A Familiar Tale
Recently I had the pleasure of engaging in a counseling session with a young woman who was in considerable distress over her binge eating. An excerpt from her email – “I start each day with good intentions but as soon as I get any emotional disruption, food becomes my friend…I can hear my ego so strongly saying “This will make you feel better, go on, you can start the diet tomorrow”… I know there have been many times when I have been 100% determined to not turn to food and feel my emotions when they come up – but it’s like the silver tongued devil is inside of me that has a greater pull when these situations actually arise…When an emotional binge comes, literally, there is no stopping me.”
You can hear the reliance on willpower strategies to change her habits and their consistent failure. That’s because, as so many have found out the hard way, willpower is ineffective in the face of the pull toward addictions. Note the key element in her statement – an “emotional disruption.” Since these unhealed emotions/disruptions are fueling the pull, not knowing their origin or how to regulate them leaves one handicapped, with wise decisions/choices a near impossibility.
Where Does Emotional Pain Come From?
Emotional pain, the driver of addictions and the pull to self medicate originates from thoughts that constantly occupy your mind. If they are fear-based conflict-ridden thoughts, stemming from false, hurtful ideas you hold about yourself, the brain “hears” that as a threat and dutifully responds by producing a generous dose of stress hormones. This chemical cocktail floods the body, is taken up into the 60 trillion cells in your body, and THAT determines your emotional/feeling state. Therefore, how you feel – your emotional state – is determined by your brain, directed by your thoughts, creating your body chemistry, so pain is produced only by yourself. And thus, happiness is denied only by yourself.
That sounds crazy at first because the world teaches that other people, laws, governments, financial situations, bodies, germs, the environment, and more, determine how you feel; thus making us their “victims.” Unfortunately, we have learned this teaching well and have not challenged it. Now this presumption must be unlearned if we are to take our rightful, powerful place in creating our emotional experience.
The Real Culprit – Unexamined Beliefs
In the early years when your core beliefs were laid down, your brain did not have the ability to assess the accuracy of any given idea, word, thought, action, or experience you encountered, so everything downloaded unfiltered and unquestioned into your unconscious mind as the truth, where, to this day, it drives your experience. By the time a person is six or seven, those incorrect and hurtful beliefs about being unworthy, undeserving, not measuring up, etc.… are firmly set and we are literally imprisoned with them. All this unexamined programming about “what’s wrong with us” plays the central part in all our addictions because it creates our upsetting emotional states, which we avoid and deny through self-medication.
What Part Do “Others” Play In My Distress?
Outside influences do, indeed, trigger a habitual fearful belief which then initiates the cascade that flows from thoughts to body chemistry to emotions. The important key is “trigger and not cause!” Nothing or no one has access to your brain to make these decisions leading either to peace or conflict, comfort or pain, and thus, no external cause is possible. The best news of all is that brains have this brilliant ability called “neuro-plasticity,” allowing for easy rewiring. So, no matter how long you’ve believed things that are not true which are causing yourself so much heartache, you can decide to change your mind now, automatically starting that rewiring process.
Befriending Your Emotional State
The first essential remedial step toward healing is to stop running from uncomfortable or fearful emotions. Embracing, welcoming, melting in, without judgment or opinion toward any feelings, will allow them to dissipate. This sounds foreign because avoiding pain and fear, definitely not acceptance, were modeled for us.
Counterintuitive as it seems, this opening up and moving toward, rather than away from, immediately begins a releasing and relaxing process because as you befriend anything, including feelings, you give different more helpful signals to your brain and it responds with a new, more “positive,” chemical mix.
Changing Your Mind As The Long-Term Strategy
When emotions have calmed, discovering those unfortunate beliefs is the second and long-term step in trading them in for more loving and accurate ones, and hence, a freer and happier life. Many of the “misconnected dots,” your programmed beliefs, were installed at a survival level and challenging these programs about what you have to do, or not do, to stay safe seems dangerous to your well-being. If you begin to be mindful and introspective, you can discover those misconnected dots that are creating the problems of pain, loneliness, lack of success, and peace. You then can trade fear inducing beliefs for ones that support you, helping you realize you are kind, good, deserving, and valuable. I hope you are beginning to see that knowing how your physiology and psychology combine how your thoughts result in your emotional states – is essential for your security and well- being.
The Power of Self-Discovery
My client could easily recognize the pain that drove her to her eating and was also able to own the shameful and hurtful things she believed about herself that were constantly causing her body to produce distressing and fearful emotions. Taking full responsibility for where we put our attention, rather than retaining the outworn idea that our pain is caused by something/someone besides ourselves, always produces positive results. It’s so affirming to hear that we’re really in the driver’s seat, and no matter how long our self-sabotaging habits have been in place, we can and must change that programming, rewire our brains, and addictions begin to fade away automatically. Since we all have been/are addicted to something, this is welcoming and comforting news for everyone!
Carol Howe is one of the original and most respected teachers of
A Course In Miracles. A personal friend of co-scribe Bill Thetford,
she wrote his biography, Never Forget To Laugh. Throughout her
40 year career with ACIM, she has guided many thousands on their
journey to inner peace. To download a free copy of her latest book
“The Best Guide Ever to A Course In Miracles,” visit