You’re walking back from the shops one day when, out of the corner of your eye, you sense movement in a nearby alleyway.
As you approach, you realise it’s a little child, about 4 years old. As she turns her face towards you, you see that she’s crying. Her expression is a mix of anguish and fear. She’s alone, save for a small teddy which she’s clutching with both hands.
You bend down in front of her.
Then, you reach into your shopping bag and remove a tube of Pringles, a packet of 12 doughnuts, a family pack of chocolate bars and a large tub of ice-cream.
“Eat these until you feel sick”, you tell her.
As you leave, you add over your shoulder: “man up, princess, people have it worse than you, there’s no point crying, you just have to get on with it”.
Awful, yes? But, for people whose overeating is emotion-driven, this is how we approach ourselves when we’re in emotional need.
Meeting our needs without food involves developing a compassionate inner dialogue. We need to learn to speak to ourselves in the caring way we would a vulnerable child: “What’s wrong? It’s OK, I’m here. You can tell me. I’d really like to help you”.
It’s also about being willing to wait for the answer.
Often, we fall into the trap of telling ourselves what we’re feeling in the hopes of moving on quickly because it’s uncomfortable – “It’s OK, I know you’re sad, you’ll be alright”. Instead, we need to listen patiently as we would to a child plucking up the courage to tell us what s/he’s upset about.
The 4-year old in the alleyway deserves to be heard, understood and comforted.
When you’re upset or in need, so do you.
For more on why it’s important to be sensitive to yourself, you can read this 2017 post “Why Does Being Mean to Yourself Matter?”.