In the next post, we'll go through these 9 things in detail, and I'll give you the sorts of statements they make too, just to make it even easier for you to spot when you're dealing with an emotionally-abusive nutjob.
If you like this, please send it on to other people, because most of us are being emotionally-abused online every day, and thinking that we just have to put up with it.
But we don't!
There's a lot of mentally-ill people out there who treat people like dirt, and the more of us who start to notice their behaviour and call them on it, the nicer the world's going to get in a whole bunch of ways.
Gosh, where to start?
There’s all the personal attacks, the way they complete ignore any facts or information that goes against what they believe, the double-standards they employ, the red herrings they like to throw in, the ‘guilt by association’ tactics they pull, quoting you as saying something ridiculous you never even said, claiming to have insider knowledge or some big secret information that CHANGES THE WHOLE PICTURE but that they couldn’t possibly share with you, flat-out telling lies, questioning your level of intelligence or ethics etc
Let’s go through each one in turn, and I’ll give you some template examples (because believe me, they really just fill in the blanks, whatever the actual topic of the discussion you’re attempting to have.)
First, let’s just remind ourselves of the definition of emotional abuse:
Emotional abuse happens when someone uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate someone, or to take away their self-respect.
1) They resort to personal attacks instead of bringing you facts, sources, evidence or additional information to back up their opinions.
Things they say:
2) They ignore any facts or information that doesn’t ‘fit’ their opinion
This can be extremely galling, because by completely ignoring all the additional pieces of information or facts that really shape the debate, and support whatever point you’re trying to make, they’re effectively closing down the whole discussion.
This is usually then compounded by them criticizing you for failing to do ‘enough research’, or for having ‘flawed scientific studies’.
When they can’t conveniently ignore the research and facts, they will then usually resort back to step 1, above and rubbish your evidence and (also you yourself, just for good measure) in a most unpleasant fashion.
Things they say:
This can take a bit of practice to spot, but they are usually accusing you of doing exactly what they themselves are doing. So for example, they’ll accuse you of making ‘blanket statements that aren’t supported by any evidence’ when that is exactly what they themselves are doing.
For example: EVERYONE they ever met agrees with their point of view.
Or, they'll tell you that you're being narrow-minded, judgmental and intolerant when that’s what they are.
They’ll come after you for being ‘unscientific’, or ‘passing-off opinion as fact’, or for not having enough research, or the right research WHILE ALL THE TIME FAILING TO PROVIDE ANY FACTS OR EVIDENCE OF THEIR OWN.
If pressed to give specific, external details to support their own opinions, they usually go ballistic and revert back to step, 1 above - rubbishing you and your evidence.
A particularly favorite double-standard that’s often employed by emotionally-abusive people is where they’ll make a big show of questioning your professionalism, knowledge, ability to think straight, ‘expertise’ etc - when they themselves often lack any sort of professionalism, knowledge or ability to think (that last one, especially.)
Things they say:
This is when the emotionally-abusive person can see that they’re not doing very well getting their ‘mud’ to stick to you, so then they start going off on tangents that have nothing to do with the actual discussion.
Things they say:
This is where the emotionally-abusive person starts comparing you to the dregs of humanity, and finding all sorts of ‘similarities’ between you and genocidal maniacs like the Son of Sam, or suicide bombers etc.
Things they say:
Emotionally-abusive people are no strangers to telling whopping lies about things, including putting words in your mouth, and denying the things that they themselves have said.
Things they say:
7) Claiming to have secret insider information, knowledge or expertise that changes the whole picture (and makes you WRONG!!!)
This can be so infuriating, because on the one hand they’re flat-out ignoring or rubbishing your evidence and facts, while claiming to have some sort of ‘secret’ superior understanding or information that they couldn’t possibly share with a moron like you…
You can’t argue with ‘secret information’ - which is why it’s secret. If it was real, or convincing, they’d give it to you.
Things they say:
8) Telling lies
Emotionally-abusive people will tell lies about just about everything, but they’ll especially lie about how BAD / judgmental / unqualified / dangerous / nasty / wrong you are, and how above reproach, well-informed, open-minded, qualified to have an opinion, reasonable and objective they are.
9) Sandwiching (aka, switch n’ bait)
This is where emotionally-abusive people sandwich their jaw-droppingly horrible insults and abusive comments in between more reasonable statements, which can be very confusing when you don’t know what you’re dealing with, as you try to persuade yourself that the nasty stuff must be some sort of mistake or oversight, when it isn’t at all.
