I created a persona awhile back named “Ms. Kitty”. She existed then and continues to exist now as a guide and mentor for teenagers. I work with teens all day long and am the parent of one, as well. Although Ms. Kitty was created for teens, she also speaks to adults. The reason I decided to post something my alter ego wrote was simply because she speaks to the soul. We all have an ongoing consciousness that will continue on after our current incarnation has ended. My goal and my hope for those I love is that we are all engaged in a spiritual evolution that will lead us to the next life. Our job in the here and now is to learn how to speak the truth without fear, love without barriers, fix what is broken in us, and reach out and heal the wounds of others in our human community. If we can do that well in this life, the next one will not wound us nearly as profoundly. We come into the world destined to experience pain; but the purpose of pain is to teach, not cripple. I try to tell teenagers that their suffering is real, but not defining or permanent. There is resolution to all unhappiness through action and “reperception;” sometimes, a simple realignment of our perspective and thoughts can create a complete breakthrough in our emotions. Although for most teens their emotions become their reality and identity, they (and we) can learn to change that and see emotions as a temporary result of often misguided thoughts and perceptions. We can, and do, change our reality day by day; choose to see the solutions and they will present themselves as if by magic.
Ms. Kitty hopes that you will find some wisdom in what she says, even if you think the Teenagers’ Dilemmas don’t apply to you.
Dear Ms. Kitty,
I think I have an eating disorder. What do I do?
First and foremost, see your doctor and tell your parents.
Here are my thoughts on the matter: an eating disorder is a form of self-punishment and expresses a need for control. It is also about denying emotions that are painful and somehow unacceptable, especially anger. Starving, binging, alternating between the two, even cutting yourself or using drugs and/or alcohol are different heads on the same monster.
What is the monster? Overwhelming feelings that demand to be understood and acknowledged, but are, instead, ignored. Anger is a big part of the problem: women are taught, usually by example, that expressing anger is unacceptable. However, anger is a natural emotion, and inevitably situations arise that rouse your anger: your friends betray or reject you; your parents have expectations of you that you don’t feel you can manage or achieve; you want yourself to be perfect, to please everyone, and you can’t; you try to ‘save’ a friend from destructive behaviors, and he/she refuses to listen to you; and the list can go on and on.
Imagine how difficult it could be to confront friends who have hurt you and say, “I am angry with you for ignoring me, for making me feel insecure and unhappy, for not being there when I needed you the most”. That’s hard to do. You risk upset and more rejection. Imagine saying to your parents, “I know you want me to be a straight-A student and go to a prestigious college back East, but I can barely manage to survive school every day, much less plan my entire academic future”. You risk facing their disappointment or possible disapproval; or worse, you might end up arguing with them about the ‘reality’ of what you know you feel. Imagine having to admit to yourself that you have let people down, that you are so imperfect that you have hurt others without meaning to. It’s a risk confessing your own imperfection, your inability to be who they want or need you to be, and your fear that they will reject you if you don’t manage to be the person that they expect. Finally, imagine having to admit to yourself that someone you loved, someone you tried to save from her/himself is beyond your help. Admitting that you cannot save someone who you love is difficult, sad and frustrating. You might even feel angry towards this person, and then immediately feel guilty for feeling angry.
So what do you do instead of facing all of these challenges head on? You create a distraction, a way for your mind to focus on something that you can control. Once you realize that you can’t control anyone else, and that your anger about that fact is unacceptable to those who love you, you skip lunch instead and go hungry. That will hurt those who love you, and hurt you: perfect for someone who can’t directly express her anger or other strong emotion, or who doesn’t want to face a painful situation head-on. Or, you can eat three bags of chips, get sick, barf, and start over. You will be so preoccupied with your particular cycle that you won’t have time or energy to deal openly with the people and situations that hurt you. You could also cut yourself, and substitute physical pain and injury for emotional pain and injury. You might opt to take drugs or get drunk, thereby temporarily numbing your anger and pain. There are probably many other ways you could accomplish the task of distraction: stuff your feelings with food until you are obese and physically ill; gamble until you’ve lost your savings; have sex with multiple partners to ensure no one, single person ever really gets close to you; or even decide that you are going to lose yourself in work so that you never see the people that you say you love.
