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Cracking open emotional wounds to heal your relationship with food

by Tansy Boggon

I wrote this blog on how events can open up emotional wounds and lead to emotional eating when we first went into COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand in 2020. It is still relevant.

What is an emotional wound?

An emotional wound is the mental or psychological pain—or psychological ‘scar’—that lasts weeks, months or even years after a negative or traumatising experience or set of experiences.

Opening up emotional wounds: New Zealand COVID-19 Lockdown, March 25 2022

Today, I had my first morning walk in the streets surrounding our home since the lockdown was announced here in New Zealand.

Our prime minister has informed us that walking is allowed during isolation. However, we are to keep our distance from each other. We need to stay at least two metres away and not chat or congregate when outdoors.

On my morning walk, I walked past strangers I would typically smile and interact with. Yet, instead, they stepped off the footpath to give me a wide birth.

This brought back memories of my early primary school years. I was new to a small school of only fifty students, many whose parents had attended the same primary school.

Emotional ‘Cracks’

The kids at school used to say I had ‘Tansy germs’. They would play games that were about not catching ‘Tansy germs’.

For example, if I sat on a bench to eat my lunch, the other kids would jump up so they wouldn’t be ‘contaminated.’

Another game they played was in the courtyard, where there were slabs of concrete. The game was to not stand on the same concrete slab as me. It involved jumping on a crack or an adjoining slab to avoid my ‘germs’.

There were many other similar games. That school year was probably the toughest and most isolating of my life.

Through this, I learnt to be independent and do my own thing – set my own projects and challenges – which continue to serve me to this day.

However, on my walk, I realised there was still a wound there – a small crack – which I felt through the emotions that arose within me as I passed people on my walk.

This experience made me think of all the emotional ‘cracks’ that may be opening for people all around the world as we go through this time of uncertainty, anxiety and stress.

Emotional ‘cracks’ may open around fears. Fears for our health, losing loved ones, financial insecurity, job uncertainty, or isolation and loneliness.

I wanted to remind us that it is okay to feel the emotions we do right now. And that there may be more to your feelings than the current circumstances.

How emotional wounds show up

Emotional wounds can manifest in a variety of ways. They may cause both physical and emotional symptoms such as sadness and depression, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger, headaches or fatigue.

Sometimes, we may not realise the reason for our mood or physical symptoms is emotional wounds. I know this was the case for me when my husband and I came to terms with our childlessness.

For a good year or so, I was fatigued. At the time, I didn’t realise it was the grief of not having children and feeling lost as to what was next.

I share our experience of childlessness in my blogs and fictionalise our experience in my novel, The Tears of a Woman.

Is it safe to ‘open’ emotional wounds?

Only you can know how traumatic it may be to investigate old wounds. It may be prudent to reflect on less traumatic events first or enlist the support of a suitably trained therapist.

Many of us have experienced micro-traumas, like what I discuss in this blog.

Reflecting on these can help us explore our beliefs or responses to specific people or in certain situations.

If past events or memories cause you to feel unmotivated, lonely or emotional, you may be able to work through them by journaling or talking with a friend. However, if these wounds have led to self-harm, disordered eating or depression in the past, seek professional support. It may be too distressing to open up these wounds on your own.

How to heal emotional wounds

First and foremost, be easy on yourself. Give yourself space for the emotions to arise without pressure to achieve or change anything. Notice the emotions that arise and the subsequent behaviours.

Some things that may help in healing emotional wounds are:

  • practising self-care such as gentle movement and relaxation
  • partaking in activities that bring you joy and into a state of flow – that is, help you get out of your head
  • journalling your feelings and associated memories
  • developing healthy coping mechanisms
  • talking with a trusted friend
  • talking with a therapist or counsellor
  • joining a support group

Do you struggle with emotional eating?

As a nutritionist, my passion is to help people break free of emotional eating and embrace a mindful and joyful approach to eating.

If you struggle with emotional eating, know that it is not the food or even you that is the problem.

You may find this blog on emotional eating helpful. In my book Joyful Eating: How to Break Free of Diets and Make Peace with Food, I have a chapter on the connection between food and mood. You can also download the self-reflection activities here.

Joyful Eating Book and Workbook

FREE DOWNLOAD: Joyful Eating Companion Workbook

explore your relationship with food and your body, and integrate the Joyful Eating Principles through self-reflection

The Companion Workbook contains the self-reflection activities that are shared in the book Joyful Eating: How to Break Free of Diets and Make Peace with Your Body.

Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or counsellor. I only share here how past trauma and grief show up for me and how emotional wounds can impact our relationship with our bodies and food. I believe that recognising these ‘wounds’ and seeking support or working on them, especially how they impact our beliefs and behaviours, is important in forming a healthy relationship with our bodies and food.

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