The Swing Effect: Why we jump between extremes

The Swing Effect: Why we jump between extremes

There is a plan. The plan is to juice fast for a week and then go raw vegan over night. The result shall be a beautiful body, good self-esteem, increased energy levels and infinite love and glory.

The first three days of her fast Laura feels amazing, but then the headaches start and she starts experiencing cravings more and more frequently. She pushes through the 7 day juice fast and on the following day she thinks to herself “it’s not that bad if I eat some hummus, that’s quite healthy, and also vegan”. The next thing she knows, she has ordered a pizza and Ben & Jerry’s and is bingeing on it with the bliss of a heroin addict.

Needless to say, when she’s done, she immediately feels immense remorse and disgust, a deep level of self-hate. She swears that she will never do this again, and she punishes herself by fasting the next day.

This is what I call the Swing Effect. We swing from one extreme to the other. We go hard towards our goals and ideals with full power and then we plunge into a hole of despair and self loathing.

We tend to be very hard on ourselves in the moments of fall back. We feel disappointment and disgust towards ourselves, not understanding what it is that draws us to act out. The purpose of this article then, is to help you understand what’s going on when this happens, so as to develop compassion towards yourself and deeper levels of intimacy..

The Swing Effect: Why we jump between extremes
An inner child throwing a tantrum in our adult life might look like downing 3 liters of ice cream or going all out on sex, drugs & rock’n roll for an extended weekend.

The Internal War

The answer to why this happens is quite simple, but the implications are profound. The thing is, we are all multiple personalities. If you consciously want something and are committed to it, why would you do anything else or deviate from that at all?

Because you, just like me and everybody else, are a collection of different personalities, all with unique needs, desires and beliefs. Usually we are more identified with specific personalities, while others are more suppressed.

In Laura’s case, she is identified with the part of her psyche that has a desire to change and has the drive to do what it takes. This part we can call her internal “manager”, whose job is to keep her behavior in line, and to make sure she achieves the goals that it believes guarantee her connection and love in the long term.

The reason why Laura has been eating unhealthy in the past is that she compensates for the lack of intimacy in her life. She also uses food to suppress feelings of guilt and shame that come up in relation to not wanting to spend time with her family. Food, in fact, is the only way that she can feel relief in her moments of guilt and isolation.

The part of her psyche that makes her binge is her internal “Protector”, who jumps to the steering wheel whenever unwanted emotions surface or when there is even a potential of that happening. The Protector is actually protecting Laura’s vulnerable child self, who still feels the pain of these emotions and feels incapable of processing them on her own. 

On the other hand, the Manager thinks that Laura needs to lose weight in order to ever find a partner, and will criticize her heavily every time she eats something it considers unhealthy. Now we have set up the stage for the perfect tug of war, which will create the Swing Effect.

These two parts within Laura are in a conflict, an internal war. One is desperate to create lifestyle changes in order to attract a partner, close friends and to feel good about herself. The other one is purely interested in keeping the emotions of pain and guilt tucked away. Due to their differing objectives, the two parts seem to be in constant needs conflict.

Not understanding what is happening inside of herself, Laura fully identifies with the Manager part and tries to push the Protector away by willing herself into healthy diets, by punishing herself for bad behavior and by criticizing herself when she slips.

The issue is that you cannot sustainably push a part away and simply hope it ceases to exist. The more we push parts of ourselves away, the more the pressure builds up and things become more and more unstable, ready to explode.

When we try to eradicate Protector parts, they will usually become stronger and take even more drastic measures to protect the inner child. Because we are not cooperating with them, they will do whatever it takes to keep us Protected, whether the rest of our psyche agrees or not. This causes the uncontrollable binding to happen after periods to restrictive eating.

The Swing Effect: Why we jump between extremes
Your protector part ready to charge right at you. Photo by Frank Busch.

When coping mechanisms are being removed (in this case eating), emotions start to surface and if we do not address these emotions (or the inner child) directly, the Protector has no other option but to kick in.

