Why Beating Yourself Up Doesn’t Work
“You’re such a big, fat loser.”
“You can’t do anything right.”
“It’s no wonder no one loves you.”
Do these statements sound horrible to you? Of course they do! But so many of us have a monologue running inside our heads on a constant loop saying such things. If our friends treated us the way we treat ourselves, chances are we wouldn’t be their friend anymore. So pay attention to the words your inner critic says to you and then imagine saying the exact same thing to your best friend. Isn’t that a heartbreaking image? In many cases, you might even consider such language verbal abuse.
So why do we treat ourselves this way?
Believe it or not, our inner critic (aka inner bully, inner parent, inner “mean girl”/bitch) is just doing what he or she believes is necessary to protect us and keep us safe. That goading and meanness all boils down to basic survival skills in the face of danger (even if it’s just perceived danger.) The biological “fight or flight or freeze” response that we feel when threatened (no matter the origin or cause) is there to help us ignore the pain, danger or risk of death and motivate us into surviving at any costs.
But beating someone else up, physically, spiritually, or emotionally never really produces the desired results. Likewise, beating ourselves up is also futile. Meaning: if beating yourself up actually worked, you’d have stopped emotional eating years ago.
The Alternative (and Perhaps Less Intuitive) Action: Being Easy on Yourself
So if beating ourselves up isn’t the answer, what is? Simple: loving ourselves. Having compassion for ourselves. Understanding that we have simply been doing the best that we could given the circumstances, our understanding, and our current set of coping skills.
Throughout the course of your life, you learned some behaviors patterns and programs that might have been okay at that time, in that place. But over time, they’ve become the default action, and it’s no longer serving you. So, we must make concerted efforts to learn new coping skills, grow emotionally, and (basically) do something different than what we’ve always done. And yes, it will feel unnatural and uncomfortable and wrong and even hard at first. But with practice and persistence, you can learn new and better behaviors to replace your emotional eating coping behaviors.
The bottom line here is: be easy on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself credit for being brave enough to try to manage and master these behaviors. Take a deep breath.
Being Easy on Yourself Isn’t a Free Pass To Not Do the Work
A lot of people cannot fathom being easy on themselves and having compassion for themselves. Honestly, in the beginning of my journey this was such a foreign concept to me, the whole notion of compassion and love for myself seemed like a foreign language and completely insurmountable. I was so full of self-hate and loathing that the idea of loving myself was instantly rejected. What’s worse, emotional eaters have been trained to have a hyper-focus on their emotional eating. So, not punishing themselves and beating themselves up makes them afraid. Afraid that they’re not taking their situation seriously, or that others will believe they have given up or are condoning their emotional eating.
So just to be clear here: being easy on yourself, and having compassion isn’t a free pass.
- It doesn’t mean that you don’t take this seriously.
- It doesn’t mean that you give up.
- It doesn’t mean that you get to avoid doing the work.
- It doesn’t mean you condone your behavior and would like to continue doing it.
Being easy on yourself means that you realize you are human, you have faults like everyone else. Those faults do not rob you of your worthiness to be loved.
Awareness, Acceptance, Action
Chances are, if you have tried to stop emotional eating and were unsuccessful at it, it’s because you attempted to jump straight to the solution (aka “I’m going to stop emotional eating tomorrow.”) You probably went through your house and threw out all the tempting food. You likely went on a diet. You might have even joined some groups and tried to limit your circle of friends to only those who don’t have “food issues.” You may have set up an elaborate bribe and reward system to try and entice yourself (motivate) you to not eat emotionally.
But before you even think about the solution, it’s best if you are aware of and understand the problem. Otherwise you’re just in denial, and being in denial makes you susceptible to falling back into the emotional eating trap again. Being fully aware of the issue means understanding how you came to eat emotionally in the first place, what’s going on at a deeper level (emotional eating is not really about food), and truly grasping the root cause of your behavior.
When we become aware of our situation and the root cause, we can then move on to acceptance. Keeping in mind, of course that accepting IS NOT condoning or approving of something. Rather, condoning is to approve of something that is considered wrong and allowing it to continue. Conversely, accepting something is simply to acknowledge the reality of it, without resistance and denial. All you’re being asked to do is to acknowledge your reality, which may sound like: “I am a emotional eater” or “I have an unhealthy relationship to food.”
Once we’re aware of our problem and accept that we have this problem, only then can we effectively take the actions necessary to solve the problem.
Acceptance Always Precedes Change
One last word on acceptance. It is a fundamental truth that acceptance always precedes change. Being able to accept yourself, your struggles, your past, your emotions, and your setbacks—not to mention your successes, your future, your self-worth, and your happiness—is the key that unlocks the door to change. Stop fighting yourself. Stop fighting reality. Accept and love yourself just the way you are, even when it seems ridiculous, uncomfortable, and counter-intuitive. In fact, especially when it seems ridiculous, uncomfortable, and counter-intuitive.
Most people think that by being rigid, creating more food rules, being restrictive, hating on themselves, and generally being mean that they’ll keep themselves in line. That the loathing and disdain for themselves as emotional eaters will somehow make them stop. But when you begin the process of accepting yourself and having compassion for yourself, then you begin to want better things for yourself. And wanting to stop emotional eating because you hate it (resistance) FEELS DIFFERENT than wanting to have a better and healthy relationship with food because you like yourself and your deserve it (acceptance.)