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Healing The ‘Broken’ Self!

UnknownOne of the most painful results of struggling with an eating disorder, addiction, depression or any suffering is how we identify with it.

While labels can be helpful, they can also be harmful. And they become harmful when they become the way we define ourselves in the deepest sense. When we think of our eating disorder as who we are, we get tight, cramped and small. Our identity is hitched around this idea of, “I’m a sugar addict,” or “I’m a binge eater,” or “I’m depressed.”

While you may be addicted to sugar, and while you may struggle with depression, is this who you are? Is this the sum of who you are?

My “broken self” trance

I struggled with decades of eating disorders. I’ve also coped with a highly sensitive nervous system, chronic depression and anxiety for nearly all of my life. Some combination of biology, psychology and life experience has intertwined, resulting in a tender, tender being who needs tremendous love and care. (Don’t we all?)

I care for my anxiety and depression every day. Many days, I’m fine – I laugh, I find gratitude, I find joy. I wear the mantle of “anxiety” or “depression” loosely. I tap into a greater sense of identity.

But other times – especially when I’m tired, sick or under stress – I don’t hold onto the identity of “depressed person” lightly. Rather, I embody it – I inhabit a mental and emotional space of “a broken, deficient self.”

I start comparing myself to others – or to my own expectations of how I “should” be. When I compare myself to others, I can find 10,000 ways that I fall short:  whereas others seem to have an innate sense of belonging, optimism and confidence, I have to consciously work to hold onto positive thoughts, to feel my belonging and to feed my optimism. What comes naturally to them takes tremendous effort on my part.

What the “broken self” trance looks like

When I’m in the “broken self” trance, these patterns of feeling, thought and behavior play themselves out:

  • I feel less than others. I feel small, meek, powerless.
  • My posture is often small. My shoulders round. I slump. I cave in on myself like a turtle.
  • I doubt my abilities, my sense of self, or who I am. I don’t trust myself.
  • I feel too vulnerable – not vulnerable as in real and authentic and open, but vulnerable as in, “Exposed. Hurting. Raw.”
  • I doubt my own worth and goodness.
  • I feel unloved, unworthy, alone. Separate. Closed off from others. Different, deficient.

Oh, ouch.

What about you? When you’re in the broken self-trance, how do you feel? What do you believe is true about yourself? How do you relate to yourself and others?

The controlling self

The broken self has a partner – “the controlling self.” In fact, the controlling self likes to go to war with the broken self – telling the broken self all the ways it “should” be different. (They then feed each other.) If you asked the controlling self what it believes to be true, the controlling self would say things like:

  • I should be in more control.
  • I should be in charge.
  • This shouldn’t be happening.
  • I should be more together.
  • There’s something wrong with you and you need to fix it.
  • And, its core belief: and all of this is all your fault.

Where the controlling self comes from

The controlling self is the voice of a small child – a child who believes the world revolves around him. If a seven-year-old’s parents get divorced, the child might say, “It’s my fault mommy and daddy got divorced. It’s because I didn’t eat my broccoli, or because I didn’t clean my room, or because I made my mommy and daddy mad. If I would’ve been a better child they wouldn’t be divorced…”

[After my six-year-old son’s pet fish died, he refused to go to after school care – something he’d been begging to go to the week before. As it turns out, Pablo (the fish) had died while he was in after care. He believed that if he hadn’t stayed at school, then Pablo wouldn’t have died. He was believing it was all in his control, and all his fault.]

The controlling self feels guilty and at fault when things don’t go its way. It feels ashamed, as if it should’ve been able to control the outcome…

The controlling self wants so desperately to be in charge – to have everything go its way – because it doesn’t believe that it can handle the pain and loss of life. It doesn’t want to feel the inherent vulnerability of being a human being:  that our small, sweet ego selves are not in charge.

And so it does everything it can to try and extract a measure of control over life.

My controlling self

My dear, sweet momma struggled with depression throughout my childhood. And my response to the pain of her depression was self- perfection. I remember being young and naive and thinking that I would certainly control and manage my life so that I never felt depressed. I certainly could do better than she did. (Oh, ouch, the arrogance….)

And I remember thinking that I would be so together – so together that I would never hurt my children or loved ones (or anybody for that matter). I was going to arrange my life so I never had money problems, hard times, weight struggles or health challenges.