In some cases the Protector does not allow us to feel ourselves at all, and keeps us completely dissociated from our bodies. In this case ANYTHING that brings up emotions or even body sensations causes us to turn to food or whatever other coping mechanisms we have.

We cannot take away our only coping mechanism and provide nothing in return, and still expect long term results. In fact, it can even be more self-loving to moderate emotions with food when other tools are not available. Pushing through with pure will power, bulldozing every part that desires comfort and warmth is not self-loving. This simply causes us to suppress these parts further into the subconscious, where they will start acting out in different ways.

The Way of Compassionate Curiosity

It is essential then that instead of punishing ourselves for slipping and for falling into “bad” food choices, that we start listening to the part of ourselves that wants those foods, such as the Protector.

Talking to our internal parts creates compassion and understanding towards ourselves and we can start to address the root cause of our “bad” habits, which always leads to more sustainable results than superficial fixes do. The most important thing is to approach these parts with pure curiosity and without judgment.

To start a dialogue with your internal parts you can try answering the following questions related to foods, simply because this is almost a universal topic for human beings. However, you can also modify the questions to address any habit or behavior in your life that you wish to change (such as smoking, watching TV, yelling at your partner, or using social media.)

  • What do I get out of eating specific (unhealthy) foods? (Protector)

  • What bad thing would happen if I do not get to eat these foods? (Protector)

  • What it is that I am feeling when the craving hits that I don’t want to feel? (Inner Child)

  • What positive feeling do I experience after eating specific (unhealthy) foods? (Inner Child)

  • What negative feeling do I experience after eating something unhealthy? (Manager)

  • What do I tell myself after eating something unhealthy? (Manager)

  • Why is it so bad to eat these unhealthy foods? (Manager)

  • Why exactly do I want to eat healthy? What do I believe will change in my life? (Manager)

I suggest that you don’t settle with the first answer, but try to dig deeper. You may ask further questions such as “And why is it a bad thing to feel that?” or “Can you specify what [relaxed] feels like?”.

So what does a resolution look like? First of all, you will start developing intimacy with yourself and become familiar with the unique needs and desires of your various parts. For instance, you might discover that your inner child is deeply lonely or unhappy in your current relationship, or that she needs less stress and more time for creativity. The idea is then to find ways to meet the needs of the different parts in a healthy way that does not compromise the needs of other parts.

You may find out that their needs are not conflicting after all, that only their means of fulfilling those needs are in conflict. In the case of Laura, what her inner child actually wants is to have safe and intimate relationships so that she doesn’t have to feel isolated, which is actually exactly what the Manager is trying to accomplish as well!

The Swing Effect: Why we jump between extremes
The goal is to get your parts moving together in the same direction. Photo by Annie Spratt.

When moving towards a healthier lifestyle it is so very important to move at a pace where you can take all the parts on board. Be gentle and listen to your feelings as these are simply parts showing up. 

For example if your goal is to go fully raw vegan, you can switch to primarily raw and still allow yourself to eat some occational cooked meals any guilt. It’s much better to listen to your parts’ needs and to give yourself the comfort you desire when you still have the control over it, instead of going full on pizza and Twizzlers. If you push through regardless of conflicting needs, you are much more likely to swing to the other extreme at some point.

If you are not emotionally and vibrationally at the level yet where you can sustain your ideal diet (such as raw vegan) from a place of self-love, let yourself off the hook sometimes with healthy vegan meals or treats and don’t feel guilty about it. Just eat it and then get over it as Dr Morse says. The self-criticism and hate is much more damaging to us than any unhealthy food, and when binding happens and we feel lousy about ourselves, we take in both the physical and the emotional toxicity.

Listen to what your body wants and what feels the most self-loving. If you really desire something comforting, choose a ( relatively) healthy vegan option and know that this is a self-loving choice. Bless the food and give thanks for it and enjoy how it feels warm and comforting. This way you also keep the vibration of the food high and its effect on your body will be benevolent.

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