The Eating Disorder Voice
When someone is going through an eating disorder, we will often hear them describe a "voice" that's telling them to push themselves harder, be better, eat less, run more, lose more weight and tell the person that they are fat. I've heard this voice described many times as a bully, a demon and a darkness - but what if it's not?
This voice without a doubt is hugely critical, demanding, never satisfied, pushy, needy, harsh and mean and obsessed. However, is the agenda of the voice sinister or very deeply misguided?
The voice came into play at a time when it was needed. There was a time in your life when things weren't going well, whether it be not knowing who you were, not feeling like enough, a trauma, a struggle, being stuck, needs not being met or a feeling of being lost. This voice came in very subtly at first in an attempt to help and protect you. Now I know how that sounds, but try to think back to how it started...the voice was not dark or sinister, more than likely just firm in it's purpose to make you feel better. It told you to lose some weight and you would feel better, the reality is you probably did feel better for a time. Think about it... if your self-esteem is on the floor and you feel absolutely terrible, you are told to do something which will help, you comply and the compliments come and you actually do begin to feel better. The voice, no matter how misguided actually helped you. Due to this apparent success you begin to trust this voice, you form a relationship of sorts with this voice. It very quickly becomes the only thing that gives you any solid way of feeling better about yourself. Unfortunately, that's where a lot of the problems are, a trust in the voice and a mistrust in everyone else.
I have come across many people who really try very hard to ignore this voice and that can prove really exhausting, having to bypass a voice that is very loud and will often be completely debilitating. The reality is, no matter how hard you try to ignore it, that voice will look for any opportunity to make itself heard again. However, listening to this voice and obeying it just puts you deeper into a dark hole of eating disordered behaviours. So what do you do?
Firstly, establish if this voice is still needed. It was formed at a time when you needed it to be around. Is it still functional? if so, in what way? If you want rid of the voice you need to understand what needs to be healed in your life for it to back off. What gaps or deficits was it trying to help you fill?
Have you got compassion for this piece of you? It's so easy to lean into hate because this voice is causing havoc in your life but you are asking a piece of you to step down after potentially years of trying to shield you from whatever it was you needed protecting from. Granted, how this voice goes about things is very wrong but if this voice came about at age 12 or 13 for example, the chances are you are engaging with a piece of you that is still this age. How does it feel getting asked to step back from this trusting relationship it formed with you? Pretty annoyed, angry and hurt I might guess? This part needs compassion and understanding, it's an aspect of you that's going to be in pain. It's essentially being rejected, which is the point of recovery but it can also be quite painful.
So many people that I work with that suffer from eating disorders describe not ever really being listened to. This is probably true - a lot of parents, carers and professionals only want to engage with the positive, the wanting to recover side, the hopeful side. How on earth does the other part feel being totally side-lined? It's important that the pain that this piece of you is feeling is being heard and healed. At the same time the other part of you is beginning to form the life that you so want.
The quality of your life is vital but it also means the elimination of a piece of you that has been a huge part of your life in so many ways. This also needs to be held, treated with compassion, empathy and handled gently. Has hating this voice brought you the recovery and freedom you crave? I'd imagine not and instead only creating more stress and inner turmoil.
Yes this part of you is destructive, angry, hateful and hard but it is doing the only job that it knows how to do. When you start to understand the rejection, anger and pain this part of you is feeling change can happen. You cannot decide to simply ignore these feelings and think positive as a way to recover. You are slowly terminating the role that this voice played in your life and that needs to be understood and dealt with gently, carefully and compassionately. It needs to go but the key is in how you make that happen.
You cannot hate parts of yourself into changing.