What's Eating You?
I’ve never been a lawn guy. The thought of spending countless hours tending to the magic carpet behind my house has never really inspired me. In fact, you could say that our yard is more “meadowesque” than manicured. I watched my neighbor survey his lawn yesterday. He’s a lawn guy. Sometimes I want to walk across the street and touch it to see if it’s real, but I hesitate, fearing potential contamination by some bizarre combination of chemicals that he freely sprays over it.
What drives our behaviors? What deep-rooted values dictate the choices that we make? What influences those values and directs us on the one path that we choose among the infinite possibilities?
This is the $64,000 question: Why do we do what we do?
Behavioral Psychologists make a life out of asking this question. Their answers are fascinating. Ultimately, our decisions are reflections of our belief systems, and our belief systems are driven by our values. Values create needs and wants. We can refer to these as nutrients. Like the chemical nutrients that make up the cellular requirements for our physical health, there are psychological nutrients that are essential for mental and spiritual health.
The granddaddy of them all is control.
We need, want and crave control. We want to feel a sense of influence in our lives. We like to feel our hands on the wheel and our feet on the gas – or the brake. We find comfort and safety in control. We like to change and shape things. We love to create, choose and direct our lives. We feel good, powerful and confident when we have control. Our significance and self-worth is deeply anchored to our sense of control. And we hate to be out of control.
One of the most powerful driving forces in human nature is fear of loss. We are extremely “loss averse”- especially when it comes to control in our lives.
I would suggest that people generally feel overwhelmed. It’s the one word that seems to fit everyone. There are varying degrees and reasons, but overall, it seems to be the thing that all of us can agree on. As a people, we are overwhelmed. This undeniable overload in our lives seriously threatens one of our most vital of psychological nutrients: our sense of control.
The media creates impossible standards. Unachievable levels of opulence, unrealistic and fabricated lifestyles, and unreasonable and unnatural icons of beauty. Who could live up?
We all respond differently to this threat. When we experience a “deficiency” in an essential element over time, we adapt to survive. This adaptive behavior manifests many ways and in varying intensities. If you feel a lack of control in one area your life, you will seek it in other areas. You may feel powerless at work and try to reclaim it at home. Home life may be reeling, so you throw yourself at your work. The scenarios have many faces, but the driving force is the same.
The Emotional Eating Workshop could just as easily be a discussion of Workaholism. Or maybe Spousecontrolism. Or how about Childperfectionism. The compulsions that trigger our behaviors are simply different melodies played on the same instrument.
The need for more control in your life may leave you wrestling with every dandelion or blade of crab-grass, obsessively cleaning your home, or simply soothing yourself with comfort foods. On one end of the spectrum, people find relaxation and enjoyment in these things. But on the other end, the reality is that people are trying to numb the pain or anxiety associated with a deeper hunger or void in their lives. Maybe the more important question to ask is not “what are you eating,” but rather “what is eating you?”
We can learn to recognize the undercurrent of the deeper needs that can highjack our lives and derail our happiness. When we’ve identified the root of our behaviors and embrace the realities of our core feelings, the truth can set us free. See you Wednesday.
Dr. Stephen Franson