Things they say:
Emotional abuse is rife. Most of us are probably experiencing some serious form of emotional abuse every single day (especially if we’re doing things online.) Emotional abuse causes all sorts of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties to the people who are subjected to it, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks and profound feelings of self-hatred, guilt and worthlessness.
If we really want the world to change for the better, and to start tackling the causes of mental illness at its root, then it’s time we looked this problem straight in the face, and uprooted it from our lives, relationships and communities.
So, I like to post answers up on Quora, trying to explain that there is far more to mental health than medications and chemical imbalances.
As you might expect, not everyone likes to hear this stuff, and I sometimes get some pretty scathing comments to some of my answers. That's par for the course, and it comes with the territory.
But occasionally, the person commenting is just so vituperative and emotionally abusive that it literally takes my breath away. People usually launch into hyper-critical personal attacks when they haven't got anything much else to argue about, but still don't want to admit that *gasp*, they might be wrong about something.
You can take a look at a prime example of emotional abuse in action HERE in the comments section, and God willing, next week I'm going to stick up a post or two about how to spot and deal with online bullies, because whatever the subject being discussed, they always follow the same basic pattern of avoiding the facts and launching straight into abusive personal attacks to try and scare you into submission.
(If you can really say such a thing about this stuff...)
So, the last few weeks I’ve been on the receiving end of quite a few ‘abusive’ emails and comments, and it suddenly struck me that they would be a great ‘learning aid’ to show other people exactly the sort of emotionally abusive tactics that are unfortunately being employed by so many people today.
Why is this important to know? Because unfortunately, there are a great number of mentally-ill behaviors going on which are passing for ‘normal’ these days, because they are so widespread.
Case in point: When I showed my husband some of the more emotionally-abusive comments I’d been getting, he just shrugged and told me: ‘That stuff happens all the time on the internet!”
Which is exactly why so many people are being psychology traumatized and negatively affected by their daily interactions online, or in other arenas of life. On a couple of occasions, I was literally shaking after reading some of this stuff because the toxic, unhealthy vibes were so strong and horrible to experience.
These types of behavior are incredibly damaging to all the people on the receiving end of them, because they have the following goals:
No matter what subject is being discussed, as soon as people fall away from the facts and start resorting to personal attacks of this nature, its emotional abuse.
And as we’ve learned, having regular dealings with emotionally abusive individuals is the prime cause of pretty much every mental illness you care to mention - because a person CANNOT be physically abusive and / or sexually abusive without also being emotionally abusive. It all goes together in one neat package.
(To be clear, I’m not saying that all emotional abusers also abuse in other ways, but I am saying that all abusers definitely also abuse emotionally, as well.)
So now, let’s start with a nice, clear definition of what emotional abuse actually is:
Emotional abuse happens when someone uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate someone, or to take away their self-respect.
In the next post, I’m going to bring a bunch of specific behaviors and tactics that emotionally-abusive people typically engage in, so it’ll be easier for you to spot what’s going on next time you have the bad luck of having to deal with a nutjob.
I know it’s not pleasant digging into all this murky stuff, but it’s SO necessary, because the abusive people in our midst use their rage fits and personal attacks to keep others from asking questions, and from discovering the truth, whatever the ‘truth’ might be for them personally.
And as we know, God and truth are synonymous, so when you’re being kept away from ‘truth’ in some way, you’re also being kept away from connecting back to your true self, and your soul, and God, too.
It's easy to think that the Diagnostic and Statician's Manual (DSM) (published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)) has become so refined, polished and researched, that when it comes to defining, diagnosing and treating mental illness, there is simply no other game in town.
But actually, as the DSM has evolved - and created hundreds more new 'disorders' with each iteration - the criticism of the DSM within the mental health community itself has actually reached gigantic proportions.
Below, I’m bringing open letters from:
1. The British Psychiatry Society (BPS) - complaining of the ‘continuous medicalisation of…natural and normal responses to [patients'] experiences.’
2. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the US, who actually states that the NIMH can no longer support the diagnoses and diagnostic criteria being put forward in the DSM-5.
In that far-off time when transparency and honesty was more apparent in the hallowed halls of psychiatry, the APA itself, in the foreword to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) III in 1980, stated that the diagnostic system the manual contained was imprecise, and should never be used for forensic or insurance purposes.
Another leading voice in the field of psychiatry, Bessel Van Der Kolk, had this to say about the DSM 5:
“With DSM 5, psychiatry firmly regressed to early nineteenth century medical practice. Despite the fact that we know the origin of many of the problems it identifies, it’s ‘diagnoses’ describe surface phenomena that completely ignore the underlying causes.”
