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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.


2 589px-Blue Ballet by Glen Josselsohn Contemporary Modern ArtistRecovery work involves feeling what you'd rather not feel. But how much do you need to feel, and what are you supposed to do while you are in emotional pain? These are vital questions that need to be answered in the spirit of recovery.

One way to stop emotional pain is to act out your eating disorder.  Eat, binge, starve, get on the treadmill, hook up with a person or group of people who will act out with you and bring you to high sensations that block out anything else you might feel.  But you want recovery so you know these are not your best options.  What then?

Understanding the difference between comfort and holding will help you make better choices for yourself and allow you to accept actions and people who genuinely are part of your real recovery.


Comfort soothes you. Comfort eases your suffering. Comfort reduces the level of your feelings and even turns them into something more tolerable. A person or a movie or a book can soothe you and distract you from your feelings, bring you to a different focus or even transform your emotional energy into something else.  For example, another person may offer you sympathy, a listening ear, kind words and flattery. Your emotional energy can turn into sexual energy and you may act out with pent up passion as part of flight into comfort.

Whenever you flee into comfort, whether it's a TV series or a movie or a long conversation or many conversations with a friend, you are not acting out your eating disorder.  This is a relief. You are pushing your feelings below the surface so you don't feel your pain.  You don't accomplish healing, but you do get a chance to rest.

The problem with comfort is that you don't learn anything except, perhaps, to be dependent on what comforts you.  You can develop a powerful need for that comforting source.  If it's a a person you may convince yourself that you are in love or that you must have them in your life on a regular basis. You may believe that they must be on call and available to you when your feelings are horrible. This becomes your definition of friendship. You can become terrified or angry if the person wants to stop being used in this way.  

Comfort gives you a break from your emotional pain, but the pain remains and will come forward again.


Holding is quite different from comforting.  Holding involves something or someone keeping you in place so that you can feel what you feel without causing damage to yourself or someone else.  Arms around you can keep you from moving while you feel your feelings.  This is a helpful intervention with tantruming children but often not practical with adults.  

The voice and presence of a friend who offers no solutions and no rescue but simply sits with you while you feel what you feel can hold you in place, but this is often too great a strain on a friendship.

Finding or creating a person or group or situation that will reliably hold you as you move through your feelings is an important task in recovery.  The person is usually your therapist.  The group is a support group or therapy group.  In choosing one, be sure that the group will hold you and not comfort you.  

Comfort takes you away from your experience.  Holding gives you the opportunity to feel what you thought you couldn't bear.  You develop strength to bear your feelings.  In time, you learn to understand those feelings and work your way through them.  This is recovery work.

Comfort temorarily soothes your feelings.  Holding allows you to develop and progress.

Can you use both?  Yes.  In fact you need to use both.  If your feelings are so powerful that they flood your
awareness and your ability to think, you may need a small degree of comfort that brings you to a place where you still feel bad, but you can bear it.

You'll probably feel frustrated when the comfort stops and holding begins.You'd rather be rescued by soothing than rally your strength under pain and stress to work your way through the experience. In time, with practice, you'll grow to respect and appreciate the difference. You'll celebrate your ability to heal beyond past limitations.

Never underestimate the power of writing.  Wiring in your journal can soothe you.  It can be a resting and soothing place.  As you continue to write, your journal turns into a holding place.  You hold your experience while you feel what you feel.  Without a specific plan or date or agenda you discover that something changes as you journal and that you are doing recovery work while you are being held by the page. 

How can you tell the difference between comfort and holding?  After comfort you feel temporary relief and then return to your painful condition.  After holding you feel more capable.  You've moved a little bit beyond your previous limits.  

Comfort leaves you with a feeling of weakness and dependence. You learn to need comforting.   Holding leaves you with a sense of your own strength and capability. You trust yourself more to continue on your recovery path. Yes, you know you will need more holding, but it's a holding that allows you to feel what you feel and gather up more strength and healing within yourself.

  1. What do you know about comfort and holding?
  2. What comforts you?
  3. What holds you?
  4. Which is more reliable?
  5. What have you learned from each?

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