The monster has many, many heads. We can cycle between self-destructive behaviors, but don’t get distracted by what creates the distraction in the first place. Understand WHY you are running from your emotions. If you’re afraid of your own anger, realize that you must find the truth in order to help yourself, and that sometimes, you have to get angry in a useful and intelligent way in order to get to the bottom of things. Perhaps an example from my own life will help you to see what I mean. Ms. Kitty has trouble still expressing her anger. She thinks that if she gets mad, the people she loves will reject her. That’s not a rational thought, but that’s what her ‘fear body’ has fooled her into thinking. Ms. Kitty was wandering the aisles of a Halloween store with her husband looking at the ridiculous costumes that they sell to adult women. One picture showed a woman with impossibly skinny and long legs wearing a maid’s outfit. Ms. Kitty wondered if she was expected to dress up like this for Halloween. Her husband laughed and said, “You don’t have the legs for it.”
After that, I refused to wear skirts and only wore jeans. I also convinced myself that I needed to stay at a certain weight, or my husband would find someone else. For years, I didn’t buy skirts or wear them, always remembering that “I didn’t have the legs for it.” Also, more importantly, I was furious that my husband would make such a remark and force me to stay at an unreasonable weight and not wear what I wanted to. Secretly, I feared he was intolerant and too focused on looks, and I wondered if our relationship could last if that were the case. Pondering that caused me to panic, thinking I was about to be abandoned. That, in turn, sent me to the gym in the quest to make my legs good enough for a skirt. Finally, one day, my husband asked me why I never wore a skirt. I told him the story I just told you. He was horrified. “That’s not what I meant!” he cried, “the legs on that model were freakish and Photo shopped! NOBODY HAS THE LEGS THAT SHE DOES!! I NEVER wanted you to look like that!” I think he cried when he finally understood why he never saw my legs.
I had changed my wardrobe, worked out my legs until my knees ached and occasionally skipped meals (although, to be honest, Ms. Kitty loves to eat, so she would usually make up for a skipped meal later with a bag of stuffed jalapeños) so that I would ‘have the legs’ to wear a skirt. More importantly, I re-defined myself as someone with ‘bad legs’ all due to a remark that I had MISUNDERSTOOD. If had expressed my anger at the time it was appropriate to express it, if I had said: “What do you mean I don’t have the legs for this skirt? That’s rude and cruel; how DARE you tell me something like that?” my husband would have immediately corrected my misperception, and I would have been spared years of insecurity about my body.
Now, imagine that the consequences are much bigger than hiding your legs. Let’s say that you tell your friends something very important about you, you confide a secret to them, and they betray you by telling someone else or by not supporting you. That’s much worse than a misinterpreted remark. You have the right to be angry; very angry. You must confront those who hurt you, and tell them why you feel the way you do. You must do this in an intelligent fashion; no need to be aggressive or nasty. You must tell them the truth and let them ponder it. Once the truth is out, there is no need to create a monster for yourself; there is no need to cut, starve, binge, barf, pierce everything, avoid everyone or gamble your life savings. The truth creates freedom, because you shift the burden of your emotions from you to the people who need to feel what you feel, because they, in part, have created the crisis. Sometimes people are utterly clueless that they have created a crisis or hurt you; your job is to let them know, sometimes gently, sometimes with force. If those people don’t want to understand or react poorly, then walk away and consider yourself fortunate that toxic friends or family are out of your life for awhile. If they can face their part in your pain, then maybe you can let them back in. If they can’t, turn the other cheek, don’t hate or turn on yourself, and find that community of people that will not judge, criticize, label or ignore you. Those people are everywhere. You are more loved, by the way, than you probably fully understand or realize.
Every time you face the truth and feel the appropriate emotion for the situations you find yourself in, you will slay the monsters of self destruction. Those monsters only turn on you, because you are not turning to the people who can help and turning away from the people that hurt. Sometimes, the truth can make other people uncomfortable. Well, that’s just too bad. We all have to face reality and come to terms with the fantasies we create in order to protect us. Adults have to realize that we create more subtle monsters, such as losing ourselves in an obsession that we call a hobby, or becoming zombies in front of the television or computer. We’re afraid of the world out there and of the power of our own emotions and thoughts. The world out there will find a way in, and our emotions will find a way out; let’s make sure that we’re healthy enough to handle both.
And, by the way, I bought a bunch of skirts. I discovered that I don’t really like skirts, because I like to sit in unladylike positions. I NEVER skip a meal unless I have the flu, and I go to the gym only to stay reasonably strong. I have the legs and the guts to take care of myself, and maybe help you, dear reader, as well.