Eating disorders are geniuses at filtering out all the positives and focusing on the negatives. This is known as Mental Filtering, and is another cognitive distortion from Key Four: Feel Your Feelings, Challenge Your Thoughts in the 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder Workbook.
Shared today is one of Kristie's strongest memories of this, from when she was running a recovery group in America at a local treatment center.
A client had just been delivered the news that her insurance had cut, and she had one week left in treatment. Through her tears she expressed how panicked she was that she had just one week to get as much from the treatment experience as she could before she was on her own. One week felt like a drop in the ocean and she was considering leaving treatment now because what could one week possibly do?
I empathized with her; it did feel unfair that other clients had weeks of treatment ahead of them while she had been given a deadline. However, she had a definite filter going on that was only allowing the negative in.
“Ok,” I told her. “I’m going to ask you a question and it’s going to feel a little strange, but I want you to stay with me.”
She wiped her eyes with a tissue and looked up at me. For the first time I saw curiosity rather than despair.
“How’s your maths?” I asked with a smile.
“Umm, ok.” Now she looked nervous.
“How many times do you eat a day while in treatment?”
“Six,” she replied hesitantly.
“And how many days do you have left in treatment?”
“Seven.” Her facial expression went back to despair.
“Ok, what is six multiplied by seven?”
“42.” Now she had despair mixed with confusion.
“I know a week feels like a very short period of time,” I told her.
“What happens when I tell you that in that week you have 42 opportunities to practice recovery? Between now and next week there are 42 times that you will face your fear, lean into discomfort and practice doing recovery in here, so that you can do it out there.”
Like a light had switched on she began beaming. “Do we really eat 42 times a week?” She exclaimed. “I mean, I know the maths is right, but I had never thought about it like that before. That feels so different when I think about it like that.”
“What other behaviours did you use before you came to treatment?” I asked her.
She made a face. “Running. Like, All. The. Time.”
“How many minutes in an hour?”
“How many minutes in a day?”
“I don’t know!”
I grinned. “Me either. But there are lots of minutes in a day. I recommend you find out how many minutes are in a waking day while in treatment and how many waking minutes you will have between now and leaving. It will probably be in the thousands. That is how many minutes of opportunity you have to practice whenever you get an urge to do something eating disordered. So, you have 42 food opportunities and thousands of urge opportunities. In one week. Imagine what you can do with that!”
She came up to me after group and hugged me. “I’m looking forward to this next week. Every minute almost feels exciting now because it’s an opportunity to do something different.”
I didn’t get to see her again, but I still think of her and hope she remembers the lesson of the mental filter. Where do you need to challenge your mental filter to find opportunities rather than obstacles?