When I was struggling with one crisis after another in therapy, trying to get my life back on track, there always seemed to be something that would happen to upset me. When that happened, I reverted back to my old ways of coping (isolation and binge eating) until I felt calmer and could function better. It seemed like a never-ending cycle – and it was.
One day while journaling, I finally understood what was going on. I was constantly reenacting with people how I dealt with problems as a child and a teenager. As my therapist would say, “If you are never shown anything different, how do you know there are better ways of handling your life?”
The cycle I found myself in involved four steps:
- I had poor self-management skills (ones I had learned as a child with no guidance from healthy adults).
- Whenever an authority figure, or someone I felt was psychologically stronger than me, exhibited the same controlling/harmful behaviors as my parents, I automatically behaved the way I was conditioned to behave by my abusers—which was to hurt myself since I was totally defenseless against my powerful parents.
- I resorted to isolating, dissociating, and getting as much distance as I could from my parents until I felt safe again. Other children/teenagers turn to eating disorders (such as anorexia/bulimia/binge eating), alcohol/drug abuse, self-mutilation and promiscuity).
To break this cycle, I first recognized what I was doing, and then changed my responses to how I felt. Now, whenever an authority figure, or someone I felt was psychologically stronger than me, exhibited the same controlling/harmful behaviors as my parents did, I:
- Focused on my desired goals of individuation and actualization. That is, I looked at my objectives of becoming my own person – who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do with my life.
- Gathered support from people I trusted.
- Practiced my new, healthy coping skills I had learned in therapy, which, in turn,
- Improved my self-management skills.
By changing my behaviors in this way over and over again, I gradually, over time, shed my old ways of thinking and replaced them with thoughts and behaviors that were best for me. I gained self-confidence, a better outlook on life, and finally peace and contentment.