The Life You Save May Be Your Own

DID, knitting, sci-fi, and strong opinions

Self-Soothing and ED Behaviors January 22, 2013

I harbor no illusions about my eating disorder; I know exactly what it is and is not. For me, it is not about weight or size or shape. I don’t have body dysmorphia or distorted self-image. Society didn’t teach me I needed to be thin to be loved, and my abuse didn’t teach me I needed to be thin to avoid love/further abuse.

My ED is about self-soothing. I have virtually no ability to soothe myself.

My experience with the term “self-soothing” is that what most people think it encompasses is way too shallow for me. When people talk about self-soothing, they generally mention doing nice things for yourself (take a bubble bath, eat chocolate) and/or distractions (watch a movie, take a walk). These aren’t bad things to try, but usually these kinds of things don’t touch my distress. It’s too deep and too embedded.

The only thing that soothes my distress is self-destruction. It doesn’t really soothe the distress, just numbs it. But when the distress feels intolerable and I can’t soothe myself, numbness via self-destruction is an acceptable choice.

I think my inability to self-soothe is developmental. Because my family was so chaotic, alternating between abuse and neglect and impossible demands, I was never comforted and soothed by my parents. I never learned from their example how to soothe myself. And because I was being subjected to extreme abuse and was experiencing an extreme level of distress, I needed a higher level of self-soothing than a kid who skinned her knee. My brain developed with a higher threshold of the degree of soothing I needed.

But my family shamed and punished me for having needs, so I cut myself off from those needs. I stopped going to my parents or anyone else for comfort and soothing. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that self-destruction came close to soothing my distress, and not needing or asking for anything from anyone soothed my guilt.

So now I’m stuck in this feedback loop. I need more soothing than most people, but I don’t know how to soothe myself. That manifests in needing more soothing from other people, which results in immense guilt. Then I pull back from people and self-destruct to numb the distress.

Right now, that’s playing out through my eating disorder. The restriction decreases my baseline distress level, the numbers give me something to focus my attention and energy on, and I take tons of laxatives to deal with all the excess distress.

It’s not a good pattern, but I feel hopeless about changing it. I haven’t been able to find anything about learning to self-soothe when you have such a high threshold that normal strategies don’t work. I can’t go back to childhood and grow up with good parents who could teach me to soothe myself, and nobody can reparent me now because I’m an adult.

So where does that leave me? Will I stuck in this forever?

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One Response to “Self-Soothing and ED Behaviors”

  1. strangelings Says:

    I think a lot of us have that. God knows I do. I know that, as utterly *wrong* and painful as it’s been- what I’ve found (and my therapist L. told me) is that as- teeth-gratingly awful as it feels, *doing* self-soothing things when I *want* to do harmful things- is part of what helps change the pattern. Because- what you’re doing when you starve, or I do, or self-harm- is actually re-inforcing the abuse and dissociation. It *feels* soothing because it keeps you in survival mode, in a numbed out mode- so part of the trick is learning to *tolerate* having feelings. And the other part is learning what to do with them.

    I do not get all (or even enough) of my soothing from others. I don’t have those people in my life, and I still have trouble asking for that kind of help. But- what I’ve found is finding whatever that’s *safe* to soothe myself- and doing it. And it’s *not* going to feel as good as the morphine-shot of self-destruction- but that’s what it is. Emotional anesthetic. That re-inforces the fear of dealing with emotions, the fear *of* the emotions, and the cycle of terror-trauma-dissociation.

    I think your stuck in an re-enacting cycle, the same way I’ve been before. I would not eat, not sleep, sometimes si- and live on coffee and sugar. And I realized I was *literally* re-living the experience, emotionally and physiologically, of *being* tortured. And then to say that, and acknowledge that. And to try and actually treat myself/ves with gentleness. Wither that meant playing WoW for hours or making myself eat something or laying down with my stuffed animals and blankets. It’s a *practice*- you’ve been *praticing* self-destruction and trauma for a long time now- self-soothing doesn’t come immediately. You have to keep trying it, over and over. That’s how infants, children learn to soothe themselves. We didn’t get that, so it takes extra- but with kids it still takes time too.


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