I’ve been reading a lot of psychoanalytical interpretations of anorexia. I’m not always convinced by some of the wackier explanations of our unconscious motivations and I think there’s a dangerous suggestion of victim-blaming in a lot of psychoanalysis. And a lot of dicks, of course. Nevertheless, I think they have some interesting general ideas for an anorectic to try on for size, even if they ultimately don’t fit for that individual.
Personally, after faking my way through lots of superficial, unsatisfying and ineffective Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I feel I need to go deeper.
….God, everything I type now sounds like some kind of innuendo, thanks a bunch, Freud.
The psychoanalytical Object-Relations theory attributes our current problems largely to failures to negotiate developmental stages in early childhood. These failures to form a coherent sense of ourselves and the world around us manifest in our unconscious mind, a source of dissonance between how we perceive the world consciously and our maladjusted unconscious motivations and fears. Well, that’s my generalised understanding; I’m sure google will direct you to a lot more expert info.
I’d already come to see my ED as anchored in two issues: Boundaries and my lacking Sense of Self. Psychoanalysis explains these quite well with the suggestion that as a baby (and perhaps throughout life) I struggled with the process of Self-Individuation.
I perceive my boundaries or lack thereof very acutely. Not only have they been violated quite traumatically in the past, they feel very flimsy and always in danger of being washed away by forces outside of myself – other people, their wishes, life events. I don’t like to be touched, at least not unexpectedly. I’m very protective of my personal space, very private, secretive. I also have trouble adjusting my boundaries appropriately; I’m either sealed up within myself, admitting no one or I’m wide open and feel I’m being steamrollered by other people. My walls are either impenetrable or non-existent.
Stemming form my uncertain psychic, emotional, physical boundaries is my equally weak sense of self. Where do other people end and I begin? Is my body part of myself? Am I in danger of being subsumed and annihilated by my environment? These sound like ridiculous questions to my conscious, thinking mind but they feel like legitimate concerns. Underlying my constant nameless dread it feels like there’s a subconscious, id-level belief that I really might be annihilated. Why do I panic for apparently no reason? Why do some minor problems suddenly start to feel like a full on fight-or flight survival crisis? I’m willing to believe it’s because a primitive, confused part of me is actually afraid of psychic death if I let down my walls, my impermeable boundaries and allow my self to meet with my environment.
And it’s easy to see that restricting my food intake might follow on from this subconscious belief. My physical self is somewhere I can appease my fear of violation, my lack of strong boundaries. Food is a foreign substance, part of my hostile environment, not part of myself. It could even come to represent everything outside of myself – all physical or abstract threats. If I control it, allow in only small, comfortable amounts I can remain intact. The whole external world might be a tsunami poised to wash me away but I can find some relief from that fear in this one act of control.
Some have theorised that the emaciated anorexic body is an attempt to communicate inner distress, that it’s a message to the world. I’ve never bought into that, instead I think the emaciation is mostly just a side-effect. The real act being played out with my body is for an audience of one: myself. It’s where I get to claw back some control so I can feel safe. That’s why demands made of me to eat, or eat more than my self-imposed level of restriction feel so impossible to acquiesce to. Firstly, they are demands from other people, objects outside my self which in my binary state of boundaries-up/boundaries-down I can’t risk acknowledging. The fate I’m trying to avoid by not eating is psychic doom, annihilation so by asking me to eat, I feel they might as well be asking me to jump off a cliff. My rational conscious mind has always been baffled by my incredibly strong feelings in this situation, why am I so adverse to eating? I now think it’s because to eat symbolises the destruction of my boundaries, the loss of myself. In essence, at a dumb subconscious level I think food will kill me.
Does all this dramatic introspection make sense? I’m never sure when I write if I am actually organising the information coherently. And it doesn’t help that when it comes to ED etiology and the subconscious I’m feeling around in the dark.
Plus, knowing these things doesn’t instantly cure me of my need to restrict. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to or if I should instead just learn to work around my issues without trying to cure them completely. I certainly find I’m able to pay closer attention to my feelings and motivations as opposed to what I think I should be feeling. Sometimes I feel bad for weird or inappropriate or unclear reasons and that’s okay. I don’t have to deny feeling bad just because I can’t find a worthy or simple reason for my feelings.