The main problem is that psychiatry, as defined by the DSM 5, has thrown all of its weight behind the canard that ‘chemical imbalances’ are causing mental illnesses, despite the fact that no scientific evidence proving this has ever been put forward, despite 30 years’ of research.
It remains an unproven theory of mental illness, and one that the pharmaceutical companies have been exploiting ruthlessly, because if you can pretend that a mental illness is caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’, then you can also pretend that you can manufacture a pill to ‘cure’ the problem.
The real issue causing mental illnesses is trauma, and particularly, the trauma children experiences when they are abused, neglected, ignored, or otherwise not cared for by their parents or other main caregivers.
But there are two big obstacles preventing this information about what's really causing mental illness from being widely accepted, and properly dealt with, namely:
MONEY - the APA is estimated to have made $100 million from sales of the DSM, which is currently retailing for a whopping $144 over on Amazon.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg: The disorders put forward in the DSM for the most part rely very heavily on the unproven notions of 'chemical imbalances' causing the issues, and drugs being the solution to the problem.
Psychiatrists are the only people in the mental health field who can prescribe psychotropic medications for patients, hence, if the 'drug-solution' model was abandoned, most people would have absolutely no reason to visit an expensive psychiatrist, and would probably prefer a cheaper (and probably much friendlier and more effective...) therapist.
PARENTS DON'T WANT TO ACCEPT HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY THEY REALLY HAVE FOR THEIR CHILDREN'S WELFARE AND HAPPINESS
It's much easier for all of us to pretend that hitting and yelling at our kids, or preferring Facebook and online pursuits to spending quality time with our children, really doesn't impact them as much as it does.
It's much easier for all of us to pretend that mental illnesses and depressed, unhappy children are caused by faulty genes or bad wiring in the brain, and nothing to do with how badly they're often treated by us, their parents, and the other people in their lives.
But while believing that lie is definitely MUCH easier for the grown-ups, it makes things so much harder for the kids themselves. Why? Because instead of taking the onus off them for why they're so messed up and acting out, it labels them as 'defective' people with broken brains, and lets the people who actually really caused the problem - normally the parents - completely off the hook.
And if that's not guaranteed to make a person crazy and depressed, then I don't know what is.
As always, there's more to say on this topic, but for now, here's the text of the two open letters criticising the DSM-5:
OPEN LETTER FROM BPS criticizing the DSM 5: (emphasis mine)
“The Society is concerned that clients and the general public are negatively affected by the continued and continuous medicalisation of their natural and normal responses to their experiences; responses which undoubtedly have distressing consequences which demand helping responses, but which do not reflect illnesses so much as normal individual variation.
We therefore do welcome the proposal to include a profile of rating the severity of different symptoms over the preceding month. This is attractive, not only because it focuses on specific problems (see below), but because it introduces the concept of variability more fully into the system.
That said, we have more concerns than plaudits. The putative diagnoses presented in DSM-V are clearly based largely on social norms, with 'symptoms' that all rely on subjective judgements, with little confirmatory physical 'signs' or evidence of biological causation. The criteria are not value-free, but rather reflect current normative social expectations.
Many researchers have pointed out that psychiatric diagnoses are plagued by problems of reliability, validity, prognostic value, and co-morbidity. Diagnostic categories do not predict response to medication or other interventions whereas more specific formulations or symptom clusters might (Moncrieff, 2007).
Finally, disorders categorised as ‘not otherwise specified’ are huge (running at 30% of all personality disorder diagnoses for example). Personality disorder and psychoses are particularly troublesome as they are not adequately normed on the general population, where community surveys regularly report much higher prevalence and incidence than would be expected.
This problem – as well as threatening the validity of the approach – has significant implications. If community samples show high levels of ‘prevalence’, social factors are minimised, and the continuum with normality is ignored. Then many of the people who describe normal forms of distress like feeling bereaved after three months, or traumatised by military conflict for more than a month, will meet diagnostic criteria.
In this context, we have significant concerns over consideration of inclusion of both “at-risk mental state” (prodrome) and “attenuated psychosis syndrome”. We recognise that the first proposal has now been dropped – and we welcome this. But the concept of “attenuated psychosis system” appears very worrying; it could be seen as an opportunity to stigmatize eccentric people, and to lower the threshold for achieving a diagnosis of psychosis.
Diagnostic systems such as these therefore fall short of the criteria for legitimate medical diagnoses.
They certainly identify troubling or troubled people, but do not meet the criteria for categorisation demanded for a field of science or medicine (with a very few exceptions such as dementia.)
