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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.


Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.

Woman painting at the National Arboretum 2011 05 29Let's rethink how courage relates to recovery so you can really move to freedom.

In the eating disorder world you often see praise for courage in terms of revealing yourself. If you tell the truth about a private behavior or a private feeling you are told by peers, friends and even clinicians in the healing professions that you are being courageous.

If you start a diet program or eating program and by so doing, stand against friends, family and coworkers at an eating event whether it be a celebration or work related function by refusing to eat non acceptable foods you might be called courageous.

If you attend a support group or go to 12 step meetings or investigate various spiritual groups you also may be called courageous.

If you refuse a social invitation because you are scheduled to meditate or do yoga or exercise according to the rules of a particular program you might be complimented on your strength of character and be called, yes, courageous.

So, with good intentions and hope in your heart  you may be pressing against the boundaries of what your culture accepts as normal. You may risk  condemnation or ridicule.  But is this the kind of courage required for recovery?   Is it really courage?

Eating disorders and many other obsessive compulsive behaviors involve issues fear, self doubt, anger and control.  You are in conflict about wanting to please others to be liked and wanting to rebel in anger and show how right or superior you are. And you are afraid of showing your self righteousness because you are afraid people won't like you.

Rebelling against fear, self-doubt, anger and control can be a boomerang experience where you lunge too far against your habits only to return to where you started or worse, chastened, frightened, embarrassed and ashamed.

Please don't feel badly about this.  I doubt than anyone with an eating disorder has missed this experience.  It comes from not appreciating what kind of courage is required to heal and emerge into your authentic life.

You, all of us, live in our cultures, our societies, our family ethos. Plus you live within the eating disorder mental and emotional structure you psyche developed to protect you from full awareness of your own experiences in life.

If you choose a program, a book, a philosophy, a treatment style, a therapist, a community, an eating program or an exercise program to save you, to guide you and release you from your eating disorder you may feel and be told you are being courageous.  But the choices you make come from the psychological and emotional structure within yourself.  You are not choosing.  Your culture, society, family ethos and eating disorder rules are dictating your choices.  You won't be able to change, develop and grow into your free and authentic self if you follow the rules of what has been dictating to you all your life.

How sad to be confused about the difference between courage and rebellion.  Courage has to do with entering really new territory.  Rebellion is an attack against the known by bringing up the opposite.  The opposite of what is known is not new.  Eventually the pendulum will swing between the poles and you accomplish nothing while time continues to carry you through your life span.

I invite you to look at what real courage might mean for you.

Anything or anyone who promises you what you most desire, even me in this writing, is addressing your hunger and hope. The answer to your troubles is presented in a way that offers you a path to follow and guides your choices and decisions. To follow the other may involve breaking with your usual traditions and routines.  This can feel courageous.  But it's rebellion.  You don't have the new psyche and emotional structure to create your way yourself.  When you follow another you surrender and you are even less free than before.

OMG.  Am I saying that therapy is not helpful? That treatment is a waste of time? That there is no wisdom in the world that can enhance and enrich our lives? That you are completely on your own?

No.  I'm not saying that.

I'm saying that if your psyche is fragmented by culture and compulsions you will see through a distorted lens and take in what is congruent with the turmoil, fear, rage and pain within.

When you listen to guidance, support, flattery and seduction in the world without giving it authority you give yourself a chance to learn.  Being obedient is very different from real learning.

When you deny external authority you do not become a criminal. What you do is entertain what you are being told with an open mind.  This sounds simple but it is not. Your mind and emotional life may leap to agree and follow what you are being told.  But your mind and emotional life suffer from distortions. Restraint is required so you can take in, explore, question and think for yourself about the validity of the course. 

When you accept something new and take action to incorporate into your life it's important that your acceptance is based on your intelligence and not based on your fearsCourageous decisions are usually disruptive to the status quo, but disruption does not indicate courage.

So yes, you can read, listen, be part of a treatment program, be in therapy, explore a philosophy, be active in a political party but only if you put aside knee jerk responses and hope for rescue by another.  Instead of seeking answers, you bring your mind and authentic self to actually finding answers. Learning to question, think, ponder, examine, constantly expand your horizon so your vision and thoughts can take in more of a reality that is not familiar to you. That is the hallmark of courage that leads to recovery.

  1. Where have you confused rebellion with courage?
  2. How does fear affect your decision making?
  3. When do you follow people who praise you because you want them to like you or because they agree with your destructive behaviors?
  4. When have you been truly courageous?


*pix  A woman painting at the National Arboretum, by Sage Ross, licensed under Create Commons Attribution-Share Alike.

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