, taking drugs, hiding or self-harm. Those are all symptoms of the problem.
The primary problem is that you probably don’t know how to deal with your emotions. Most likely, you were never taught how. Perhaps you had a poor role model; maybe your mother or father never learned how themselves. Or you were badly bullied when young and didn’t get the chance to mature naturally. Or you have suffered severe trauma that has left you unable to think it through clearly (e.g. PTSD). Or whatever. Schooling certainly hasn’t caught up — your teachers were probably as filled with their own (secret) problems as you are!
Notice that I did not say that you are broken. Unless you have a serious disorder such as, say, narcissistic personality disorder, the chances are that you simply have broken strategies. It’s like a self-driving car that works perfectly well, but the computer inside has been programmed to deal with farming instead of roads. The car will veer all over the place, and crash, but it’s the fault of neither the car nor the computer — it’s the program inside that is incorrect. Change the program, and the car will work perfectly.
The same is true of you. Your mind probably works very well, but it’s running an unhelpful set of strategies. Changing your strategies will change your life. That’s not an exaggeration — it really will change your life!
In case you’re wondering: yes, I went through this myself.
It’s not easy to say precisely how to proceed, because each person is different.
Possible routes include the following.
- A counsellor
- A life coach
- A psychotherapist
- A clinical psychologist
- A hypnotherapist
- A psychiatrist (usually only for serious disorders; your GP should refer you if appropriate)
- A specialist in your area of concern, which might involve a different type of therapy (common acronyms include CBT, NLP, EFT, EMDR… don’t worry about their meanings, because they all work in their own unique ways)
It’s important to remember that every person is different, so while one approach might work brilliantly for your friend, you might require something quite different.
So, call around and ask about different approaches, and how they would work with you to help with your problem.
Also, each therapist is different. You might find that one psychotherapist works in a way that makes you feel, “No, that’s not for me,” while another one seems just perfect. Don’t be afraid to compare different therapists in the same field.
Finally, in many cases, a single therapy makes the world of difference, and anything after that is the proverbial icing on the cake. If you’re content after your first therapy, that’s absolutely fine; but if you want to develop even further, don’t be afraid to explore further. It is, after all, your life.
In case you’re still wondering: yes, I have tried several different approaches. Not all of them worked for me, but most did!
Life is a process, and you might as well get the most out of it. Get the help that you need.