We are also concerned that systems such as this are based on identifying problems as located within individuals. This misses the relational context of problems and the undeniable social causation of many such problems. For psychologists, our wellbeing and mental health stem from our frameworks of understanding of the world, frameworks which are themselves the product of the experiences and learning through our lives.
DSM-5 2011 British Psychological Society response, June 2011 Page 3 of 26:The Society recommends a revision of the way mental distress is thought about, starting with recognition of the overwhelming evidence that it is on a spectrum with 'normal' experience, and that psychosocial factors such as poverty, unemployment and trauma are the most strongly-evidenced causal factors.
Rather than applying preordained diagnostic categories to clinical populations, we believe that any classification system should begin from the bottom up – starting with specific experiences, problems or ‘symptoms’ or ‘complaints’. Statistical analyses of problems from community samples show that they do not map onto past or current categories (Mirowsky, 1990, Mirowsky & Ross, 2003).
We would like to see the base unit of measurement as specific problems (e.g. hearing voices, feelings of anxiety etc)? These would be more helpful too in terms of epidemiology. While some people find a name or a diagnostic label helpful, our contention is that this helpfulness results from a knowledge that their problems are recognised (in both senses of the word) understood, validated, explained (and explicable) and have some relief. Clients often, unfortunately, find that diagnosis offers only a spurious promise of such benefits.
Since – for example – two people with a diagnosis of ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘personality disorder’ may possess no two symptoms in common, it is difficult to see what communicative benefit is served by using these diagnoses.
We believe that a description of a person’s real problems would suffice. Moncrieff and others have shown that diagnostic labels are less useful than a description of a person’s problems for predicting treatment response, so again diagnoses seem positively unhelpful compared to the alternatives.
There is ample evidence from psychological therapies that case formulations (whether from a single theoretical perspective or more integrative) are entirely possible to communicate to staff or clients.
We therefore believe that alternatives to diagnostic frameworks exist, should be preferred, and should be developed with as much investment of resource and effort as has been expended on revising DSM-IV. The Society would be happy to help in such an exercise.”
Director’s Blog: Transforming Diagnosis
By Thomas Insel on April 29, 2013
In a few weeks, the American Psychiatric Association will release its new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This volume will tweak several current diagnostic categories, from autism spectrum disorders to mood disorders. While many of these changes have been contentious, the final product involves mostly modest alterations of the previous edition, based on new insights emerging from research since 1990 when DSM-IV was published. Sometimes this research recommended new categories (e.g., mood dysregulation disorder) or that previous categories could be dropped (e.g., Asperger’s syndrome).1
The goal of this new manual, as with all previous editions, is to provide a common language for describing psychopathology. While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has
been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways.
The weakness is its lack of validity.
Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.
Patients with mental disorders deserve better. NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system. Through a series of workshops over the past 18 months, we have tried to define several major categories for a new nosology (see below). This approach began with several assumptions:
· A diagnostic approach based on the biology as well as the symptoms must not be constrained by the current DSM categories,
· Mental disorders are biological disorders involving brain circuits that implicate specific domains of cognition, emotion, or behavior,
· Each level of analysis needs to be understood across a dimension of function,
· Mapping the cognitive, circuit, and genetic aspects of mental disorders will yield new and better targets for treatment.
It became immediately clear that we cannot design a system based on biomarkers or cognitive performance because we lack the data.
In this sense, RDoC is a framework for collecting the data needed for a new nosology.
But it is critical to realize that we cannot succeed if we use DSM categories as the “gold standard.”2 The diagnostic system has to be based on the emerging research data, not on the current symptom-based categories. Imagine deciding that EKGs were not useful because many patients with chest pain did not have EKG changes.
That is what we have been doing for decades when we reject a biomarker because it does not detect a DSM category. We need to begin collecting the genetic, imaging, physiologic, and cognitive data to see how all the data – not just the symptoms – cluster and how these clusters relate to treatment response.
That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.
Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories – or sub-divide current categories – to begin to develop a better system. What does this mean for applicants? Clinical trials might study all patients in a mood clinic rather than those meeting strict major depressive disorder criteria.
Studies of biomarkers for “depression” might begin by looking across many disorders with anhedonia or emotional appraisal bias or psychomotor retardation to understand the circuitry underlying these symptoms. What does this mean for patients? We are committed to new and better treatments, but we feel this will only happen by developing a more precise diagnostic system. The best reason to develop RDoC is to seek better outcomes.
