Have you ever attached to something so intensely that you modified your character for it? Did it change the way you talk, dress, act, behave, the people you allow yourself to engage with, and change the direction of your life? Maybe that something was your parents, your religion, your friends in Jr. High or high school, a boy/girl friend, your spouse, or even drugs, work, education, a hobby, etc.
When you made the decision (or was forced) to change who you were to match that “something” did you have to memorize or conform to a certain dress code, like specific things, was there a certain music you listened to in order to be liked by others with the same label, or to avoid being different? Did you give yourself a name such as a “hippie”, “religious name”, “EMO”, “athlete” or any title that lets people know the general list of character traits they should expect from that label? I have− in many areas.
I was raised religious from the day of my birth. I memorized character traits, language, and uncountable times even called myself by the name of the religion. In other ways, I conformed to my siblings, what they liked− I liked. How they dressed− I dressed. My sisters played volleyball− I played volleyball. Then in junior high I remember changing the way I held my posture to match the other girls that I thought were “cool”. If I was with a group of people I would change the music I liked to match what they liked, so they’d approve of me. Changing who I was to please other people and to gain acceptance, began the moment I learned about positive and negative reinforcement. And the boundaries I were to follow were blunt and the enforcement was pretty extreme. It makes sense that my self-worth became “others”-worth. My entire childhood was to please others, which required I define who I was to match other people, so they’d like and accept me.
When I got to college this completely backfired. That’s when my toddler like self-esteem was put to the test. Pre-marital sex in the religion my identity was molded around, was deemed “the next closest sin to murder”. Within weeks I was propositioned to have sex. I was so afraid of causing a problem, making the other person mad, hurting the other persons feelings, and fearful that if I rejected to proposition that they wouldn’t like me or wouldn’t continue to be my friend, that I passively accepted. It felt like rape.
I worried that the sex was awful for the other person, and if I did have sex maybe they’d want to be my boyfriend. It was over in minutes, and the same boy never put the same effort into talking to me again. You could imagine the rejection I felt, but worse, the complete trauma over the fact that I was going to Hell. If my family found out I’d be judged, scorned, and shamed. The event was extremely traumatic and even worse− I felt profound guilt and anxiety over what a bad person I was. This was the beginning of a downward spiral that ended up in a severe mental illness.
In short, instead of relying on others to define me, I decided I would find a way to feel good about myself and I chose my body. My body became my new religion, family, and friends. I could define what was good and bad and no one else could give or take from my new security. I obsessed over the way I looked, would measure my stomach at least 5 times a day. I’d exercise an hour on top of the three hours of collegiate volleyball training. I counted calories precisely so at the end of the day, the exercise and caloric intake would end up at zero. Within three months I lost physical strength to play volleyball, checked out of college, and lost a full-ride scholarship. All for my new “body” religion.
Here I am today, writing about emotional eating rehab, and what do I know? I’m not a therapist or a psychologist. But I do know this: if you’ve been defined by other people, objects, actions, or a belief system, you might want to rethink when that identity was created, why and who defined it for you, and if it came from a place of fear, vulnerability, rejection, or need for acceptance.
If you could go back in time, could you imagine the person you are that isn’t defined? If you weren’t in a body, what does your soul feel like? If you were reborn into a new body with a new life, would your soul feel the same? Would you, by choice, recreate the same life you have knowing what you know? Most people would love a do-over, but feel chained to what they’ve already been defined by, and can’t see a way out.
But that isn’t true. The moment I chose not to commit suicide, I realized that the only other way out was to live the same life that existed, as if I was getting a do-over. I had the same family, parents, husband (I got married at 20 during my psychological illness− my poor parents!), and instead of killing myself, I’d be authentic, let go of all definitions they created for me, and allow the incredible atomic bomb of vulnerability, as they might reject me. I recognized that allowing that horrific vulnerability was no different than suicide, so I might as well let the world know the real me, and accept any rejection, before I ended this life altogether.
Who would I be, and if I gained fat− would that make me worse of a person? Would being fat lessen the value of my soul? If not, than my extremist body-religion was misdirected and wrong. I was going to have to find out. That’s when I left the severe safety my body-religion, the religion my parents enforced me to be, the idea that sex made me a bad person, and all that traumatized and falsely defined the value of my soul. I gave nothing the power to define me, because the value of my soul had to existe with nothing. No person, clothing, action, music, hobby, education, and nothing of this visible world could completely define what I felt of myself. That moment of realization, awakened me to a level of consciousness that instantly changed my perception of life forever.
My point− find happiness and love for who you are with nothing. Seek who you are that isn’t definable by the way you look, how you act, what your job is, nor from what you see, hear, or feel. Recognize that losing weight won’t improve your life (accept that the body you have won’t be so uncomfortable, and may last longer). And if you think once you achieve that thin body that it improves your value, you’re now define by that, and will have intense fear and vulnerability of gaining the fat back. WHAT A NIGHTMARE! This is why I exercised for hours on end, and why I now have severe arthritis at age 34.
Being thin doesn’t make you a better person, nor should being fat make you less valuable. The liberty to eat excessively may be your means of gaining freedom from a constraint you really don’t like. The need to restrict food may be a way that you are seeking a new outward definition rather than accepting authenticity. Think about who you are, move past the superficial definitions, and find what is indefinable. This is where unconditional love and self-worth starts and where emotional eating or “eating-religion” loses value.