Years ago, a woman in my classes said that food and sugar addiction is the “good girl’s addiction.”
What is a good boy or girl? This is often someone whose focus on being good means abandoning their own needs in the process. This can lead to an avoidance or fear of conflict, an inability to say no, and a suppression of their own needs/feelings/experience to care for another’s.
Over time, we can become tied to this identity, believing that the “good” girl or boy is who we are. We may come to believe that this “goodness” is all that is good – good in the sense of worthy and valuable – about us. Our very self worth rests on being compliant, nice, sweet, kind and caring of others – even when it causes us pain.
If you’re stuck in a “good girl” or “good boy” role, your relationships may be a source of stress in your life, where you regularly sacrifice the care of your own self – honoring your needs, honoring your limits, caring for your own being – for the sake of another. It can create a pattern of living that feels painful, overwhelming, and undernourishing. Ouch, that hurts.
Overgiving can lead to feelings of anger, frustration and resentment, as well as feelings of despair and powerlessness. As one woman described it, “I don’t know how to not be responsible.” Even though the overgiving feels terrible, you may feel powerless to actually change it. And so despair sets in – a feeling of, “My life is just about enduring pain and enduring stress and making do and getting by.”
You may feel powerless to actually create a life that balances your own needs with others.’
This is not to say that there aren’t times when we put our own needs aside to care for another – a parent of a newborn baby regularly sacrifices their need for sleep to attend to their infant! Sometimes, it’s entirely appropriate.
But men and women who are stuck in a chronic pattern of overgiving and overcaring are just that – stuck. It’s not something that ebbs and flows as appropriate to the situation – it’s often compulsive, and almost always present. (Developmental psychologist and theorist Dr. Gordon Neufeld calls this the “alpha complex.”)
How does food enter the picture? You may use food or sugar to soothe the stress and pain of living with chronic, unmet needs:
- You may use food or sugar to soothe feelings of powerlessness and despair about making your life more nurturing and less stressful
- You may use food to give yourself a bit of comfort and luxury – especially if you feel that food is the only way you receive care, love, joy, and support.
- You can also use food to soothe the anger you feel for not having more freedom to create a life that nurtures you.
In this case, the food and sugar are meeting valid needs – your needs for self care, stress relief, and support. It’s just coming out sideways.
Does this touch on your own experience? Overgiving and abandoning my experience, needs, and emotions for the sake of another was certainly one of the threads that fed my own 20 years of eating disorders and food suffering.
If this describes you, too, be gentle with your soul. I invite you to care for this need – and the pain that drives it – with tenderness. It isn’t something to judge, shame or to feel guilty about – it’s simply a part of our human conditioning. The root of “good behavior” is often a desire for love, security and connection – no matter the personal cost. When we see it with these eyes, we can see our tender, holy longing for love for what it is – a holy longing – and find compassion for the wonky ways we may have tried to meet it.
Through this compassion, we can foster healing, growth and change. Specifically, practice expansion – stepping out of a limited role or identity as the caretaker and accessing a broader range of how you define yourself or your roles. There’s a multitude of ways to express yourself and be in the world. Sometimes, being in the caretaker role is entirely appropriate. Sometimes, a different role or way of being is what is necessary – to both honor yourself and others.
Then allow yourself to express your sovereignty, your personal power, and care for your needs authentically – without going sideways through sugar or food. Rather than using food as your voice – to express your need for self care, or to offer relief from the lack of it – how can your life be your voice?
Rather than feeling like a victim of your life, just surviving life’s chaos, you can start to direct the winds of your life to also nurture you. You may find that the compulsive quest for sugar or food starts to recede in the face of true power, and true nourishment.