In my therapy, I am learning about abuser loyalty – the keeping of the perpetrator in a central role in our life (even if it is a negative one) and the internalization of abuser values (the messages we had foisted upon us by our abusers). You can usually spot abuser values because they often start with “You are (insert negative word here). For example ‘you are worthless’, ‘you are ugly’, you are stupid’, ‘you are mine to do with as I please’, etc) ). We often stay loyal to our abusers by living out their negative labeling and by continuing the abuse long after we are free of the abuser. This is why so many sexual abuse survivors grow up to be repeatedly sexually abused. We learned our bodies were not ours and we learned we couldn’t protect ourselves. These are abuser values. Whether or not it was stated overtly or it was a nonverbal message sent through their actions, we absorbed it deeply. Abuser loyalty plays out when we continue to accept perpetrators (often presenting in covert fashion) into our lives and continue to accept less than we really deserve.
I find it incredibly hard to sort through abuser values and abuser loyalty when it comes to my parents. Even as I type these words, I cringe at the harsh term “abuser” applied to my parents. You see, I have incredible love and gratitude to both my parents but I am also at a point in my personal healing in which I am looking at their raising of me in a critical light and the verdict comes back that in some key areas they each did a number on me. I am always hesitant to lay culpability at their feet for fear that it could be taken as I do not love them. I do love them fiercely. But, like I just said, they each did a number on me.
One area in which they acted out and hurt me was around disordered eating. My father was a morbidly obese brittle type 2 diabetic and my mother restricted her food intake. My father was incredibly sexist and objectified his wife’s and daughters’ bodies and a chief way he focussed on our bodies was around weight. He projected his hatred of his trapped obese self onto us and shamed us for any pound of flesh he deemed was too much. He held us at a model’s standard. My mother bought into his way of thinking and adopted an anorexic-leaning compulsive exercising regime and severely restricted her caloric intake. She also shoved sexist body messaging onto her daughters.
In present day, I still struggle with shame and self loathing for my compulsivity with food and eating has often been a way i self harm (this is a whole other post for another day). My father has been dead for 15 years and I have continued his berating of my body. It is time to stop the loyalty to those abuser values and show myself compassion as well as instruction for a new way of living in my body. I am reframing how I see this relationship with food. Instead of bullying myself for not having will power or being lazy ,etc, I am now taking notice that I am maintaining loyalty to my food addicted parents (because under-eating is a form of food addiction too) when I eat compulsively or when I hate my body. I am also seeing how I stayed connected to these people I so love by adopting their characteristics around food. Isn’t mimicry a form of flattery? I either compulsively overeat like daddy or restrict like mom. Either way, my eating habits cry out “I want to be just like them.” It’s time to be my own person.
These realizations are a starting point to frame how I am trying to approach my relationship with my body. But healthy eating and care taking of my physical body is very loaded with emotions. I literally am jittery and anxious at night – my main food grazing time. I also am more acutely aware of how much I want to eat when I have an emotion, whether it is anxiety or loneliness. My practice is to sit with the feeling and not numb myself with carbs or sugar, my two favorites. Sitting with the feelings coming up in the evenings makes me cranky and then a little frightened. I am not sure what I am frightened of but I definitely feel anxiety laced with fear. My guess is that it is old anxiety and fear around unsafe households and neighborhoods.
Every time I outlast a craving I am celebrating internally with my parts as they deserve a lot of props. For being willing to do things differently, even at the cost of discomfort. And also for being brave enough to look at what is coming up without the numbing effects of compulsivity. It is a slow process. But all I really have in life is some time. I’m eager to see how this will play out. In this instance I am choosing to be loyal to myself.