This month we are talking about the emotional experience of having – and recovering from – an eating disorder. In this blog, Orri’s Senior Eating Disorder Psychologist, Katie, shares her thoughts on why emotions are important.
People living with eating disorders can struggle with tolerating emotions, particularly the uncomfortable or overwhelming ones.
For some, negative emotions can remind us of unpleasant past experiences, or we may fear being all-consumed by a certain emotional experiences. Because of this, there can be a resistance towards connecting with those difficult feelings and allowing them to help us understand our lived experience.
Our Senior Eating Disorder Psychologist, Katie, explains why people with eating disorders may struggle to tolerate certain emotions:
“People with eating disorders often describe feeling emotions very intensely. This can be both a positive and a negative quality in the sense that emotional sensitivity can create warm and open relationships – but can also feel overwhelming at times. Very strong feelings can feel frightening and like they will never end.”
Perceived “negative” emotions may feel all-consuming and there may be fear that the individual will become defined by that emotion or experience.
The often unpredictable nature of emotions can also pose as a threat to people with eating disorders:
“People with eating disorders can have perfectionist tendencies which may not feel tolerable for messy emotions.”
If our emotions feel uncontained or uncontrollable there might be too much at stake to risk proper feeling or expression. As such, we may silence our emotional experience or repress certain emotions that could potentially disturb the, supposed, “peace”:
Here, eating disorders serve a purpose when it comes to blocking out threateningly intense emotions, but to a consequence:
“We can use control over food, shape or weight to numb these feelings or to distract from them. Yet this unfortunately reinforces our belief that we cannot handle emotional difficulties or stresses.”
Simply put – if we haven’t allowed ourselves to ride the waves of our emotion, we won’t know that we are able to do it and survive it. But why are emotions important in the first place? Why should we make friends with them?
Katie highlights how emotions play an important role in helping us to navigate our lived experience:
“Our emotions are communications – we must see them as signals. When we’re experiencing an emotion, we need to ask ourselves: what is this emotion trying to tell me? What is it pointing to?”
Emotions are akin to tiny little red flags letting us know what does or doesn’t feel right. They let us know if something needs to change a bit in our lives, and whether need to look into our toolbox to see if we have a self-caring action or a loved one nearby to support. Without these signals, would never securely know our place in the world.
So, how can we learn to tolerate all emotions – even the difficult ones? To Katie it’s simple:
“We must face the fear! This is the only way we can build our window of tolerance learn to ride the wave of emotions.”
Throughout the month of February, we’ll be speaking to our specialists about why emotions are important and how we can begin to make friends with them once more. Stay tuned for our next blog about making friends with emotions.