Overcoming Emotional Eating by Dealing with Learned Helplessness

If you want to make sure your efforts towards overcoming emotional eating are as purposeful and brief as they can be, the place to focus your efforts is on learned helplessness and the anxiety it triggers whenever you feel the slightest bit stressed or uncertain about something.

Learned helplessness is the pattern of thinking that we establish as children in situations where we have needs that are not being met. We feel panicked, hopeless and desperate. We are overwhelmed with the seemingly insurmountable chasm between knowing what we need and being unable to get it.

As children we automatically interpret everything that is going on around us as being about us. We are consistently supported, encouraged and reassured of our lovability, our place in our family and our world. As we develop, and our brain transitions from this child mind to our adult brain, a more rational and big-picture thinking brain, we learn to handle the fact that the world no longer revolves around us.

But what if the transition is not gradual? What if we are forced, due to situations well beyond our control, to deal with circumstances that are truly beyond our comprehension (the absence of a parent, the experience of abuse or the death of someone close to us, for example)?

  • What if we are forced to take on far more responsibility than we can developmentally manage?
  • What if we are smothered and not allowed to explore the world when we feel ready to do so?
  • What if our caregivers’ fears and insecurities are projected on to us and, without even realizing it, they become our own?
  • What if our childhood is abruptly torn away by some trauma of abandonment, rejection, criticism, ridicule or physical or sexual threat or abuse?

That’s a very frightening and rude awakening. For most of us it is just too much to truly understand. Thus we feel overwhelmed and frantically grasp for some way of perceiving the world and our place in it that has the potential to afford some sense of protection from the…

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