RDoC, for now, is a research framework, not a clinical tool. This is a decade-long project that is just beginning. Many NIMH researchers, already stressed by budget cuts and tough competition for research funding, will not welcome this change. Some will see RDoC as an academic exercise divorced from clinical practice. But patients and families should welcome this change as a first step towards "precision medicine,” the movement that has transformed cancer diagnosis and treatment.
RDoC is nothing less than a plan to transform clinical practice by bringing a new generation of research to inform how we diagnose and treat mental disorders. As two eminent psychiatric geneticists recently concluded, “At the end of the 19th century, it was logical to use a simple diagnostic approach that offered reasonable prognostic validity. At the beginning of the 21st century, we must set our sights higher.
Recently, I’ve been pondering the mechanism that’s going on in a person’s brain and / or soul that prevents them from assimilating new information when it’s presented to them, and changing course as a result.
There’s been many prompts for my ponderings, vis:
All of us have come up against these types of people or issues over time, and probably all of us have been left scratching our heads as to what exactly is going on, because on some level we can see that the failure to integrate and to respond to information is clearly a sign of mental ill-health.
Is it cognitive impairment, or something more sinister?
Two options present themselves: Either, there really is some sort of cognitive impairment going on (more on this in a moment); or, the people involved are morally corrupt and deliberately going out there to hurt and mislead other people by ‘playing dumb’.
The more I’ve researched this issue, the more I’m starting to believe that the issue really is one of cognitive impairment, aka brain damage.
Here’s why: I did this infographic (at the top of the page) a little while back to show how important our frontal lobes are, when it comes to things like exercising free choice, assimilating new information, and overcoming our primitive, knee-jerk reactions to act like a mensch.
When the frontal lobes are ‘off-line’, the ability to choose how to react, to weigh out our options, to see other people’s points of view, to empathise, and to respond to new information and stimulus and really internalize it is very impaired, or even non-existent.
This type of ‘brain damage’ is caused by trauma, especially the type of trauma that results from emotional neglect and abuse in childhood, plus other more obviously traumatic experiences like being bulled, being seriously ill, losing a parent via divorce or bereavement, or experiencing a bad car crash, physical assault or terrorist attack.
Trauma takes out the ability to believe, act and think differently
To put this another way: Most people today are traumatized, and the effects of being traumatized are to amplify the influence or emotional and primitive parts of the brain, and to shut down the part of the brain that enables people to process new information, consider their actions, behavior and beliefs in a rational way, and to choose to act, think or believe different, as a result.
Here’s the good news: the brain is ‘plastic’, and new research is building up by the day to prove that the function of the brain is shaped by our experiences, and that our brains continue to grow and evolve and change until we take our last breath.
Traumatised brains can be ‘un-traumatised’, and when that occurs people regain their humanity, their ability to change and to aspire, and their connection to their souls, their higher selves, and to God.
(God willing, I’m currently pulling together a whole bunch of information on the best, easiest and most effective ways of ‘un-traumatising’, and I’ll post it up when it’s ready.)
But until and unless that happens - you’re dealing with brain-damaged individuals who really can’t process the new information or facts that potentially change the whole picture.
They really AREN’T doing it just be stubborn, obnoxious, hurtful, destructive and 'evil', although of course we often still experience their behavior like that, and we have to take any steps required to protect ourselves from the fall-out.
They're doing it because they currently can't access the ability to choose differently. But one day, and I really do believe it will be one day soon, that will change.
If you're a regular reader of this blog (God bless you) then you probably already might know that I'm VERY against all the scare-mongering and unhealthy food-based superiority and labelling that are unfortunately a big part of even the alternative health scene.
So why the scary title for this post?
Because the whole problem with Orthorexia is that it hides itself behind a very virtuous veneer, and preaches some very powerful things about food being the key to health, happiness and even, holiness.
(If you think I'm exaggerating about that last point, let me just say that I recently read something from a macrobiotic devotee that basically equated eating cheesecake with a form of satanic worship...)
But like so many things today, even a genuinely GOOD thing like healthy eating and looking after our bodies can be taken to such an unhealthy extreme, it starts to destroy the very things we're ostensibly trying to obtain.
There's a great website called: www.orthorexia.com that can tell you pretty much everything you need to know about orthorexia, and the following excerpts are taken from that site.
This is definitely an ongoing discussion to be had, because as more people move away from conventional medicine, and all the fibs and half-truths Western doctors are telling us about our health, many people are embracing healthy eating and other alternative practises as the 'cure all' for every problem they have.
