Monday, August 2, 2010


This morning I was doing some preparation for work later in the day and tomorrow and I was thinking about the tension associated with the task that needed to be done. I always feel the burden of the pressure to accomplish the work before the appointed time and complete the work well in advance. When the preparation is done, I feel satisfied and I'm relieved when the tension dissipates.

I was thinking about my tendency to grow more tense than my husband when there is preparation or work to be completed and how I can't really relax and settle into my routine work or enjoy myself as long as the need to be prepared is hanging over my head. Many people procrastinate and are unfettered by the need to prepare or accomplish certain tasks lurking in the background. For me, it almost spoils my ability to enjoy the moments that come before and it certainly interferes with relaxation.

This tendency to act when there is this sense of tension that something needs to be done has served me quite well throughout much of my life. It encouraged good study habits in school. It means my housework rarely remains undone. It ensures that I am ready early and am never late barring some unforeseen and uncontrollable situation. It helps me regularly prepare healthy food and make sure it is always on hand. This tension helps me overcome inertia and consistently accomplish tasks that many would put off.

This sense of tension is something which used to be much stronger for me in the past. I've actively made an effort to mellow out about such things, but not with complete success. I have wanted to blunt it to some extent because this sense of immediacy does not always serve me well. When there is a problem, I want it resolved. I want to act now to make the tension go away, and sometimes there is nothing I can do to change the circumstances. I just need to be patient. This tension also causes me to push myself sometimes when I really should relax. I can be exhausted, but still force myself to do what is necessary because of this coiled spring in me that will not release its energy and take the pressure off until I perform the tasks.

This great sense of urgency about everything and the feeling that all things had to be handled immediately may be a core character trait of mine. It could be something wired into my code that was inevitable, but I'm not certain of that. The fact that I have settled down a lot after years with an exceptionally calm and mellow husband would seem to show that it is something I was role-modeled rather than something which is in my genes. At the very least, it is a tendency that can be sharpened or blunted by environmental circumstances.

I grew up with a mother who wanted what she wanted yesterday, if not sooner. She was very demanding and quick to emotional outbursts and verbal abuse any time the smallest thing didn't go her way. I'm sure that she meant no harm and was lacking the self-awareness to even realize what she was doing, but I'm also certain that she fueled this tension in me. I may have inherited a desire for immediacy and resolution from her in a quantity that was equivalent to a small sapling, but she ensured that it grew into a Sequoia-size tree in my character. Her punishing responses when things were not done ensured that I would feel stress about not getting those things accomplished as quickly as possible.

I was thinking about this today and it occurred to me that this need to act on this tension may have been something which fed into my issues with food. Instead of having patience when I was hungry, it was just another form of internal tension to be acted upon so that I could move on. The discomfort of hunger can be quite acute and stressful. I was so accustomed to acting to purge tension immediately that I can see a character parallel between my need to get work done and get that physical discomfort I feel from a pending task out of my body and the need to eat when hungry to get the uncomfortable feeling out of me.

In the case of food, it was just another need, another pull, another source of stress and tension that I wanted to just be gone. Every time I felt a little hungry, I ate. I did this just as every time I had a little job to do, I did it. In years past, I often felt I was not "ready" to deal with dieting or losing weight, and I think this aspect is a huge part of that though I didn't realize it at the time. Not eating when I was hungry would mean living with that tension everyday, multiple times a day and not acting on it. I couldn't do it when my life was too stressful otherwise. I simply did not have the emotional strength to endure it. I couldn't do it, but only now do I understand why.

In gaining this understanding, I think I have insight to work with the core issue. It isn't the food. It's this need to act on the tension. Learning to endure internal tension and not act on it will have the effect of making me eat less overall as I won't eat when marginally hungry. Doing hunger conditioning has "repaired" this to some extent, but understanding the root will help ensure that it doesn't get re-broken.

This sort of intolerance of tension or stress is something which I think I didn't really recognize for what it was until today when I was relieved to get my work out of the way and be able to do other things. In the past, I saw this behavior mainly as a positive thing because of the way it propelled me to get things done. Now, I think it may have had a negative side where it has propelled me to also overeat. It's by no means the entire puzzle of my disordered relationship with food, but it is another missing piece that I have found.


Mary said...

This is a really thoughtful, interesting post. I applaud your patience in spending the time necessary to begin to understand your behaviors and motivation!

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Mary. I really appreciate that you took the time to say that. :-)

NewMe said...

Do you think there might be a bit of female perfectionism mixed in there?

I too need to get things done yesterday. I thought it had to do with the nature of my work (I work under enormous pressure and have to produce my work instantaneously) but after much thought (and comparison to the men around me), I think a lot of the tension/pressure is related to how women are held to and hold themselves to a much higher standard than men.

I wrote a blog last year about perfectionism vs. commitment in the weight loss world that might interest you (

Just a thought to add to the mix.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, NewMe, and thank you for commenting.

I don't know if this is about female perfectionism because no one else in my family is like this. My mother wants everything done yesterday, but she doesn't do it herself. She wants you to obey her commands - it's more of her impatient, pretty much juvenile nature. She is demanding, but very lazy.

I'm the only one who is like this among the three females in my family. My sister is the queen of tuning people out. This is how she cope with my mother. I got very neurotic. My sister is also morbidly obese though, so we both overeat.

I can't say is this is female perfectionism mainly because that wasn't role-modeled to be by my family. It would have to be a wider societal influence, but I wasn't really that exposed to such messages either through media or social interactions. I think it's just my nature and my mother's nurture, though I absolutely agree that this is an issue with many women. Thanks for the link. I'm going to check it out!