Like a sturdy riverbank, loving relationship is a holding container – a “womb” that allows emotions to be held, expressed and to drain. This draining and “holding” is partly what we’re seeking in food when we overeat.
Frustration – and its cousins anger, aggression, blame, self attack, and guilt – can be strong, fierce emotions. They carry intense energies, and this energy can easily become a trigger to binge or overeat.
You may have one level of frustration with things in your life – with work, world events, or your relationships. And you may also feel another level of frustration with food itself – with your weight, your eating, or with a food or sugar addiction.
Using connection to soften frustration
You can use connection, relationship, and your relational power to diffuse, soothe, or soften frustration and other emotions.
Connection helps these emotions move, and dissipate. It also helps metabolize their energy – where the energy is tempered by other emotions like caring, or compassion. This creates an alchemy, where new emotions and responses arise: a third thing created by the mixing of these energies.
These “third things” are the “better angels of our nature,” to quote Abraham Lincoln. These “angels” include things like courage, patience, understanding, trust, faith, forgiveness, strength, and love.
Bringing in compassion
So when we’re frustrated with ourselves for overeating, bringing in a feeling of compassion softens the frustration. Rather than lashing out at ourselves, we move in with understanding, help and support.
It’s a response of, “Oh, that didn’t go the way you wanted it to. Here, let me help you.”
This feels much different than what our pure frustration might want to express – “There you go again!!! Look at how you screwed up this time! You’ll never get this right.”
Paradoxically, compassion fosters the strength to make things different. Rather than sinking into shame, we’re able to feel our vulnerability, to look honestly at and face what doesn’t work, to learn, and to grow.
Using connection with sadness
Connection is not only helpful with fierce emotions like frustration. It can also move softer emotions like sadness, futility, grief, disappointment, loss, and the tender bittersweet of life.
This one is hard to describe, but I think we all feel it – those moments of recognition where we feel grief/love for the poignancy of life. I feel it watching my children grow, and feeling the passage of time.
Have you ever felt the ease when you’ve fully cried out your sadness – when you empty out your grief in the salt of tears? As you empty, you move into a feeling of rest, peace and relief.
Often, after grieving, there’s a subtle movement, a spark of new life: a rising up. Something in us does not die when we move through loss, even when some part of us does, or has.
Relationship as the holding ground
In both cases – whether you’re softening frustration or emptying sadness – loving relationship is what makes these movements possible.
Without this relationship, the emotion tends to stay stuck.
In my own life, my grief was bottled up for years. It felt like there was no one who could witness or hold my grief – it was often rationalized or spiritualized away by well meaning loved ones. My experience is just one example of our common collective – this happens to so many of us!
Connection (or relationship) is an all embracing love – a compassionate, welcoming, containing womb – that allows emotion to be held, expressed, witnessed, metabolized, and to move. It’s a powerful, loving presence.
Cravings are an expression of longing
The cravings for food, the impulse to binge, and the call to overeat are, at their root, all expressions of longing: a crying out for this presence, for this all embracing love.
It’s the longing for a “mother” that I speak about when I say “when food is your mother.” It’s a longing for what a mother represents – this loving, containing presence.
This longing simply gets channeled sideways into the form of food.
Softening the fear of food
When we recognize this, we can see our desire for food, our cravings, and our impulse to overeat differently. Our heart softens towards these instincts, and in this softening, we relate differently to them.
We’re also more empowered, and less afraid of our cravings.
The cry for food is not the frustrating irritant or fearful monster we imagine it to be.
It is, simply, an instinctual calling out for relationship. When we feel disconnected, or when we face too much separation, we long to connect. Everything in us moves us towards this reconnection.
So the cry for food is really a cry for connection, for holding, for containing. How ironic – that by leaning in, and listening to our longing for food we’re being brought closer to this yearning for connection.
In other words, the desire for food is moving us towards something holy, healing, and good.