Life had other plans. I dealt with all of these, and more. I, too, have failed to meet many (!) of my own expectations. Through these experiences, life showed me that my dear sweet momma did the best she could, and my own sweet being has done the best I could.

So when difficult things show up in our lives – like depression or sugar addiction – how do we respond?

Unhooking from the broken self

We can start with awareness. We can stop and pause and ask ourselves, “What am I believing to be true about myself?” I’ve spent a lot of time in the broken self-trance, so it’s a space that’s very familiar to me. This familiarity means that I can recognize it and name it — “Oh, this is the broken self-talking.”

Just naming something gives us some space, some breathing room. We can step back and observe ourselves in the broken self-trance rather than embodying it. We can unhook and find a new sense of identity – an identity that is so much greater than our challenges, or our weight, or our body or even our health.

None of these things – depression, anxiety, the body, our health, our thoughts, feelings or eating habits – are “me” or “you.” And if none of those things are me with a capital M, then I don’t have to take my broken self – or any of my flaws – so personally. The fact that I feel depressed, or anxious, or that I’ve had eating disorders isn’t so personal to me. It just is.

Moving from shame/guilt to loving care

And if it just is, and isn’t about me, my, or mine – a source of ownership and therefore a source of shame –  then the window opens to possibility. Instead of feeling ashamed and broken, we can respond with tender, tender care. So rather than nailing ourselves or feeling ashamed of ourselves for feeling anxious, or for feeling anything that flows through our tender bodies, we can care for it as a mother cares for a child on its lap.

We can hold those tender feelings with exquisite kindness.

Which is what everything – every part of me, every part of you, every part of life – most deeply wants.

I wonder if this is how we love the world – by loving the most challenging things that flow through our lives. If we don’t love these part of ourselves, who will? If we don’t love our most challenging parts, how can we love the challenging parts in other people?

Opening to our challenges

I remember watching the Olympics this past summer, and feeling bowled over by the talents of the athletes – and the incredible amount of work and heart it took to cultivate those gifts into gold medal level excellence. We think of our talents as gifts – something we can choose to cultivate and grow. We often feel proud of those things that are “good” or that our culture lauds.

But what if our deepest struggles are also gifts? Something that is ours to cultivate – to love, to care for? Something neither good nor bad, simply something to love? Can we care for them with the same kindness and care as we do our “talents”?

Finding compassion and belonging

Unhooking from the controlling self leads us to forgiveness, and ironically, belonging. Franciscan monk Richard Rhor put it this way:  “When we fail, we are merely joining the great parade of humanity that has walked ahead of us and will follow after us.”

Ah, do you feel the relief in that statement? We don’t have to make ourselves any bigger or any smaller than we are.

When I step out of the broken self-trance, I remember my deepest nature. Yes, I have a small “I” self, who makes lots and lots of mistakes, and who copes with anxiety and depression, and who can be kind and cruel and all measure of in between. And this is not who I am.

My deepest nature – my true self – is my big s “Self.” This is the part of me who steps back and cares for the controlling self and the broken self – with kindness and levity and so much compassion. It’s the part of me underneath all these messy, messy layers – the part of me who says, in wonder, “If you could only see who I am…who I really am….”

It’s the part of me that love can call out, and elicit – and love back.

As I release this small identity of broken, failing self, and I inhabit this greater sense of who I am, I take my place inside the circle of belonging. I recognize our shared common humanity:  I am no better or no worse than anyone else. I am simply a part of our tender, imperfect humanity: and I belong.

As do you.

And from that space, we find freedom. As we reconnect to our deeper belonging, our identity of “broken” self softens. We, too, find that we have 10,000 ways to respond. We embody our wholeness, not our brokenness.

In love and care,

Karly

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Karly Randolph Pitman teaches men and women how to create a loving, peaceful relationship with food, their bodies, and themselves so they can heal the emotional roots of eating disorders and rest in their goodness. She’s the author of several programs on gentle healing, including the bestselling Overcoming Sugar Addiction, Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life, The 30 Day Lift, Heal Overeating: Untangled, and Heal Your Body Image. You can find Karly on her blog at www.firstourselves.org and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/firstourselves.

  • http://beyouliveyourdream.blogspot.com/ Sarah Noel

    This is cool… I just wrote a blog about not being “broken,” just “bent” yesterday (as per the new Pink song, “Just Give Me a Reason”). I don’t think any of us are “broken.” But we ARE bent… meaning, we all have “stuff” that happened in our lives, or stuff that goes on in our heads. No one’s life is perfect and no one is perfect. Despite appearances of some people you might see.

