What's in it for you?
This is a question that therapists can use to find out why people are engaging in behaviours or relationships that can seem to be unhealthy on the surface. It is, therefore, one I have asked myself on a regular basis. When I try to genuinely answer the question, I often find my answers quite surprising and based on a kind of logic. I'll give you a couple of examples.
Issue: I wonder why I don't make friends more easily?
Me: 'What's in it for you to avoid making new friends?'
Also me (a bit sheepishly): 'I get to avoid allowing someone to get to know me and finding out they don't like me; I get to not take part in awkward conversations where I feel uninteresting; I get to not expend effort...' Well, you get the idea...
Me again: So, essentially, you are deliberately avoiding rejection and discomfort.
Issue: I can't understand why I comfort eat! (There's a clue in the title.)
Me: What's in it for you to comfort eat?
Also me: Well, if I've eaten a lot of unhealthy biscuits and chocolates, I then get to tell myself there's no point in exercising because I've already cancelled out any benefit by overeating, so I don't have to do the work. I get to indulge in my favourite chocolate and also self-pity at my lack of willpower.
Me again: So you get to enjoy an overabundance of goodies, justify not expending energy, and you are therefore allowed to continue to sit around, eating nice things that make you feel better temporarily.
I could view my answers as full of excuses, but when I look more closely, I can see that in the first instance, I am trying to keep my self safe, and in the second instance I am trying to care for myself. Both of those aims are sensible and rational. However, looking at the long-term effects of the first set of statements about making friends, I can see that I am preventing myself from having rewarding relationships with others. No relationship always runs smoothly, and by avoiding the difficult times, I am also avoiding the good times. My statements about comfort eating show that I am forgoing becoming fitter and healthier (and able to eat more because I would use energy exercising!) in favour of short term comfort that might cause me long term discomfort in the form of poor health.
I no longer look at my ways of thinking in a critical manner, as I know my intentions towards myself are good. Safety is good for me. Sometimes, avoiding discomfort is good because I am feeling tired or stressed and less able to cope with it, but I could just take some time for myself occasionally even if I have more friends. Self-comforting is good for me, and sometimes sitting around scoffing goodies is good for me! But if I only do this occasionally, and spend other times looking after my long term health, then that is more effective self-care.
I feel that it is important to realise that giving ourselves a hard time about what, at first glance, appear to be bad habits is unhelpful. Understanding why we have these habits and giving ourselves credit for trying to look after ourselves is kind. We are likely to respond better to kindness and often show it to others. Time to give ourselves such kindness and understanding!