One of the most frustrating aspects of healing food “stuff” is how we get stuck in resistance. We recognize something that would help us – for example, eating less sugar – and yet as soon as we recognize the benefit of acting in this way we immediately feel this sense of, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me.”
We feel caught in the see saw. As a perceptive woman in one of my classes said to me recently, “I feel like the resistant/little girl part of me who wants to eat whatever she wants is so much stronger than the compassionate, wise part of myself who’s saying, ‘I love you. I care for you.'”
For many of us, it can feel like the resistant little girl is winning!
When we get caught in resistance we can easily move towards discouragement and then despair – where we feel like healing our food stuff is hopeless; impossible. We can even give up. How frustrating!
When you’ve “had it” with your resistant inner child, you may try and do as I’ve done and use one of these common techniques:
- Coercion/bribery. If you do XYZ, I’ll give you ABC.
- Threats. If you don’t do this, you’re going to get this punishment (fill in the blank.)
- Will power/over powering. This is otherwise known as “white knuckling it.”
- Reasoning. “This is why you need to do what I say….”
- Name calling/self loathing/blaming. Calling yourself all sorts of names and feeling terrible about yourself.
- Suppression. Ignoring that part of you as best as you can.
- Fear/anxiety. If you don’t do this, you’re going to end up to be 400 pounds.
In my experience none of these techniques work; all bring suffering. Even when I was sugar abstinent for a few years, I was maintaining my sugar abstinence through fear, coercion, and will power. Eventually, that resistant little girl rose to the surface and rebelled.
There is a wisdom in this. A kindness, even.
Here’s why: Read over the list of techniques again. How do you feel while reading them? I feel sad. You might feel angry. The word “violated” also comes to mind. When we treat a part of ourselves violently, we treat all of us violently. It hurts, it feels a bit abusive, and we do all we can to avoid it – rightly so!
This is especially important because many of us with food suffering carry wounding around our ability to stand up for ourselves. I’d wager that nearly all of us learned at an early age that we couldn’t say no. We didn’t feel like we could set limits, set boundaries or express our darker feelings or our needs. It’s a buried part of us; a hidden self that is trying to rise to the surface.
When we continue to ignore, suppress, power over, berate, or hurt this little girl, we deepen the wound and keep it going. One of the things that I’ve learned is that my tangles, hurts and wounding will continue to arise in my life over and over until I offer them kindness and healing.
From this perspective, your relationship with food is a container that can heal your greater self. It’s an invitation to heal – a doorway; an opportunity. It’s your own self trying to wake up and heal.
So when this little girl is rearing her head, saying no – it’s a good thing. She’s trying to heal the pattern of “No one listens to me!” The only challenge – she’s saying no to your own desire to care for yourself! It’s a bit misdirected.
So how can we accept and hear that resistant little girl – honoring her saying no, her healing, and supporting this no muscle – while also respecting our need to be in the driver’s seat and care for ourselves? What would be a compassionate way of talking to our resistance that doesn’t trample on this part of ourselves, but that also helps us set the limits and boundaries that are helpful to us?
The answer is counterintuitive. Rather than fighting back against your resistance, be like a martial arts master and step aside. Get out of the way.
If you’re feeling strongly resistant to helping yourself, I say: don’t fight back. Listen. Lean into it. I find it helps to mirror back to it, as you would mirror back to a small child. For example, if you’re strongly resistant to taking your vitamins, say, “You feel strongly about this. You wish it were different.” This is the wording that my friend, a teacher for over 25 years, uses with her students. She says even the most stuck child will “drop both guns” when she affirms his feelings.
If your little girl wants to eat ice cream, and you’re saying no, acknowledge this. “You wish you could eat the ice cream. You’re sad you don’t get to eat the ice cream.”
If you’re frustrated that you have to take food with you when you go out, say, “You feel frustrated. This takes a lot of prep work, doesn’t it? You wish you could wing it more.”
As one of my mentors, Dr. Gordon Neufeld says, when we empathize with the need to say no, when we come alongside these strong feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger, our resistance softens. We bring this hurting, “you can’t make me” part of us on the same team as our inner parent, the wise part of ourselves who recognizes the need for a limit. Our resistance softens because we feel care, empathy; we feel heard.
One of the phrases that I often use (it comes from meditation teacher Tara Brach) is to say to my tangled feelings, “It’s okay. Be as big as you need to be.” Yep, I know this sounds terrifying: can we handle the anger? The hurt? The suffering? And yet when I say this to my resistance, anger, fear, hatred – any emotion that we tend to label as “bad” and something we need to minimize – I walk fully into it. I feel it fully. And amazingly, this letting it be as big as it needs to be is what softens it, allowing it to fade.
It’s how the tangles heal.
And it’s how we get out of our own way and faciliate the changes we’d like to make with food, our bodies and ourselves….without cracking the whip.