For me, overcoming an eating disorder has been all about dealing with the underlying root causes. In college, those roots were low self-esteem and utter lack of self-confidence — in fact, complete self-hatred. I did a group therapy class in college that went through the book Ten Days to Self-Esteem in ten weeks (not days) and it was truly life changing. This workbook walks you through exercises to change your distorted ways of thinking, opening up new perspectives and alternatives to unachievable, perfectionistic self-demands.
David T. Burns, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, is a multi-award winning MD who has been helping people recover from depression for four decades. There are countless books on this subject, but I like this one as a great primer on the Cognitive Behavior Therapy first developed by Aaron T Beck. CBT is a staple of psychology and Burns has furthered the field considerably, calling his work Cognitive Interpersonal Therapy (CIT). In this book he lays out the basic tenets and provides many exercises to give you first hand experience with the validity the concepts, as well as practice in retraining your thinking to improve your moods.
This book is also a great introduction to the idea that our thoughts create our feelings, as first popularized by Albert Ellis. You FEEL the way you THINK. Your negative emotions don’t come from the situations of your life, but how you think about these events. It turns out that a great deal of what we think is completely illogical and leads us to be depressed and anxious. So, if we learn to recognize these erroneous ways of thinking, and practice countering them, we can change the way we think and consequently, the way we feel!
Examples of negative thinking include Overgeneralization — viewing a negative event as evidence that all similar events will be negative in a never-ending pattern of defeat. Or Mental Filter — ignoring all the positives while dwelling on the negatives. And Mind-Reading — you assume you know what others are thinking and that they are thinking negative things about you.
Once you have names for the types of thinking that are damaging your psyche, and concise exercises for revealing and reversing these thoughts, all that’s left is to actually DO the exercises. I remember this being such a hard thing the first time I went through this book. Decades later, looking back at the exercises, I see how sensible and useful they are. You know that exercise where you look at yourself in the mirror and say nice things to yourself? Yes, this whole book is that uncomfortable. But I promise you, it’s worth the effort!
Honestly, I wish I could go back and tell my younger self how useful these concepts are going to be for her. I’d like to tell her that Burns and her counselor really know what they are up to, recommending these practices. I want to urge her to dedicate herself to regularly practicing these exercises, no matter how dumb they might seem or how much they might make her cry at first. I wish I could convince her to just go ahead and let all those concepts sink completely in the first time.
I guess that’s not how we humans work. I seem to have to learn the same concepts and lessons and practices over and over again, picking them up from many sources, many angles, trying them a bit now, a bit later. At least I can look back and see that I am improving over time, which gives me motivation to continue onward. And I can share with you what has worked for me — another resource to add to your own spiral staircase, climbing ever upward!