So now that we have discussed what anxiety looks like and what causes it, we are going to talk about some of the ways we try to deal with our anxiety and how it can harm us.
So we know that our feelings cause our anxiety and we know that experiencing anxiety is an absolutely awful thing to experience, so our mind has to do something to help us manage. This is where we build a defense system. Defenses help decrease anxiety temporarily. Many of you will have heard of defense mechanisms, but what most of us don’t realize is how an eating disorder serves as a defense mechanism to protect you from experiencing the things in your life that feel too painful.
For example, I frequently hear in my counselling office how, in the case of restrictors, their eating disorder makes them feel in control. So if we were to break that down, their life feels unmanageable in some way (causing a rise in emotion) which causes them to have lots of anxiety. In order to deal with their anxiety they turn to restricting or purging as a way of coping. Not eating and experiencing hunger pains, or eating and then throwing up causing leaves your body feeling empty. I hear frequently how this empty feeling (or the hunger pains) is calming and soothing. If they keep restricting, they keep ignoring the real issue that made them feel out of control in the first place and instead just react to it. This reaction works temporarily but over time starts to cause a lot of pain and suffering.
This is the challenge with defense mechanisms, they usually provide temporary relief when we first start using them. In time, however, they end up causing harm and prevent us from self actualizing and being healthy.
So what are some of the more common defense mechanisms I see people use in order to try to avoid facing their anxiety and their feelings? See the list below:
- Humor (laughing at something that isn’t funny to cover up their real feelings)
- Passive Aggressiveness
- Self Harm
- Becoming helpless/powerless
There are many more but that gives you an idea. It can be hard to stop using the defenses that we have become so comfortable with. Sometimes our defenses become automatic so we aren’t even aware we are doing them. If you are really struggling in your life, whether this be with an eating disorder, in your relationships, with anxiety or depression I would recommend you invest in getting the support you need from a counsellor so you can reduce your anxiety, get at the root of your feelings and start feeling better now.