    But that being said, I CAN identify with the “broken” mentality and feeling less than and not good enough. For years I struggled with not feeling loved, or even liked, with not being important, valuable, worthy. It honestly hasn’t been until these past few months, if I’m being honest, that I REALLY feel I’m getting a grip on it. That I’m REALLY seeing that I AM loved, lovable, liked, worthy, important, valuable. It’s certainly a time-consuming process to change long-held thoughts and beliefs about ourselves!

    I also liked the “controlling self” image from this blog. My controlling self is also telling me I “shouldn’t” feel that way. And I’m also just recently learning to let go that part of me too.

    Great stuff here that I think we can all relate to! :)

    Sarah
    http://beyouliveyourdream.blogspot.com/2013/05/were-not-broken-just-bent.html

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Hi Sarah,

      I like the bending metaphor – yes, we bend, don’t we?
      I haven’t heard the Pink song yet, but I’m curious, as I really love her song, “Perfect.”

      Yes, we all have these parts….and they can live in our heads! I see your passion for your journey, for growth and healing.

      In love and care,
      Karly

  • http://www.facebook.com/carie.bean Carie Bean

    Karly, thank you for sharing yourself on The Daily Love. I really enjoyed reading what you wrote. I have suffered with identity with depression, my circumstances, my addictions. My addictions are not addictions like drug abuse or things like that but things like drama and self hatred. I actually have this strange habit that I’m working on breaking. When I get stressed I eat ice! I am working on day number three, ice free. I know it sounds funny but I really have a hard time not going to the freezer. I know its bad for my teeth but I make excuses. When my kids are going crazy, I eat ice, when I get bored I eat ice, when i’m hungry I eat ice. I think one gets the picture. I’ve even woke in the middle of the night to none other than eat ice. I can’t imagine trying to get over something that actually is an addictive substance.

    Love what you said about loving yourself past all the messy layers. We must do this. To love oneself is to create love for others. We really can’t give love if we don’t know what it feels like. The journey to the heart can be a lonely road but it is worth it. Once you get there you realize all the roads are intertwined and not one is a dead end or a wrong turn. They all lead us home.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Carie,

      You could make a bumper sticker out of this: “To love oneself is to create love for others.” I think you said it beautifully!

      In reading about your addictions, I’m thinking about one of my teachers and how she says that our biggest addiction is to our thoughts! Yes, I think that would be true for me. We can be addicted to anything, can’t we?

      Yes, we are all coming home….. and traveling together.

      In love and care, Karly

  • MeredithShay

    Karly, I was excited to see your blog again on TDL after last time. Your writing is so relatable and enjoyable to read. I got a lot of “aha” moments out of this one. Thank you so much for sharing and helping people continue their journey to loving themselves.

    I appreciated your reminder that we have a small self and a big Self- that is who we really are. I will work on loving them both and accepting my experience in life as neither good or bad, just what it is. I’m still reading Radical Acceptance, it’s a lot to take in but everything I have read so far has been great.

    Blessings to you on your journey- and looking forward to reading more from you!

    Meredith

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Hi Meredith,

      First of all, your little one is darling.

      And I’m glad that this this post facilitated those a ha moments in your own heart. When I read your words, I sense your heart opening and loving what is. Thank you for your courage, for it inspires me on my journey.

      Radical Acceptance is one of my all time favorite books, and Tara has fostered so much healing in my life. Yes, there’s a lot to take in, isn’t there? (Can I share with you that the first time I read it, I nearly threw it across the room in frustration. The idea that I should love myself, as is, and accept my own imperfection was a tough pill for me to swallow – I wanted to find the book that would promise how to make me and my life perfect!)

      So happy to connect with you here!

      In love and care, Karly

  • Laura

    Your story is very similar to my own. Thank you so much for writing this.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Dear Laura,

      It’s so comforting to know we’re not alone – that we’re all in this human gig together. You’re so welcome.

      In love and care, Karly

  • RG

    Karly, thank you for sharing your personal thoughts. I don’t have an ED or really any mental health issues – but I sympathize with those who do.

