The forces behind our unhealthy habits

25. March 2023.

Why would we push ourselves to ask for help in our quest for understanding the reasons behind our self-destructive behavior? Why would we choose to discuss the forces that drive our unhealthy habits? Isn’t it more comfortable to stay in our own psychic bubble that shields us from reality, and keeps us from confronting our personal trauma that would only unleash emotional storms we might not be able to handle?

Yes, staying in that bubble of denial seems more comfortable. Why? Because the reality we would suddenly expose ourselves to is too scary. The bubble serves as a safe capsule, keeping us from feeling the full range of grief and pain from negative life experiences and trauma which we all, at some point, lived through.

As a child, have you ever been judged? Not understood for who you are? Verbally, physically or in any other way abused? Harshly disciplined? If not obeying, bitterly punished? Not accepted exactly the way you are? Have you ever witnessed the suffering of your parents and faulted yourself for it? Or punitively self-blamed for not being able to help?

Most of us have. Many times, even without realizing that these overwhelming experiences can be traumatizing. In fact, trauma is part of life. It is unavoidable. Understanding that we are living through experiences that can leave traumatic effects on us is not always obvious. As the neurologist Robert Scaer defined it, trauma can be “any negative life event that occurs to us in a state of relative helplessness”.

In these situations, we coped as well as we could. In doing so, we constantly betrayed ourselves for love and acceptance. We allowed others to treat us in a way that made us feel unworthy or unaccepted, severing our connection to our authentic Self. Could we have changed anything at that point? Nothing. We were young, dependent, utterly vulnerable and helpless. Trauma creates the fundamental belief that we must betray who we are in order to survive. The experience brought us nothing but self-limiting beliefs.

When a parent figure denied our reality, they were unconsciously teaching us to reject our intuition, our “gut feeling”. The more we learned to distrust ourselves, the deeper our intuitive voice withdrew becoming harder and harder to hear. This resulted in lost intuition, and internal conflict. We learned that our judgement cannot be trusted and looked to others to shape our reality. The emotional immaturity due to unresolved trauma kept us unfulfilled, outside our emotions, trapped in our inability to connect with others and ourselves, and emotionally immature for challenges the world brings along.

How should we, then, deal with persistent stressors in our lives? How should we approach problems in our current relationships? How to manage unsatisfaction with our current job or with the way our boss treats us? How to deal with inequalities related to social status, gender, unemployment, racism or discrimination that each of us felt at some point? Where to find strength to carry on when we feel unhappy, lonely, unseen and unknown? To whom to reach out for a helping hand?

Can we change something, especially now?

Certainly. What we fear is not the future, but the past. We can develop genuine self-esteem, not based on others’ valuations and approbation, but rooted in authentic self-acceptance. That may, of course, evoke the grief of letting go of who we thought we were and who the world that shaped us wanted us to be. But it certainly denotes a sense of liberation, an invitation to live a richer, more authentic and healthier life.

Unfortunately, most of us seek the truth only once we recognize that the cost of not doing so has become too high. Running from ourselves and from what makes us feel not at “ease”, brings us to the state of being dis- eased or ob-e(a)sed, indulging in self- destructive behavior, be it in too much food (or too little), alcohol, sweets, drugs, internet or shopping. This desire for the quick fixes, emblematic of the Western culture in many ways, comes from the understandable want to end the increasing discomfort of living with our wounds.

The state could be a wake-up call, serving as a signpost that an otherwise healthy person is heading in the wrong direction and should ask for the help and support they need.

Dr. Katarina Melzer

Be balanced, be free!