In Hawaii, the eel lives in a hole in the reef in the ocean. The lobster often makes its home at the mouth of this hole. This is a great arrangement for the eel – since it has a lobster at its doorstep with an antenna pointed outward, watching for predators. It’s a much more complicated arrangement for the lobster – because eels eat lobsters. So, what the lobster has to do is keep one antenna pointed outward, scanning for potential predators, while simultaneously keeping the other antenna pointed inward to watch out for the eel.
What I noticed in my experience with women with eating difficulties is that they are like lopsided lobsters.
After years of listening to the stories of their struggles with eating and body image, it became obvious to me that most of them had the most amazing, extraordinarily well-developed outer antennae! They could, more often than not, walk into a room, pick up on the vibes there, notice what others expected of them, and then respond to those expectations – even before the others had become aware of having had them in the first place! That’s how good they were at picking up on cues from their environment, and sensing what was going on with other people in their lives. And this ability often served them well, as it allowed them to anticipate trouble in advance, fly beneath the radar, and get out of harm’s way if needed.
The problem was that they typically had lousy inner antennae. This meant that they were way better at picking up on – and responding to — signals from their outer environment than they were at tuning in to themselves and responding to their own innermost thoughts and feelings.
If we are better at picking up on and responding the needs and feelings of others than we are at picking up on and responding to our own needs and feelings, it’s energetically akin to writing checks and not making deposits. Eventually our account gets depleted.
This depletion can feel like a pervasive emptiness, one which is often experienced physically. Those who struggle with eating and their bodies can mistakenly assume that it is food they need to fill up with, and then, when they discover (much to their dismay) that no amount of food can “full-fill” them, they conclude that there is something terribly wrong with them.
They don’t recognize it’s simply a question of Balance — rather than an indication that they are flawed, broken, or damaged in some way. We all need to be as equally attuned to our inner experiences as we are to our outer experiences. Our interoceptive awareness needs to be just as developed as our exteroceptive awareness. Not more, but definitely not less. Those that are finely tuned to the needs and feelings of others need to be equally tuned in to their own needs and feelings.
To find Balance, individuals blessed with fabulous outer antennae need to put them on “automatic pilot.” These antennae are amazingly well developed — and can continue to do an excellent job for them without much attention.
What is called for is more focus on strengthening the inner antennae — in two ways. One is through developing greater Body Awareness. This involves learning to listen to and respond to physical states of being by identifying physical hunger and fullness sensations, eating when hungry, stopping when full, moving when energized, resting when tired, going to the bathroom when nature calls — and not ignoring the body’s physical messages.
The other is by cultivating greater Emotional Literacy. This requires learning to listen to and respond to emotional states of being by recognizing, identifying , and expressing different emotions (with honesty and kindness), saying yes to what we want, and no to what we don’t want, not acting like things are okay when they are not — and not dismissing, denying, and disregarding our feelings.
To develop this inner awareness, we have to change the questions we ask ourselves.
Instead of asking:
- What’s he going to think if I do this?
- How is she going to react if I say that?
- What do they think of the way I am handling this situation?
We need to ask:
- How do I feel about what he just did?
- What is my reaction to what she said?
- How do I feel about being here with these people at this point in time?
Consistently checking in, checking in, checking in — rather than checking out — is what allows for us to be sensitive to our own needs while remaining sensitive to the needs of others. It keeps us from abandoning ourselves at the doorstep of relationships and allows us to remain connected to our authentic selves — while we engage with others.
Honoring our inner experience as much as our outer experience is what brings things into Balance, and puts an end to constant feelings of depletion and deprivation.
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