    In the two years, the rise of “healthy living blogs” has given voice to the ED community and on the surface, this is a great and healthy thing. However, as every single HLB knows, it’s all a bit of a sham. The HLB bubble-verse has been created and those many young women living inside it have a place to hide. It is bathed in (way) over the top “love” and gratitude and compliments. It is wrought with code words and phony self-affirmation to the point of being a complete joke to those of us “outside the bubble.”

    What are your thoughts on this? I’m confident many of your readers will get upset and explain how my mean comment won’t affect their Marvelous Me’s or whatever, but that’s only symptomatic of the issue. I find it all very disturbing and it’s getting worse. (The folks over at Get Off My Internet do a fine job of parsing all of this – albeit quite crudely.)

    I’m just tired of it. “OMG, This carb-laden dish is amazing” – sayeth the 88 lb girl who of course didn’t actually eat it or, if she did, didn’t retain it. her HLB friends know this, the writer knows they know it, but the cycle continues, unbroken.

    And that breaks my heart.

    Thank you.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Hi RG,

      I honestly haven’t experienced what you’re talking about, as I’m not active in the eating disorder blogging community.

      It sounds like something you feel really strongly about, though – I hear that in your words and heartbreak. So perhaps it’s something you’d like to explore, an area to serve?

      Warmly, Karly

  • Susan Hartman

    It’s been a year since the woman I love left our 11 year relationship for another…something she had done before 3 years earlier. I am still healing and struggling to move on. So many around me think I should be “over it” by now and I often beat myself up for the fact that I am not. I too grew up with a mother who fought depression. In addition my father was physically and emotionally abusive. I always thought…if I am careful about the person to whom I give my heart I will not have to deal with divorce. I didn’t count on the fact that I cannot control another’s sense of commitment. Since the breakup I have withdrawn from mutual friends….not wanting others to see the failure that I see myself as…a failure who could not keep a marriage together and a pathetic person who has not gotten over it. This piece was just what I needed to read. Thank you.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Oh, Susan,

      I can feel your heartache and loss in your words. Grief has its own timetable, doesn’t it? It sounds like your pain wants to be validated and acknowledged, not “gotten over” or “solved.”

      My friend, I can relate to your comment here: “if I am careful about the person to whom I give my heart I will not have to deal with divorce.” Oh, yes. It hurts so badly to give our heart to another….not knowing if it will be received. Not knowing if we will be loved back. That’s such an excruciatingly vulnerable place…..

      All of my desire for control stems from my trying to escape that vulnerability – my desire to be loved. For years, I thought if I was perfect and beautiful and spiritual and the most evolved, best me possible then I would never suffer rejection, loss, betrayal, or heartache.

      Instead, I have endured all of these, and more. I’ve learned that every life has its heartache. Accepting that truth was both a painful surrender (an opening to what is) and a peaceful release (ah, it’s not my fault that life doesn’t always go the way I want it to!) Does that make sense?

      Can I share two resources that help me heal from loss? The first is Tara Brach, who offers wonderful dharma talks and whose books, Radical Acceptance and True Refuge, are nourishing and healing. The 2nd is David Richo, who wrote a fabulous book called The 5 Things We Cannot Change. Both have helped me through my seasons of loss, and I hope they nourish your heart as well.

      Bowing to you,
      Karly

      • Susan Hartman

        Thank you for your kind and understanding reply. I will certainly check out those two books. Hugs!

        • Karly Randolph Pitman

          Sweet Susan,

          Radical Acceptance is one of my all time favorite, life changing books. I hope you find it as healing as I did.

          In love and care, Karly

  • ituderevolution

    Wow. Simply wow. I’m speechless, teary and breathing a huge sigh of relief. Thank you Karly. Deepest of bows.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Oh, my friend…I’m bowing back to you, and grateful for the relief this post brought to your heart.

      In love and care, Karly

  • http://19andalmostconfident.blogspot.com/ Eve

    That this was shared here today is truly amazing to me, because it’s like God personally dropped this in my email inbox, whispering “Here. You need this.”

    This afternoon I sat sobbing in my car, hating myself because of the things I said to my girlfriend in a stupid fight. My anger takes over, and it’s like I’m not me, and the things coming out of my mouth are from another person. I’m left in regret, guilt, and disappointment in myself.

