Eating is a fundamental necessity of life, as food provides us with the nutrients our body needs to function. If it is so vital, why do so many people suffer from the hardships of disordered eating?
While the exact causes are unknown, a common factor in the development of eating disorders is trauma. Trauma can occur at any point in the lifespan, but those who have developed disordered eating patterns have usually experienced trauma during their early childhood or adolescence. Trauma can occur in many forms, but the simplest way to categorize it is by these two ideas:
- You have dealt with an experience that you should not have had to endure – such as violence, assault, bullying, or neglect.
- You were deprived of good things in life that should have occurred – such as your basic needs not being met or the lack of love, care, and support from caregivers.
Eating disorders are presented differently in each individual. Even in a household where two people experienced the same trauma, one may develop an eating disorder and one may not. So, why is that? According to the author Amy Grabowski, there are other increasing risk factors that can lead you to disordered eating, once it is established that childhood stressors were present. These are:
- Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
Highly sensitive people are those that experience emotions deeply – often keenly aware of another’s emotions or mood. They are exquisitely tuned into their environments and notice subtle nuances that others often miss. Because of this, HSP are wonderful at reading people and can often sense when others are uncomfortable. They are also highly attuned to injustices, feeling great discomfort when things do not seem fair or right.
Some of our history’s most influential individuals possessed HSP qualities. Those such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Frida Kahlo were willing to wage wars because of how deeply they felt about changing the world. Now they are considered some of the greatest peacemakers, as they used their sensitivities and courage to fight for justice.
Being a HSP is a powerful attribute, and one must know how to process these deeply felt emotions. Many things can be overstimulating for a HSP – loud noises, busy environments, bright lights, crowded spaces, strong smells, and violent movies. It is best that a HSP knows when to withdraw from these chaotic environments and take the time to recharge in a safe space away from everyone and everything.
- Feeling Invalidated
Comfort and validation are essential parts of the human experience. When a person receives the message that it is not okay to be who they unapologetically are, that is the beginning of leaving one’s authentic self in order to be accepted or tolerated in their environment.
Imagine a young daughter telling her mother, “I do not like that person. They are yucky.” The mother responds, “Oh hush. Go give them a hug and be respectful!.” This is invalidating the daughter’s gut, instinctive feeling towards someone who they do not feel comfortable around. The mother is essentially stating that her daughter’s feelings are not valid, do not matter, and must be ignored. The message being sent is that one must abandon themselves in order to make those around them more comfortable.
When you do not receive comfort and validation from others, like in the above example, you may seek other ways to self-soothe. Disordered eating can temporarily distract, comfort, and numb emotions – offering a sense of control, especially when so much around you has felt out of control.
Food or the obsession with food can quickly provide protection from distressing and uncomfortable feelings. This “reliable friend” can help you to “check out” and numb yourself from undesired emotions. Eventually, disordered eating can cause feelings of isolation, shame, and exhaustion. It locks you away as a prisoner, preventing you from being present and connecting with others. You hate that you are coping in this way, but you feel like you just can’t break the cycle. We are here to help you know that you can change and learn to reconnect with yourself and others..
Our trauma-sensitive therapists are here to help you. Our highly trained HHC therapists use a mixture of approaches when working with eating disorders. Our modalities incorporate the whole person in effort to honor the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. These treatments include:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping
- Body-centered Therapy
- Attachment Based Therapy
- Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Ego State Therapy
Our trauma-sensitive therapy approaches may help you to find peace with food, eating, and the vehicle your exquisitely sensitive soul lives in (your body). If you feel you are in need of eating disorder treatment, reach out to Highland Healing Center today to be connected to one of our highly trained therapists. We look forward to helping you feel supported on your journey back to your authentic self.