Friday, November 1, 2013

The Truth, Feelings, and Disordered Eating: Inspirations from Seane Corn, Daniel Siegel, Anita Johnston, and Carol Dweck

The Truth, Feelings, and Disordered Eating:
Inspirations from Seane Corn, Daniel Siegel, Anita Johnston, and Carol Dweck

Do you see the subtle? Feel what others are feeling? Have a sense when others are not being truthful?

Daniel Siegel talks about truth in his book,  “The Mindful Therapist.”* Truth is an energy that resonates across what we see, think, feel, and know. When truth is present we feel it across our whole selves and within our relationships. When truth is present it is integrating and feels good. It feels safe.

Conversely, when truth is missing or there are multiple “realities.” It can be very confusing. You can begin to doubt yourself. For example, it can be very perplexing when your partner has a drinking problem and tells you they are fine even though they forgot what happened the night before (including how hurtful they were to you). It can be “crazy-making” when your mom has a shopping addiction and rationalizes that shopping and the stress the family is under is just “retail therapy.”

Seane Corn tells a story below about questioning her own sense of truth, her intuition, when she was betrayed in a relationship: 

“… I was in a relationship when I was young, and there was betrayal in the relationship and I knew. I knew that this person that I was seeing was cheating on me. I didn’t have any evidence, but everything in my soul was telling me it was true. And I remember confronting him, and him looking me right in the eyes and saying, ‘Seane, you’re crazy,’ and I thought, really? Because everything in my body just knows that this is the absolute fact and that word kept coming up, he kept saying, ‘Seane, you’re crazy, you’re nuts.’ Well, it turned out he was cheating on me and I remember saying to him, that it was ultimately… the cheating was forgivable, but the part to me that was the biggest insult is that he knew that the thing I relied on more than anything else in my entire life was my intuition, and to look me in the eye and to ask me to second guess my intuition, that to me was the bigger betrayal. And that to me, that hurt more than anything else that you would make me second-guess what I know in my heart is true. This is my art, this is my soul. I really trust my intuition. My intuition is everything to me. It motivates me. It’s gotten me in trouble, because it’s often asked me to make choices that my fear necessarily didn’t want to make but my gut was like ‘this is what has to happen.’ It’s never misled me though, and the only time I’m misled is when I second-guess that knowing. And to me, that’s crazy…..”

How does this show up for Zuri…..

Zuri’s Story 

Zuri’s mom finally came home. Her mom is really pretty. Did I ever tell you that? Well, she is. Zuri has always thought of her mom as a beautiful  princess. She has always wanted the best for her mom. No matter how much she has been hurt by her mom, abandoned by her mom, lied to by her mom, she still wishes the very best for her.

And here she is, Sherece, Zuri’s mom, home.

Things are magical when Sherece is home. When she is here, she is really here. When she is sober and paying attention to you, you can feel like you are the most special person in the whole world. Zuri loves this. She gets carried away in the magic of her mother. With all her heart she wants to believe in what her mother says and promises.

Sadly, it is all so precarious.

Zuri watches ever so carefully as Sherece goes to the cupboard and pulls out her special wine glass and then the bottle from the fridge. Then, she watches the first sip. It is like her mother's soul leaves right at the first sip. Her voice changes and her eyes go empty.

“Zuri, baby, you are such a special girl. I love you so much.” Sherece says as she ever so lightly touches Zuri's face. Her fingers pull back Zuri's hair and she looks right into Zuri's eyes.

Zuri wishes that she didn’t smell the wine on her mom’s breath.

“Zuri, Zuri what do you wish for?” her mother asks tilting her own head to look at Zuri in a new way.

Zuri knew. Right up front, her mind screamed- for you to stop drinking mom!

Zuri quietly and very cautiously said, “I wish for you to stop drinking.” Her eyes cast down.

Sherece recoiled and in a split second shifted from love to rage. She drew her hand back.

“You little b#%$#. You think you know better? You know how I should deal with my life? You think you are so smart that you can tell me how to run my life? You know how hard my life has been?” Sherece screamed.

Sherece was standing now, her hand still drawn back. She was poised to slap Zuri across the face.

Zuri’s eyes were filled with tears. In her mind, she heard her school counselor tell Zuri and her friends to be assertive. She heard her Aunt telling her to be honest. They all taught Zuri that “honesty is the best policy” and to “stand up for yourself.”

Zuri thought. “They don’t know my life.”

This all happened in seconds. Somehow, Sherece drew her hand down. Her attention had shifted from Zuri to her addiction. She grabbed her car keys and left. It was dinnertime.

