The topic of emotional avoidance has come up in many of my sessions lately with clients struggling with eating disorders. One thing that almost all of my clients with eating disorders have in common is difficulty naming, processing, and coping with their emotions. Therefore, it feels more manageable to avoid unpleasant feelings.
Emotional avoidance can be a difficult concept to understand. Still, it is essential to remember that people struggling with eating disorders often use their eating disorder behaviors in an unconscious way to help themselves feel better or cope with distressing emotions or situations. Avoiding certain emotions is deep-rooted in Eating Disorders - usually fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety. Those emotions can be incredibly overwhelming, and eating disorders provide a way to numb those feelings. However, emotional avoidance ultimately only leads to more distress in the long run as it creates an inability to deal with emotions effectively and can contribute to further difficulties in life.
Many of my clients were not taught how to express their emotions. This lack of expression is dangerous since emotions serve vital functions in our lives. Emotions are signals of things we need to pay attention to. It's important to share with my clients that their eating disorder behaviors are coping strategies they use to regulate their emotions. Although these behaviors have helped them get through some difficult or traumatic spaces, they are no longer serving them. My client's goal in recovery is to learn and process their emotions without trying to avoid, bury, or run from their feelings. Living your life means feeling the full spectrum of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Try Putting This Into Practice
Answer the following questions:
- What emotion(s) are you trying to push down, avoid, or distract from?
- Where do you feel this emotion(s) in your body?
- What behaviors are you using not to experience this emotion?
- How is this serving you? How is this not serving you?
- What would be a helpful way to acknowledge and process the emotion(s) you are experiencing?
Ready to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation?
Deva Murphy, MSW, LCSW
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1429 N. Prospect Ave
Milwaukee WI, 53202