A patient of mine, who I’ll refer to as Allison, came into my office in tears today. After several months of being clean from binge eating, she’d spent the past two weeks knee deep in pastries. As we spoke, she told me about how she’d been betrayed by her employer and how angry she was. Her response was to binge eat. Gestalt therapy would call this retroflection. Being angry at someone else, and hurting yourself in response. Allison was terribly hurt and angry by the actions of her boss, but rather than say something to him, she acted out by hurting herself. She came into the session incredibly angry at herself for her relapse. All of her anger toward her boss was completely ignored because she internalized it and responded to the hurt by harming herself.
Do you ever notice this happening? Have you ever felt so angry at someone and wound up in the middle of a binge? It’s incredible how we can often hurt ourselves when we really want to hurt someone else. Of course hurting anyone is never the answer or the correct response, but punishing yourself after someone has hurt you is devastating and the last thing you need. You’ve already been beaten up enough, you don’t need to join in. It can lead you become isolated, lonely, and unsupported.
Next time you find yourself feeling helpless because someone hurt you, either intentionally or unintentionally, notice what your instinct is. Do you feel the urge to take it out on yourself by doing something self destructive like binge eating, drinking, smoking, cutting, self harming, or using drugs? Try to take an inventory of who and what you are angry at. It might not be safe to talk to the person that you’re angry at, in which case it’s great to discuss what’s going on with a friend or co-worker or spouse or someone else close to you. Be conscious of your urges to hurt yourself when you are feeling helpless against someone else’s inconsiderateness or downright meanness. You don’t have to join with them to hurt yourself more. This is the time that you need to be supported and loved. This is your choice. It might feel like someone is driving you to binge eat, but of course you can make the decision as to how you want to react. Reacting by being kind to yourself and taking care of yourself will always be a better choice and help you to recover from someone else’s betrayal.