But as you're learning with me on this blog and maybe also via my books, human health is never that simple. Human health requires a concerted effort to be made across all three levels of body, mind and soul, and when the mind and soul bit are left out or ignored, then things like orthorexia can easily develop.
excerpts from orthorexia.com:
"[F]ood can make you crazy. It hits you in the heart and goes to self esteem. It taps into all that is lonely and empty and needy, and promises to fill that emptiness. It triggers dark places. It can tie up your mind in knots so intricate and strong that even the search for healthiness can become unhealthy.
"Against this, the word orthorexia is a signifier. It indicates a limit, a point not to go beyond even in search of healthy diet. Or, if you’ve already gone beyond, it can help you find your way back."
Do You Have Orthorexia?
Do you turn to healthy food for happiness, for meaning?
Eating the perfect diet might make you less likely to get cancer, and it could prevent bloating and give you more energy. But it won’t make you happy. Using food as primary refuge is a form of spiritual materialism. You are filling the space that longs for love with mere stuff.
Does your healthy diet make you feel important?
“The strict diet helped me feel extraordinary when I was very fearful of being ordinary.”
Does your healthy diet make you feel in control?
Do you have to keep upping the ante to get the same kick?
“[Veganism] triggered a desire within me to be more and more extreme, more and more pure, and to achieve more and more nutritional perfection to the point where no foods were safe. ”
Do you use diet to ward off anxiety, not just about health, but about everything?
Has the idea of healthy food become a kind of brain parasite, taking over your life, ceasing to serve you and instead making you its slave?
You can continue reading more HERE.
For some reason, my autoscheduler posted this up in the wrong place. but it's a REALLY good article, if I do say so myself, and you can read it HERE (or scroll down.)
There's a few topics that are considered so sacred in the world of holistic health, that few people dare to question them.
One of them is the subject of healthy eating. The basic idea is that the quality of the food you eat is the main factor contributing to a state of good health, or ill health.
While there's a lot of truth in the adage that 'we are what we eat', unfortunately the subject of healthy eating has also been taken to an extreme in the holistic health world, with some very unfortunate spin-off effects for many of the people who have been caught up with the 'healthy eating' doctrine.
This week, we're going to take a look at how food is only ever a part of the holistic health equation, and how any approach that doesn't also take a person's emotional and spiritual needs into account is never going to be the panacea it pretends to be.
In the next post, I'm going to share Myriam's story with you.
Myriam tried pretty much every hard-cord 'healthy eating' approach out there in an attempt to overcome her infertility. Not only did the diets her naturopaths put her on not 'fix' her infertility, they also exacerbated Myriam's emotional issues, leaving her in a pretty bad space, until God stepped in and helped her to get back on her feet.
I know it's not a popular thing to say, but just eating healthy food doesn't automatically solve all our problems and issues, especially when they're rooted in much deeper places in the soul.
Myriam is a 30-something mother of two from the New York area. She got in touch with Spiritual Self-Help to share the following story, in the hope that it will help others struggling with the whole issue of food, and fanatical eating habits.
Let’s start at the beginning: Growing up, my family ate the standard American diet, i.e. full of refined sugars, white carbs and meat, and really not very healthy. When I was a teenager, my mother went to see someone ‘alternative’ about a health problem she was having, and then ended up switching us all over to wholewheat bread, and cut out the Coke.
I pretty much ate that moderately healthy-ish way until I got married, in my early twenties, but food definitely hadn’t yet become my religion. That really only started when a few years’ into the marriage, we still hadn’t had any children, and I was starting to panic about my infertility and irregular menses.
I knew that diet and health were connected – everyone knows that, don’t they? – so I made an appointment with a naturopath who was a strict macrobiotic vegan, and from that point on, buckwheat and beans entered my life in a big way.
At that point, I still believed that my infertility was exclusively connected to my irregular period, and the macrobiotic diet was actually very good for me, initially. I felt calmer, and my period also started to settle down on a diet of wholegrains, cooked veg and no sugar.
But right from the start, I didn’t feel so happy on the diet. I felt like all the color had gone out of my life, now that I couldn’t have chocolate, or sugar, or ice cream. That was the first real hint I had that I had a lot of very deep emotional stuff wrapped up with the food. Even though the macrobiotic naturopath had promised that this diet would cure my emotional eating and cravings, I’d found myself calling up the microbiotic naturopath and telling her that despite eating the brown rice for a month, I was still having intense cravings for sweet things.
She said to me: “Ask yourself why you want the sweet things” – which sounded good in theory, but in practice actually didn’t help me very much, because if I had known the answer to that question, I’d have already been in a very different place, in regards to my eating habits.