Zuri sat, strangely vacant. She stopped crying and felt nothing. Not sad, not scared, not mad. She felt nothing. This was not a good feeling of nothing. It was like she had left her body and was somewhere else. She started feeling the too-big, too-fat, too-much feeling she felt. It was dinnertime, but maybe she wouldn’t eat. Maybe she needed to be a bit more in control. Maybe that is what she needed.

She went up to do her homework. She sat on her bed and sat on something. Tangled in her sheets, she found my notebook. She picked it up and went to throw it. Just as her mom’s hand had not struck her, Zuri’s hand tightened its grip on my notebook and she drew it toward her heart. She squeezed it and cried. Ah, there were her feelings. Her mom was sick and Zuri said out loud-- that truth. The truth. What followed was hurt.

She opened the book to where she was reading about Seane Corn. She read about truth tellers and about how children are natural truth tellers. She read about how it is hard to be a truth teller sometimes and that the world didn’t always appreciate truth tellers.

She finds my notes on the edge of the page. I hade made a connection with Anita Johnston’s (1996) work in “Eating by the light of the moon:  How women can transform their relationship with food through myths, metaphors, and story telling.”

She reads my notes…

“I learned that as very young girls, these women were bright and gifted and had an exceptional ability to perceive subtle realities. More often than not, a woman who struggled with disordered eating was once a girl who saw the invisible, who read between the lines, who sensed when things were not right. She noticed when people said one thing but did another. She would discern certain patterns of behavior and anticipate what was to come next. She knew when someone as being insincere and dishonest.” (Anita Johnson, 1996, page xiv).

Zuri loved when she read notes like this-- the ones that described her life. She reads the next line.

“Her family, for one reason or another, did not appreciate her gift. They did not want to be confronted with discrepancies in their behavior or address what seemed to be odd concerns or avant-garde ideas. They did not want to deal with her ultra-sensitivity to emotional undercurrents, and at times they were threatened by her precociousness. Whenever she spoke the truth or questioned what was going on, she received a very clear message (often nonverbal) that this outspoken and questioning behavior was not okay and even dangerous to the stability of the family.” (Anita Johnson, 1996, page xiv).

I see Zuri rest her head right onto the notebook. She turns her head to the side resting her cheek on the words. It was like the truth was a pillow. It was comforting, validating. It felt so good to read it. It felt so good that she wanted to feel it on her skin.

She noticed she was hungry. An hour had passed. It was 6:30 PM. She went to get Rashan and Eric (he was home too). She can make a mean macaroni and cheese and thought she might make 3 boxes, extra cheesy.

The Process

Some of us may be born more sensitive than others. For a lot of us who are born that way, we are told from an early age that we are in fact, “too sensitive.” It feels like maybe there is something wrong. You are, like Seane Corn says, “T-O-O” much.

In Carol S. Dweck’s (2000) book, “Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development,” she describes a landmark study done with monkeys (see Suaomi, 1977 in Dweck’s book). The research team bred monkeys to be extremely shy and inhibited in temperament, sensitive. These monkeys were easily frightened and bullied by others, and they tended to end up low on the dominance hierarchy. However, when these monkeys were raised by super-competent mothers, they became super-competent themselves and tended to end up at the TOP of the dominance hierarchy. In fact, says Dweck, they looked even better than “normal” monkeys who were reared by super-competent mothers.

Dweck says, in other words, when these sensitive monkeys have the right environment, their heightened social sensitivity became an asset, not a liability (see page 135 in Dweck, 2000).

Is it possible for those of us who are born sensitive, to learn tools from our mothers, our mentors, our teachers, or maybe even yoga that could take the exact same sensitivity (the sensitivity that the world sees as a weakness) and turn it into an asset? I think so.

Siegel, Corn, Johnston, and Dweck all provide different perspectives on truth, knowing, sensitivities. For me, these ideas converge toward two truths:

Truth #1: there are those who can feel subtle realities, are sensitive, and are compelled to be truth tellers.

Truth #2: the world will not always be ready for what we (yes we- me, you and Zuri) have to say. That is the art of it. It is a process of learning to use your gifts in the most effective way.

It is about the tools. Yes, be a truth teller. Use your voice in a way that you will be heard and honored.

For Zuri, this will be complicated with her mom. She will need to learn that when people are in their reaction or drinking, this often, is not the best time to confront them with their vulnerabilities and their struggles. She will learn that it is always best to have hard conversations when all those involved are sober. She will learn that we must build someone up, as we share what we see. Zuri will learn these things.

She is learning now that she is quite special.

She is learning that all she feels is a gift.

She is learning that she is not broken, bad, or too full of all she feels.

Zuri is learning… and so are we.




Read Seane Corns whole interview here:

Find The Mindful Therapist by Dan Siegel here:

Find Anita Johnston’s book here

Find Carol Dweck’s Book here:

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