Bearing the Weight of our Identity and Hopes

Contributor: W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC, owner of Revision Recovery Coaching

solitude-449611_640During my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska, my roommate John and I built what may go down in history as one of the sturdiest lofts ever constructed. Built from 4×4 pieces of lumber bolted together, we once tested its strength by having 8 other students climb up into the beds with us.

As we scaled the ladder we were asking ourselves, “Will this bear our weight? Can it hold us?” If we were wrong, the results would have been disastrous. We were fortunate. The loft was built to hold us up.

We all put our hopes in things to hold us up. We put our faith in a friend to hold us up by watching our back. We place our trust in our bank to protect our money. We believe our car will get us to work and back.

The Eating Disorder “Structure”

For those struggling with an eating disorder trust gets placed in many different things; a number on a scale, the fit of a pair of jeans, an image in a mirror, the feeling of hunger, the taste of a favorite binge food, or the relief felt after a purge.

The hope is that the eating disorder “structure” being built will hold them up, and (pardon the pun) bear the weight of their hopes; hopes such as identity, success, and safety. Few, however, ask, whether or not this structure was designed to bear the weight of those things.

Building the Right Structure

street-381227_640In the process of building our loft John discovered his passion and changed his major to structural engineering. He now builds some of the largest bridges in the country. You’ve probably driven over one of them. Once I asked him to explain the process to me.

At the heart of every calculation, every pillar of concrete, and the placement of every bolt, he has to ask himself, “What will this bridge carry? What types of vehicles will be traveling over it?” If he miscalculates the results could be deadly. He takes this question very seriously.

What Kind of Structures Do We Need?

And yet, when it comes to the things in which we place our hope, most of us never ask, “What will this carry? Is this designed to carry the weight I am placing on it?”

  • Is a number on a scale meant to carry the weight of your happiness?
  • Is the fat content in a meal designed to provide a sense of safety?
  • Is your ability to control your diet meant to bear a sense of accomplishment?
  • Is the length of your workout strong enough to hold up the weight of your identity?
  • Is the pleasure of a binge strong enough to carry your sorrows?

To paraphrase Pastor Timothy Keller, we are all skilled at putting our hopes into the wrong things and he warns against violating the design of the human heart by making a “good thing into an ultimate thing.”

Making a “Good Thing into an Ultimate Thing”

girl-619689_640What does it mean to make a good thing into an ultimate thing? It means balanced healthy eating becoming a measurement of one’s value. It means missing a workout is not a ‘bummer’ but a catastrophic event. It means never feeling you have value unless you have a flat stomach.

Keller goes on to say that when we make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it will eventually deceive us and enslave us. That’s what eating disorders do best. They deceive you about what is true and enslave you to keep doing destructive behaviors.

Many who struggle with anorexia mistakenly believe that losing a “few more pounds” will deliver a sense of accomplishment and contentment. It rarely does. If it does, the contentment is fleeting. That’s one reason anorexia is so deadly; the weight is never low enough. Why? Because contentment is not what weight loss is meant to deliver.

The Focus on Weight Loss

Weight loss can be a good thing for a person genuinely obese. However, our culture has raised the “achievement” of weight loss to a status beyond its capacity to deliver. Expecting weight loss to deliver lasting contentment is like expecting a six year-old to effectively fill the office of President of the United States; it just won’t work and eventually lives will be lost.

In her book Bodies, therapist and author Susie Orbach writes,

“Our cultural obsession with youth and beauty “primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them, and it makes body the primary place for self-identity.”

She is absolutely correct. And this has devastating consequences, for bodies are not meant to be the definitive source of identity. Identity should come from a wide range of things;

  • Family
  • Faith
  • Culture
  • Community
  • Character
  • Skills
  • Interests
  • Experiences many other traits unrelated to appearance

Our bodies are a part of who we are but, they must not define us. They simply cannot bear that weight.

How Will You Make Your Structure?

golden-gate-bridge-388917_640What are you hoping will hold you up and bear the weight of your identity? If you don’t know, simply ask yourself, “What, if I lost it or never got it, would crush me?” That’s where you have placed your hope.

As a person of faith, I believe the only thing which can bear the weight of my expectations, identity, fear, shame, or sense of safety is the One who is designed to do so. Only God can bear the weight of my life. That’s what God is built for. That’s what God delights in doing.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Do you have areas where you have misplaced your hope and trust? What steps have you taken to correctly place your hope in something that was built to carry that weight?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 31st, 2015
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