I stuck to that diet religiously for a couple of years, but I didn’t get pregnant and I also gained a lot of weight on it, because even though I wasn’t eating chocolate, I discovered that you can still stuff yourself with buckwheat and that there were still plenty of ways of eating emotionally, even on a macrobiotic diet.
the all raw diet - but still no kids
Eventually, I could see that I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I went to a different naturopath who had a completely different approach to food: only raw, lots of fruit and vegetables, and lots of juices. “Yes!” I thought to myself when I found him. “This is the answer to all my problems!” And the truth is, I was much happier when I could eat fruit again. But I quickly discovered there were other issues with the all- raw approach.
I was literally spending hours in the kitchen every day, washing greens and making salads for me and my husband, to the point where it actually got pretty depressing. But then, the fears started to kick in: “If I don’t do this, then I won’t get pregnant, and it will be all my fault!”
I think the main problem was that both me and my husband were both trying to eat healthy, but we were still living such an unhealthy, stressful, lifestyle and couldn’t yet see how our lifestyle choices may have been affecting us on many different levels. After two months, I went back to the naturopath and told him it wasn’t really working out. To his credit, he told me: “If you’re not doing it happily, then it’s not going to work!” That was the only time that anyone mentioned that I had to actually be happy doing this stuff, and not just expect the food to magically fix the problem, all by itself.
The focus was nearly always relentlessly on the physical aspects of the food, while the emotional aspects of my eating were usually either completely ignored, or dealt with in a such a superficial way, it didn’t really get anywhere near to the real underlying issues.
He gave me permission to add some cooked vegetables and a little quinoa in to my diet, but I still couldn’t get over the feeling that I was being deprived, which meant that I gained more weight on that raw food diet than at any other time of my life. And I still wasn’t pregnant!
It was around this time that the unhealthy eating and body issues that I’d always had really started to explode. I was putting so much stress on myself that ‘if I don’t eat this stuff, I won’t heal! I won’t get pregnant!’ – and that was definitely reinforced by the attitudes of the naturopaths I was going to.
'it's my own fault i didn't get pregnant!'
The first one came across as very intolerant and judgmental, and when I didn’t fall pregnant right away she’d imply that I was partly to blame because I was too stressed and had been abusing my body for years with all sorts of evil food and toxins, things like: “Well, you’ve been abusing your body for years! What did you expect?”
Or, when I told her how I’d crave sweet things when I got stressed, she’d shoot back with: “YOU are choosing to eat that stuff. You have a choice.” Which on some level might have been true, but I felt she had zero compassion about the emotional difficulties I was going through, or perhaps couldn’t understand why just eating according to her food plan was not enough to help me truly heal on a much deeper level.
I’d been trying to have a child for six years, already, and it was a period filled with darkness, shame, fear and unhappiness for me, where despite all my healthy eating, I just kept gaining more weight and feeling more and more miserable.
In my experience, people usually turn to naturopaths when they’re feeling very vulnerable in some way, and I believe that if the naturopath is not a loving, compassionate person, but just approaches the whole problem as being rooted in a lack of self-discipline, or bad eating habits, it can really cause a lot of psychological damage to their patients.
The message I was getting, even if no-one explicitly said it, was that my fertility problems were my own fault, and that I hadn’t got pregnant because I wasn’t good enough, healthy enough, or looking after my body appropriately.
And I bought that story 100% for years, because it just reinforced all the self-rejection, beating myself up and other emotional issues I already had, that I’d kind of shoved into my eating habits. I guess I believed that I had to first reach what I perceived to be a high spiritual level, having worked on myself both physically and spiritually, so that I could then come to God and say, “Look, I’ve done all this work and I’ve gotten to where I should be. Now give me my prize! I deserve it!”
But then, the story collapsed: Months after giving up on all the ‘extreme’ diets, I fell pregnant. God had compassion on us, and gave us a child – but in the process, He completely pulled the rug out from under my feet. I suddenly realized that God was running the show, not me, and that He gave me my child when HE was ready for that to happen – regardless of how much buckwheat I was eating, or how much cucumber juice I was drinking.
"your body is full of garbage and toxins!"
At that point, I started to recognize some of the lies I’d been telling myself about my need to be ‘perfect’, and I made some progress on the emotional stuff. But the hardest part of the journey was still ahead.
A few months after the birth, I felt exhausted and stressed, like any first-time mother, I guess, and I developed some breathing issues that the doctor said was asthma. Again, I wanted to go the ‘alternative’ route, so I found an expert who came highly-recommended as being one of the best naturopaths in the state.