    I realized today that in these moments where I say such hurtful things, it’s because I hurt so bad myself. Maybe I hurt over something stupid, but when my girlfriend can’t understand (I mean, this happens! But it’s so hard.) like I want her too, when she can’t see the *hurt* I am experiencing, I decide to share it with her. I think that if I say something just as hurtful, she’ll go, “Wow, she’s really in pain, I need to comfort her.” Obviously, this isn’t how it works.

    This is where my Controlling Self comes in, saying that not only I shouldn’t do this, but how could I do this? That I have got to be the worst girlfriend, and I’m definitely not as good of a girlfriend as her. In fact, she could easily find someone better. That I’m ruining the best thing I have going for me… that it’s only fair I do, because I’m a bitch.

    I broke my own heart today, and I’m hurting because of it. I am ashamed of my behavior of late, and all I can do is move forward and cultivate who I really am. Not my Controlling Self or Angry Self. This post settled into my heart and made me feel less alone, made me feel like I can forgive myself and be who I know I am.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Oh, Eve,

      I’ve shouted out those prayers, too – “Help!” – only to receive just the thing to reassure me that I’m not alone. I hope you feel held in love and care, knowing that the right words appeared to heal your heart.

      That place of discord with a loved one is so painful, isn’t it? I, too, have felt the anger take over and oh, the regret and ouch afterwards.

      I feel your relief in finding mercy, peace and self compassion. Yes, you are not alone – we are all in this human gig together. And you are forgiven.

      I love this space on Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s site where you can receive forgiveness and compassion: http://www.stephenlevine.com/

      And speaking of Stephen Levine, this is one of my favorite poems on compassion:

      There is an elemental love
      by Stephen Levine

      There is an elemental love in the universe
      by which name we know each other
      and encourage ourselves to live.

      There is a silver river that connects everything

      from which some part of us never leaves.

      There is a mercy making its way

      up through the ocean of the earth
      to the shores of our feet.

      There is a music so sweet it is almost unbearable
      
that is composed between the ear

      and the heart which reminds us.

      There is a diamond-glint, a seed of longing
      
in ourselves that recognizes the potential
      absence of gravity in another.

      There is part of us that
      
says it is never too late to be reborn
      
on the inbreath each morning.

      Somewhere there is a basket
      
that contains all our failures.

      It is a big basket. It wants to know

      what to do with these.

      Mercy has no use for them.

      My friend, may you abide in ever flowing mercy.
      Love, Karly

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Eve,

      You may also like this post I wrote last week, about offering ourselves mercy – http://www.firstourselves.org/resting-lap-love/

      In love and care, Karly

  • Nina

    Amazing post. I teared up when I read this, because this is almost exactly my story, as well. Thank you for this!

    Much love,

    Nina

    http://thejourneytolearnacceptance.blogspot.com

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Ah, Nina – a kindred spirit! I feel happy to meet you. I think this is all of our stories – on some level. Do you?

      In love and care, Karly

  • Stacey Jensen Sinclair

    Thank you so much for this post Karly. I needed it. :)

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      You are so welcome, Stacey! (I needed it too!)

  • missy

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful words. Having suffered from
    Anorexia and Depression for 13 years I am finally getting the treatment I
    have yearned for in the USA (I am from Australia) and your words have
    provided another source of encouragement to me as I learn to let go of
    my eating disorder, depression and addictions. I have been battling a
    case of the “shoulds” and a harrowing fight between my 2 selves of
    late.. I like to call them my “healthy self” and my “eating disorder
    self”. I like how you put it as well…as that “eating disorder self”
    became about because of being broken and trying to find some sense of
    control in my world. Thank you for enlightening me further. I’m off to
    check out your website as I feel a connection with your words and
    philosophy :)

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Hi Missy,

      I’m so glad that you’re getting support and giving yourself care. I don’t see eating disorders as “bad,” but rather, as the only way we knew how to care for and protect ourselves. I see them as something even sacred – because they point back to a tender, tender heart. I hope to connect with you again! In love and care, Karly

  • Prakash

    This article is very well written. I have over a period of 3+ decades ended up unknowingly identifying myself with my severe physical handicap. I have been searching for how to detach myself emotionally from this identification. I found some useful ways of achieving that in this article. Thanks Karly.

    • Karly Randolph Pitman

      Oh, Prakash, I’m so glad this brought peace and healing into your heart. You may enjoying reading Tara Brach’s new book, True Refuge. In her book, she writes about her own journey with chronic illness. I just started it and love her gentle wisdom.

      In love and care, Karly