We all have inner conflict whether we realise it or not. This inner conflict can be like a constant fight going on in our minds. Eating can be used to quiet this and get a moment of peace, to reset.
It can be difficult to find these parts of ourselves as we have often ignored them for a long time. They lurk out of our awareness, in our unconscious mind. There, these repressed selves can make us do things without us knowing why, like eating too much. By bringing them into our conscious mind, we become aware and only then can we choose to stop them.
There are different ideas about how these conflicts start. Many people suggest that we believe that we were only loved in our childhoods when we behaved a certain way. This means we only show the ‘approved’ parts of ourselves to others. We ‘repress’ or bury the parts of ourselves which our childhood carers disapproved of. These parts never go away but keep trying to escape. It is paradoxical that hiding this part of yourself is meant to stop you from feeling pain but causes a lot of discomfort.
We can be limited by these repressed selves as they can make us feel trapped or out of control in our lives or our eating. They control us without us knowing why.
These conflicts make us behave in certain ways, such as when you know what you should do to lose weight but cannot seem to do it. It can be frustrating and confusing because you do not understand what is sabotaging you. This is your unconscious. The unconscious mind is irrational and does not entertain time. A childhood memory is just as strong in your unconscious as it was when it happened.
These repressed parts of yourself can be thought of as still a child, repressed by attitudes of our caregivers which were unknowingly lodged in our brain early in life. Unbeknownst to us they continually make us relive childhood experiences. Our logical thinking may be completely at odds with these internalised attitudes, but they still cause us internal conflict. As these memories are not subdued with time, we can easily react as if we are still there in the moment of that trauma or unpleasant experience.
Once you bring something into the conscious mind, it can no longer influence your behaviour without your knowledge. It can only influence your behaviour with your knowledge. This is when you can have the ability to choose. By noticing these conflicts, you can understand yourself better, know more about your eating triggers and be much more in control to stop them.
Your unconscious mind is unique to you. Therefore, you need to find your own knowledge of your unconscious mind. Then with this new knowledge, you then need to find your own resolutions to these conflicts; only you can do that. You can be guided to do this, but you need to do the work yourself. I believe it is possible for anyone to do this. I also believe that by doing this anyone can stop emotional or compulsive eating. After a willingness to try, the first step is becoming aware of the inner conflict.
Exposing and talking to parts of yourself that you have ignored for so long can be emotional. Sometimes, it can be helpful to think of those inner parts as still a child. A child who was never given the freedom to grow up or live. It can be scary to expose these parts of yourself and it is important to be in a healthy mindset before you do this and to have support of a trained professional. It is best to try just dipping your toe into the water with this first to see how it suits you.
One way to find these hidden selves is through talking therapy as someone else can help you to question patterns of behaviour that you have not noticed. Other ways are through free writing, drawing, interpreting dreams or tuning into bodily feelings. Different strategies will work for different people. In future posts we will talk about some other strategies but here we will talk about tuning in to bodily feelings, or your bodily felt sense.
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
When these parts of us are silenced, they express themselves not through communication but via other means, such as depression and compulsive eating. Communication between our ‘selves’’ is essential to healing. Trauma and other painful experiences are isolating. The isolation is broken with communication. By telling your story to someone else, you are also telling it to yourself and this is what is most important. Communication can be viewed as the opposite of trauma. Trauma silences. It is not about what the trauma or experience is, is about the feelings it left you with. Without letting yourself fully acknowledge trauma, or unpleasant experiences, you are leaving yourself susceptible to reacting (or eating) at every sign of ‘danger’ be it stress, anxiety or feeling alone.
Suppressing all of this is exhausting, it can stop you enjoying life, can cause physical problems like headaches, pain, IBS and behaviour like compulsive eating. When you realise where these seemingly uncontrollable impulses are coming from, you can learn to use your feelings as signals of what really needs addressing, usually food will not solve this.
By letting our repressed selves talk, we can reconcile our outward person and our hidden inward people to become whole. When we are whole, we do not need food to fill the gap.
Sometimes we do not have the language to express our feelings as sometimes these parts of ourselves formed before we could speak, or they are so visceral that we have not evolved a language to adequately express them.
One way to communicate with these hidden parts is to tune into the bodily felt sense. By tuning into bodily sensations, we notice what we are feeling in our body when we think of something ‘unpleasant’. By finding words to describe a bodily sensation of a feeling, we are tuning into our inner emotional pathways. Following these can allow us to explore ourselves and discover a lot that we do not usually take time to find.
Here is an exercise to explore our bodily felt sense. Doing this, we can learn our body’s language and begin to communicate with the rejected parts of ourselves. This is when healing can begin.
Practice: tuning into your body
The body has its own language, there are often no adequate words for the body sensations we get when we have a thought or feeling. Sometimes these feelings are described as butterflies, shortness of breath or a hollow feeling in the chest or stomach. Often, we try not to focus on these as they can be uncomfortable. By experiencing these sensations and thinking about how they ‘feel’ we can understand a lot more about ourselves and acknowledge parts of ourselves that we usually try to ignore. If we let these parts ‘speak’ we can usually understand a lot more about how our unconscious mind stops us from doing what we want to do. It is sensible to start trying this with a manageable memory and build up to things you find more difficult to think about.
1. Ground yourself. Notice the ground or furniture that is supporting you. Make a note to return here if you feel it is too much.
2. Take a couple of deep breaths and close your eyes if you like.
3. Let your mind wander.
4. When thoughts arise, think how it feels in your body.
5. Does the sensation have shape, colour or texture?
6. Is it moving or changing?
7. Sit with it until it goes away. What do you think it means?
8. What have you learnt about yourself?
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Dr Kirsten Keighley
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Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd is a registered company in England and Wales (Company number 12673809).
The information in this website is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr Kirsten Keighley on behalf of Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd. We recommend you make your own health decisions based on your own research and consultation with a qualified health professional. We recommend that you consult your and your child’s doctor and/or dietician before beginning a new diet or exercise programme.