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"Emergence and Anorexia"

Using Symptoms to Find Hope

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On November 25th, Mitchell wrote to me and asked

Dear Steven

I am slowly reading through your site with much interest. Emergence, it seems, is revolutionary.

I have a specific question regarding people in my life who are anorexic. When I say anorexic, I of course know that true anorexia nervosa is a mere symptom of someone who is deeply torn inside, someone who feels responsible for others' pain and who blames themself for that and punishes themself as a result by not eating, by feeling undeserving of nourishment which may in turn be a metaphor for love.

I have a deep and open-minded understanding of the causes of the pain but perhaps I am not yet seeing the real blocks as you would describe the unseen wounds

I would be most grateful if you would tell me or point me to experience you have in this area.  Personally I believe that anorexia is just another outlet of pain such as depression/anxiety/obsessions etc.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Many thanks,


On November 25th, I wrote the following in response to Mitchell's Email

Hi Mitchell,

Thank you so much for writing. And thank you for asking for my experience. Even after years of exchanges, I still find it so flattering for people to ask me for help.

As for the experiences you've asked me for, there's so much I could say, I hardly know where to begin. Let me begin with me personally.

While no one can truly know the pain of another, I can certainly sympathize with what you may be feeling. I literally watched my mother die of anorexia; choking to death in a hospital bed; 5'7" and seventy pounds.

She was a very depressed 48 at the time. I was an ambitious twenty going on a helpless ten.

And of course, as you say, I saw much of what you say you see: Anorexia, of course, has symptoms.

The thing is, Emergence treats symptoms very differently from any other discipline I know. Rather then seeing them as what is "wrong" in a person's life, symptoms are seen as the clues to the stage on which the person's injury happened.

In my mother's case, I see her "eating very small amounts of food," "very, very slowly," as the two best clues I have to understanding anorexia from the inside.

Before I speak about this though, perhaps it would help to share my newest metaphor for injury. It is perhaps the best metaphor I've ever come up with and comes from my new work in and around autism.

In the beginning of my recent article on autism, I wrote:

Let me say this right up front: My skill at presenting the theory you'll find here is still in the early stages. Even so, what I'm about to show you is the result of more than nine years of observations and explorations involving many hundreds of people.

What am I about to show you?

That Autism, OCD / OCPD, Asperger's Syndrome, and ADD are the same illness contracted at different ages; more so, that the age of onset determines what will distract the person.

Equally important too, because these ideas come from the theories and practice of Emergence, they reveal an even deeper truth. This truth is that all symptoms, including these four groups of clustered distractions, are normal life responses experienced at abnormal times and in abnormal ways.

In a sense, what I'm saying is, all symptoms are a compulsive repetition of what was once a normal, natural response to life. Thus symptoms are like the sound of a stuck phonograph record which "compulsively" replays a small section of what may in fact be beautiful music. Even the most beautiful music endlessly replayed will feel terribly annoying or worse.

All symptoms, then, including the symptoms of these four conditions, are simply a "compulsive" replaying of what was once a normal human response to life.

Now let's take this idea a step further. Given you can blamelessly explore peoples' symptoms (including the symptoms of these four conditions), what will you find?

You'll find that all symptoms reveal, not the source of illness, but rather the onset of illness; not the "cause" of illness, but rather the literal life stage on which a particular symptom, or cluster of symptoms, was once a normal, natural, healthy response to the person's life events.

What do you gain by looking at symptoms in this light?

For one thing, more focused healing interventions. For another, less suffering during the healing process. And for another, more natural compassion and blamelessness.

Here, then, are the two ideas which I will explore in this article:

[1] the connections between the four illnesses I've previously named: the connections between Autism, OCD / OCPD, Asperger's Syndrome and ADD, and

[2] that using symptoms to find the literal life stage and onset of illness can be a far more potent, compassionate, and potentially healing approach than using symptoms to project a cause.

Now, setting aside that we are talking about anorexia and not autism, the "music" metaphor still holds true. My point is, the important thing to know about symptoms is that, rather than just being something to get rid of, the symptoms themselves offer the very best way I know to see where the injury itself occurred. Given, of course, we can learn to see this kind of suffering in this light; as clues and not dysfunction; blamelessly, and with an open heart.

What happens when you see symptoms this way?

After many thousands of cases, what I've seen emerge, time and time again, are the very interventions you need most to help a person to heal with love.

For example, if I set aside the pain I feel in seeing my mother's illness, what sticks out in my visions of she and me is what frequently happened when we ate together; she often encouraged me to eat slower. Consciously encouraged me to eat slower. Of this "consciously" part, I am sure. I can even picture her eyes alive as she asks me to eat slower.

The "consciously" part, then, is what matters most here, as herein lies what I believe is the heart of anorexia.

Unlike bulimia, then, wherein the person is unconscious while hurting themselves, I believe anorexia is a condition wherein a person eats with an excess of consciousness. More over, these acts of consciously eating slowly have nothing to do with self hate but rather, they stem from some event in which the person was startled while consciously eating slowly.

This is the true "cause" of anorexia then; a startling moment of eating too consciously. Further, this moment has nothing to do whatever with any psychological motive. In fact, I believe psychological motives rarely "cause" anything except, of course, more shame and guilt when people believe they've done wrong despite their "knowing better."

What motive, then, if not a "psychological" motive?

A "natural" motive.

Translation. The person's very nature, at least on this particular life stage, has literally become visually BLocked.

Said in other words, the person has experienced some startling life event which now restricts the person's natural range of visual reactions in this particular life situation.

Afterwards then, whenever the person revisits this stage, they experience the situation with few to no options. They literally see no other way to react. In truth, their choices have literally become inaccessible to them, and in extreme cases, completely blocked.

