I’m delighted to have Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., as my guest today. She’s an expert on the psychology of eating—the how and why, not the what of it. A psychotherapist, eating coach with a worldwide clientele, and an international author of four books on eating and weight, she has 30-plus years of experience successfully treating troubled eaters. Her practice is in Sarasota, Florida where she does eating coaching via the phone and Skype.
Going From Feeling Defective To Self-Loving
By Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.
Sadly, many of my clients walk around feeling defective to the core. They may not use this word to describe themselves, and instead talk about feeling abnormal or unfixable, and that there is something gravely wrong with them. As a therapist, when I ask these clients if they feel defective, it’s as if a light bulb goes on in their heads and they nod in agreement. This perception of being deeply and permanently flawed often drives shame-based behaviors such as binge-eating, drinking, illicit drug- taking, gambling, shopaholism, perpetrating violence, remaining a victim of violence—and, in its own way, perfectionism.
Let’s back up and see how such a sense of defectiveness might take hold in an individual. A belief in your lovability and self-worth—or the lack of it—comes from how you were taken care of growing up. If you were treated fairly and compassionately, you’ll value and be fair and compassionate toward yourself. You’ll recognize your faults and try to do better without aiming for an impossible perfection. You’ll understand that you have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else and that this balance is called being human.
If you weren’t treated with compassion and respect as a child, it’s easy to grow up to feel unworthy and unlovable, and to come to erroneously believe that you are, at core, so defective that no matter what you do, you’ll never be okay. After all, you might think, If my parents couldn’t love me well, there must be something really wrong with me. Your misperception of not-okayness is understandable, but neither real nor evidence based. In fact, there is nothing wrong with you and never was. The real problem is your misperception that there’s something intrinsically wrong with you. Get rid of that and you’re fine—as fine as the rest of us mixed bags.
In order to understand the impact that your upbringing had on your ability to love yourself, try this exercise. Mentally walk out of the apartment or house you grew up in and go three doors down to the right, which we’ll call door #1. Now come back to your front door and travel down three doors to the left, which we’ll call door #2. Next, assuming that you have some sense of who lived there, consider what it would be like to have been raised by the person or people behind both doors. Maybe the folks behind door #1 were terrific—caring, stable, loving, bright, successful, compassionate, and sensible, with good jobs and high self esteem. If so and you’d been their child, you would have been cherished and adored and, consequently, would assume you were lovable.
Next consider the person or people behind door #2. Let’s say they were depressed or angry alcoholics who had little sense of what effective parenting entailed and even less ability to provide it. If you’d been raised by them, they might occasionally have been kind and caring but, as often, might have criticized your every move or not paid attention to your physical or emotional needs. It’s likely that as their child, you would have grown up feeling unloved and unlovable and downright defective.
This is the family-of-origin lottery we all are entered in without our knowledge or consent. And, believe me, who you end up with as parents is nothing but a crapshoot. It’s not about your inherent worth or lovability, but about how you were treated early on. Perhaps as a child you recognized that you had dysfunctional parents, dreaming of running away to live with your best friend’s family or your first-grade teacher who treated you with compassion, fairness, and respect. Back then, you understood that other adults would treat you differently because they viewed you more positively and that there was another way to be parented that felt better—that indeed was better.
Consider how your mistaken sense of defectiveness manifests itself: driving your desire to be perfect and producing all-or-nothing thinking—“I’m not perfect, so therefore, I must be defective,” or, alternately, “If I do everything perfectly, no one will discover that I’m a total mess.” Forget perfect, which no one is or ever will be. Aim for better, improved, more skilled, good enough, but be very wary of the wish to be flawless. Paradoxically, that desire will just kick you back to square one, to Shamesville, and a world of perceived defectiveness.
Rather than view yourself as permanently defective, look to develop a core belief that whatever you want to change (within reason), you can and will. Hate the fact that you’re shy? Then work on becoming more outgoing. There are other qualities you might dislike in yourself—you talk too much or don’t stand up for yourself enough, aren’t as smart as you wish to be, have trouble reaching your goals, aren’t great at holding onto money, fear taking risks, cringe at small talk, or are too impulsive. Accept that each of these behaviors is changeable with patience, practice, and persistence.
You’re going to have to trust me on this, that is, the fact that you’re not defective. You’re worthwhile and valuable to your loved ones, yourself, and the rest of the planet. And because, like the rest of us, you’re a mixture of fabulous and flawed, then there’s no reason not to love yourself. Remember, no matter how many people tell you you’re okay, that won’t cure a case of defectiveness. Only self-love can do that.
Join The Self-Love Movement™! Take the 31 Days of Self-Love Commitment and get my book, How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways for free at http://howdoiloveme.com. Read my 2012 31 Days of Self-Love Posts HERE.
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