Wellness Institute Blog

Hypnotherapy Can Help Treat Eating Disorders:  Here’s How it Works

Posted by Sarah Dickey  Jan 11, 2018 11:30:00 AM

In the article, Feeding and Needing in Psychology Today (Feb. 2017),

“Eating disorders have multiple roots. Problems with other people can be both cause and consequence of eating disorders. We arrive in this world needing to be cared for by others, and specifically, to be fed by others. As social animals, we continue to need other people throughout our lives. Under the right circumstances we develop interdependencies, mutually needing and being needed in many ways, including feeding and being fed.”

If you have ever had the chance to be around an infant, often their cries are met with an attentive parent who attempts to guess what the need might be.  In an ideal world, the infant’s needs are met, and from the meeting of this need, a deep sense of trust and connection is established within the child.  From this foundation, the child feels secure in expressing needs. 

If on the other hand an infant expresses a need through crying and the needs are not met, a lack of trust develops. The work of The Wellness Institute has demonstrated that:

  1. Eating disordered people often grew up in a toxic environment, where love was contaminated with abuse, yelling, guilt trips, shaming, or wasn’t even available.
  2. Food/drink/tobacco may have become a substitute for emotional satisfaction or to numb the pain of emptiness, loneliness, fear, guilt and shame.

From this lack of trust, children decide that they are afraid to express their needs, and from this they abruptly STOP expressing or ‘having’ needs.   At the very core of this process is where addictions and substitute behaviors begin to develop. 

Here are some examples of basic needs not being met:

  • Babies being left in cribs with a bottle propped up on a pillow
  • Babies having to compete for love or attention with other ‘special needs’ family members (alcoholic, drug addicted, mentally impaired, or emotionally impaired).
  • Parents who themselves are “emotional children.” In this example, parent’s needs may always come first, child’s needs are not addressed, and are often shamed.
  • Family fears surrounding lack of money, not enough time, and parents who withhold.
  • Alcoholic or unpredictable family members who might cause chaos, unpredictability.
  • Mother in overwhelm. Too many kids.

As we peer deeper into the model of Need Shock/Need Shame, we can see that the development of addictions and substitute behaviors begins in infancy.  This becomes an imperative piece of the puzzle as we begin to utilize hypnotherapy in the treatment of eating disorders. 

I worked with one client, Sharon, who had a very distorted image and used restriction as a way of punishing herself for feeling emotions. We uncovered that she had been an under-birthweight baby, with a mother who smoked throughout her pregnancy, and her entry into the world had been a struggle for her to survive.  She lived her life in excess, always feeling that there would not be enough: enough time, enough money, enough love, etc.  She gorged on food, she over did it with exercise, she loved in excess.  

We concluded through our hypnotherapy work together that one of her early and underlying conclusions was, “I am unlovable.”  And from that she decided to behave in a way that supported this unlovability. 

Our work together has been transformative as we have been able to tap into the needs of the inner child and meet her developmental needs to develop healthy affirmations and behaviors.  Initially Sharon struggled to identify the emotions holding her back, but through the hypnotherapy work we have created a safe container for her to explore and expand her awareness of how her infant self has been running the totality of her life.  She could identify control issues and a sense of being deprived, and bring her responses to conscious healthy choice. 

Mental health clinician Judy Scheel, PhD, LCSW, in her Psychology Today (April 2017) article shares that ,

Many sufferers stay convinced that having an eating disorder is preferable to dealing with emotional states and issues that are difficult and often fear what they will uncover about themselves.   People in general go to great lengths to avoid feeling sad, confused, rejected, anxious and lonely. Some people try to avoid anger at all costs and others use anger as the only defense, or means, to counter their pain or perhaps guilt.  Longing and sadness are painful emotional states common to all people, yet are often denied, or their impact minimized or avoided.  Eating disorder sufferers generally find these emotional states intolerable.”

As people bury their emotional states they further participate in their own sense of emotional need shaming.  The child within is still running the show no matter the chronological age of the adult.   Hypnotherapy helps to regress the client back to the developmental stage in which they were stunted so that it can be determined what the inner child needs and how they will go about getting their need(s) met.  A safe space is also created to explore what prevents the individual from getting these needs met. 

In Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy the clinician is able to address the following areas that underlie most eating disorders. 

  • Control Issues: Fear of being out of control, feelings when others try to control you or your eating, controlling parents. 
  • Perfectionism Issues: Feeling flawed and imperfect.  Black-and-white thinking. 
  • Chronic Emptiness: Disconnection from the Inner Child. Lack of a spiritual connection. 
  • Focusing on External Image (Need for Approval): Co-dependency issues “family secrets”:  looking good vs. the real self and expressing true feelings.
  • Fear of being deprived: Confusion about what the real needs are. 
  • Lying and Sneaking: Usually refers to the need for approval and the fear of needs not being met. 

 

What are some of the signs and symptoms of Eating Disorders?

  • Fear of being fat
  • Control Issues
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Shame
  • Obsessed with Image
  • Perfectionism
  • Conditional Love
  • Distorted Body Images
  • Denying their femininity
  • Chronic Sense of emptiness
  • Food as a drug
  • Codependent characteristics
  • Physiological signs

The world of eating disorders is heavily populated with much research, but at its core hypnotherapy offers an effective arsenal of healing.  What might take years in talk therapy can be extinguished, feelings identified and expressed, and healthy corrective experiences embraced. If you’d like to know more about the benefits of hypnotherapy contact us today so that you can connect with a practitioner and re-connect to the joy of living. 

“There are no right feelings or wrong feelings.  Feelings just are.  The only ’negative‘ feelings are the ones that we can’t accept in ourselves.”

~Anita Johnston

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