Initially, her approach appeared to be much more balanced than the other two I tried, combining some raw food and juices with a cooked evening meal. Only after two months, we’d move to the cleansing fast stuff.
But even so, she had a bunch of very strict rules and requirements that she was extremely meticulous about. I had to be in bed, asleep by 10pm… I had to eat only organic… I had to buy all these expensive, wild-crafted herbs and supplements, and take them religiously… I had to drink water only at set times, throughout the day, ahead of meals…
As a mother of a small child, it was pretty challenging trying to keep to all these dictates. When I told I’d try my best, she went into Yoda mode and basically told me that trying was not an option. “There is no try!” she told me. “I need to know that you are going to do this stuff!”
My nutritional guru made it very clear that I’d been eating garbage and pesticides, and I needed to cleanse my body – and only then was it going to function ok. Her emphasis was definitely on ‘cleaning out’.
scared to eat 'impure' food: the beginning of orthorexia
So, I followed all her advice and her rules – and that’s when I developed orthorexia. If something wasn’t organic, or sprouted, or if I didn’t eat it according to the food order she’d given me, or if it wasn’t ‘pure’ enough, I’d start panicking that I was messing up my body and poisoning myself with toxins.
“This is what I have to do to really be healthy!” I kept telling myself. But all the emotional stuff about not being good enough, or pure enough, and beating myself up all the time, started to get completely out of hand. The explicit message I was getting on the physical level was that my body was impure, and not good enough. I wasn’t OK the way I am.
But I also took that message to heart on the emotional level, too, and either the guru didn’t notice what was happening, or just didn’t know how to deal with it. The juice fast was pretty brutal, and lasted for a few weeks. During that time, I got really, really angry. It wasn’t because of the lack of food, because I was getting enough calories through juicing and I didn’t feel hungry after the first day.
When I told the guru what was happening, she just told me: “Oh, you just need to do another liver cleanse, once we’ve finished this one. You’ll see that this is going to open a locked place in your life, and you’ll be ready to do amazing new things once you’re done!”
None of those promises materialized for me. In fact, the whole process just made me crazy and I had more asthma at the end then I had at the beginning. Yes, I got thin, but I felt worse than I’d ever felt, emotionally. I was beating myself up the whole time, and for a long time afterwards I was scared to eat, because I didn’t think the food was ‘pure’ enough.
I was in a lot of emotional torment and I was obsessed with trying to keep this woman’s approval by eating what I thought she wanted me to.
A few months’ later, what finally broke my obsession and stuck-ness with the food was when God gave me another gift, and I got pregnant again naturally. God really sent me a clear message that He loves me, just the way I am, and that He was the one in control of my fertility issues.
the real problem is not just the unhealthy eating
Right up until the end, I was expecting her to address or at least acknowledge the emotional and spiritual dimensions to my health issues, but she never did. For all of them, it was really only about the food, and it never moved past that to address the deeper stuff, even when they’d run out of food-based solutions for my problems.
I learnt from this whole experience that the body is only the first level of the journey towards good health, but it has to go much wider and deeper than that. We also have to work on our emotions, and our negative character traits, too. We need to work on our spiritual belief system, too, and to internalize that we’re really not in control.
When naturopaths and others like them don’t include the emotional and spiritual aspects in their programs, diets and advice, they can really just pull people into despair, because if the health problem isn’t resolved through that particular program the person will just blame himself and believe that it is because he didn’t follow the program strictly enough.
The real problem is actually not just your unhealthy eating, and that can’t be the sole focus.
But all of the experts I listened to never lead me to believe anything other than eating the right food would solve all of my problems. Whatever ‘their’ way was, that was the only thing that was going to help me, and there was an aura of intolerance, superiority and criticism that surrounded the whole approach.
My real work now is learning to love myself more. I’ve started praying that the food I eat should be healing for me, and should have a healing effect on my body, and even if it’s not Grade A organic, to appreciate that I’m doing the best I can, and to not beat myself up about it.
The bottom line is that God is in the world, and that it’s not all down to me and the food I eat to stay healthy and happy.
Myriam told her story in the hopes that it will help others caught up in ‘unhealthy healthiness’ to know that there is a way they can enjoy their food and their lives again, and that they aren’t ‘bad’ if they can’t stick to the sometimes impractical requirements of many strict diets.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at orthorexia, and explore how unhealthy emotional attitudes to food can also manifest themselves in green smoothies and organic sprouted spelt, just as much as the more traditional addictions to chocolate cake and icecream.