In my mother's case, what became blocked?

Her natural reactions to food and eating.

In fact, her reactions to food and eating had become extremely restricted, so much so, in fact, that I believe she had but one life script left in which she could experience food and eating; she could eat very, very slowly, and very, very consciously.

As for her wanting to be thin, I even remember my mother trying to gain weight. Many times in fact.

I also remember her trying to force herself to eat more.

More over, I also do not remember a single time in which she told me she thought she was too fat. Not once.

As for the "punishment" you mention, yes, I saw my mother punish herself. But not for eating too much. In fact, she punished herself more for her failure to gain weight than for anything else.

This description of my mother's needs is in stark contrast to the bulimics I've worked with.

Bulimics always fear getting fat. And they always want to eat less.

Now to use my new metaphor, for most people, the "eating slowly" I've referred to ends up being, in many ways, "beautiful music." In fact, there is even a health oriented, world wide movement called "slow eating."

I, too, have found this "slow eating" to be very important to health as well. In fact, I, myself, have, over the past few years, done much work in and around discovering how slow eating affects peoples' ability to gain and lose weight.

Here, of course, I am not referring to discoveries in and around the "psychological whys" of weight gain and loss but rather to the "natural whys"; the parts of human nature which affect weight changes.

My findings?

Eating consciously dramatically changes how the body processes food, so much so, in fact, that I have found it to be the single most important factor in a healthy eating plan.

To wit, I have witnessed many cases in which people have adopted some of the emergence "conscious eating" suggestions and have lost significant amounts of weight just from doing this. Two immediately come to mind; a fourteen year old boy who lost something like thirty pounds without dieting, and a fifty something year old woman who went from two hundred fifty down to less than one seventy and still dropping.

Please know, by "conscious" eating, I am not simply referring to some simple "paying attention" to what you eat. Rather, I am referring to how consciously people taste the flavors of what they eat, as well as the temperatures and textures.

Connecting this to anorexia, I believe the single most important factor is the anorexic person's degree of consciousness during meals. In their case, though, rather than it being healthy for them, their eating slowly is a "good thing overdone."

To wit, their slow eating is the "beautiful music" of a stuck record.

So now, how to help?

God, how inadequate I feel right now. More so, allow me to admit something very personal: Although I rarely talk about it, I've promised myself to figure this out before I die; how to help those with anorexia. 

Perhaps if you wrote back and described what you personally see, we might together discover some possible interventions.

What kind of writing?

Perhaps you can write and tell me exactly what you see as the person eats. The small details: Eye contact. Talking. Speed of eating. Every detail.

Please try to leave out any psychological stuff. In fact, try to imagine you are a six year old boy watching and trying to understand the details. No psychology. Just what your eyes see.

Maybe then we can think of some loving next steps.

One more thing.

I'm so touched by what you've written that I'd like your permission to use it on my site, anonymously of course. I ask this as it might help someone else to find hope. And if not, I'll understand.

For now, though, please feel free to write as much as you wish.

And thanks again for writing and for the encouraging remarks.


On November 25th, Mitchell Wrote Back and Offered Some Pretty Graphic Details. Then On November 28th, I wrote the following in response to Mitchell's Second Email

Dear Mitchell,

First, I'm so sorry for your difficulty. I really am. Clearly, it has left you deeply troubled. And me deeply moved. And as you know, I can certainly relate.

In fact, since you last wrote, I have been unable to stop thinking about what you've written, for days now. I have also been asking myself a question over and over; Is there more than one illness in which a person stops eating?

Now, after mulling this question over for some time now, I am pretty sure the answer is, yes. At least to the point that there may be progressive illnesses involved here; separate illnesses which, in reality, are literally different illnesses, each of which startles the person through horror into the next illness.

Thus, even though I can only imagine what you've written, I can clearly picture my mother in this condition; tubes down her throat; scared and not wanting to die.

I couldn't even bear to look at her for more than seconds and could only hold her hand and choke back the tears.

As I look back now, I can sense she had not only lost the ability to eat, she had also lost the desire to fight to live as well. Certainly, she had no desire to eat at all. In fact, at this stage, eating repulsed her, this despite my knowing that for most of my life, she willing fought to get food down. And wanted "to want to eat."

What changed?

I'm not sure. However, the word "repulsed" has been leading me toward some connections between late stage anorexia and the condition some children are born with called, "Kanner's Autism." To wit, as of late, I have been working to understand Kanner's Autism. Now, I have begun to see some evidence which leads me to believe there is a connection between the two illnesses. What connection?

My recent work shows that children with Kanner's Autism have lost their ability to self-regulate even the most basic of bodily senses. In a way, "sensation" itself has become their enemy. And they want to avoid it.

Perhaps this, in a simpler form, is what happens to late stage anorexics. Perhaps they have become so physically hyper-sensitized to the eating process that they can't stand to eat. It simply overwhelms them sensation-wise and ends up repulsing them.

What if this is true though? What then?

In theory, Emergence Therapy could help the person to reclaim a normal physical sense of eating, although, of course, it is a long ways between theory and actually doing it.

On the other hand, I've witnessed many seemingly impossible things physically change in people by using the form of Emergence Therapy called "Direct Emergence," some of which I'm not sure I could even duplicate. Even so, with the theory to guide one, it is at least possible and perhaps, a place to start.

Finally, as for not posting the more personal parts of what you've written, I surely understand and will honor your request. I would however, like to post what I've written and will do so using the most sensitive of wording to make my points.

Perhaps someone will read what I've posted and will offer some as yet unseen clues as to where to look next. I, for one, would surely welcome such input.

And should you wish to write again, please do. I will only be too glad to offer whatever help I can, even if only to be supportive to a man with whom I certainly share much.

I wish you well,


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