They say recovery is like driving a car. Most of the time you have to look at what’s directly in front of you. Sometimes you need to scan down the road and plan for what lies ahead. Occasionally you have to look in the rearview mirror or over your shoulder, to see what’s behind you, especially when changing lanes. At some point during the tremendous lane-change that is recovery, you will have to revisit your past, and heal from some of the past wounds that we all carry around.
While the eating disorder is very much its own entity, it often enters a person’s life during a time at which they were experiencing emotional pain. It entered as a means by which to numb the pain or distract from it and provide a semblance of control. The wounds could stem from disruption in a family, difficulties with growing up, painful changes in relationships, the painful confusion surrounding growing, or traumatic experiences. The wounds may vary, but the importance of healing from them is consistent.
How do we go about healing past wounds?
There is a misconception that in order to heal a past wound we must re-experience it in some way. This is not the case.However, it is important to talk about past wounds during treatment. Unhealed wounds from the past often show up in the way that we think about ourselves in the present, and can impact how we will be like in the future. We often blame ourselves for experiences that were on beyond our control, and healing these wounds means letting go of the misdirected blame and shame that we feel from those experiences.
One reason why we tend to blame ourselves for traumatic situations is the “Just World Hypothesis”. The Just World Hypothesis is cognitive framework that we all possess to some degree as human beings. It essentially contends that the world is for the most part a just place, a place with order and reason. Thinking this helps us survive in the world and gives us the willingness to go forward, assuming that the world is a just place. But when something traumatic happens in our lives, we are confronted with a cataclysmic choice. Either we accept the reality that the world is in fact not a just place (at times), a prospect which is daunting for anyone to entertain, or we continue believing that the world is a just place and by process of elimination, conclude that we did something to bring about a traumatic event. When confronted with the choice that either that the world is bad or that we are bad, our survival mechanisms will tell us that the world is not to blame, we are.
How do we untangle these understandable, but misguided beliefs about our past wounds?
At Cielo House, we employ the use of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a treatment that assists in systematically re-structuring the trauma-related thoughts and behaviors we engage in. A primary goal is to alleviate this misdirected blame and shame, and once we do this safely within the container of treatment, we can begin to explore the emotional pain surrounding our past wounds. With a new cognitive lens through which to view these wounds, we can begin to heal them.
Another way in which we at Cielo House encourage the healing of past wounds, is by reminding our clients that the world is, in fact a beautiful place. It is for the most part safe, abundant, and most of all that we are not alone in it. We help clients reconnect with the things in their lives that are truly important: relationships, values, nature, creative expression. These gifts are available to all people regardless of their past experiences and they have a tremendous healing quality in and of themselves. Combining this with the containment provided by treatment to prevent the use of eating disorder or other destructive coping behaviors, a person can move beyond the wounds that keep them trapped in the past and develop alternative means of coping with the bumps in the road ahead.
By Matt Keck, MFT
Cielo House Founder and CEO