Rachel Watson, the girl on the train in Paula Hawkins’ searing bestseller published two years ago, is a woman living on the precipice of her own sanity. She stares into the black abyss of total emotional loss on an almost daily basis.
In the novel, Rachel is a functioning alcoholic divorcee who is kept from being engulfed by the hollowness of her own existence only through an irrational preoccupation with the lives of a couple whose house her train passes every day on its way into London.
It is this thread alone that barely tethers her to the here and now and the reality of who she is and what she stands for.
‘I want to drag knives over my skin, just to feel something other than shame,’ she says. ‘But I’m not even brave enough for that.’
Shame is a powerful force and, of course, it’s not just addiction that fuels it.
My work brings me into contact with a great many people – mainly women, it has to be said – who are battling with weight issues and who have tried every fad diet known to man before finally recognising they need help to achieve their goals.
It’s easy to dismiss failure to control weight as the result of a fundamental shortfall in personal willpower, to assume that ‘if they really wanted to do it, they would’. But that’s a very alpha male or alpha female outlook. And for the record, macho posturing rarely translates into personal achievement.
Most of the time, the efforts by these women to lose weight has been derailed not by a lack of willpower but by something much more emotionally intrinsic. For a great many women (and men, actually) there is a subconscious block to success that is far more powerful than our own determination when it comes to dealing with our eating behaviours.
In many cases where the achievement falls short of the intention, the subconscious has ‘disallowed’ success because the subconscious has determined that maintaining the unwanted weight has a definite purpose. And unless that reason is addressed, the protection the weight offers will remain.
The new diet will be tolerated for a week, or maybe two, but ultimately their subconscious will have its way. And so the cycle continues on its destructive way.
Of course, many clients do lose weight and it would be disingenuous to suggest that all lost battles with weight are down to some ingrained and unrecognised cause.
But there is a group of women who find it particularly hard and when we understand what they have experienced we also understand why that’s the case.
For women who have been the victims of sexual abuse, trafficking and rape, the terrible ordeals they have suffered present a complete game changer for the victim because with sexual abuse, shame comes as standard.
Nor do I make that statement lightly. Toxic shame is the very manifestation of hopelessness and despair, something so fundamentally abhorrent that it becomes an immediate life changer.
The authentic self is lost entirely and replaced instead with a fragmented alter ego with a wholly changed moral code that seeks and finds solace in anything at all that provides even a moment’s reprieve from pain.
Typically, these refuges take the form of food, sugar, drugs, alcohol and/or abusive, addictive relationships.
Shame is invisible and invidious, holding you back because most of the time you simply don’t know it’s there. And when shame is present you won’t make choices that honour you. Shame is not a motivator; its very nature is destruction.
Turning to food and sugar to relieve uncomfortable and unwanted feelings is easy, since it is so readily available. But overeating is a momentary reprieve, whilst shame remains, unchallenged and unnoticed.
Your subconscious will keep ‘shame’s soother’ program fully operative, until it receives new instructions.
Healing from trauma is a process that requires time – the subconscious needs to feel assured that it is safe. But trauma can be healed and shame is definitely not a life sentence. Havening – a psychosensory therapy – and hypnotherapy for weight loss can help to address the issues that have locked your subconscious and help you to feel peace and joy and reclaim your core worth.
Sandy Robson is a hypnotherapist specialising in Weight Loss, Trauma & Self Esteem at Zoe Clews & Associates