The Boxes that Are Harming Us, & How to Break Free of Them

Early last week, on the drive home from school, my younger son shared that he’d learned about eating disorders in Health class that day.

“It’s so stupid Mom. Why do we even have to learn that stuff? I don’t get why people do those kinds of things,” he said indignantly.

He continued on, speaking of how Health class felt like a waste of his time because he wouldn’t do anything like that, and he didn’t really understand why anyone would.

I listened, taking deep breaths and doing my best not to cry.

The next morning, I taught my Wisdom of Fairy Tales class. Cinderella was the tale we discussed.

Many couldn’t understand why the step sisters would listen to their mother and cut off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper. (Read the original Grimms version of the tale if this part of the story is unfamiliar to you.)

We spoke about the many ways in which we “cut off” parts of ourselves to fit into what is not ours.

We listen to others, thinking we must follow societal rules and expectations, to the detriment of our own Soul’s thriving.

Isn’t this what eating disorders are also about?

I thought this to myself as we talked, remembering my many years of struggle with weight, self-image, and ultimately eating disorders.

A couple of nights later, my son and I were speaking on the couch before he headed off to bed. Again the topic of eating disorders came up, this time with him sharing about how studies show that fifty percent of patients with eating disorders have a history of sexual abuse.

Given the staggering statistics on violence against women, I would venture to guess that nearly any group of women in therapy or treatment for disorders has that kind of high percentage of abuse in their background.

I looked at my son and said, “That wasn’t the case for me.”

He looked back, confused, and said, “What do you mean?”

I told him that I had struggled with eating disorders in college. I reminded him of our conversation earlier in the week, and his wondering why he “needed to know this stuff” from Health class.

When I was in college, it was others who knew about the dangers of eating disorders that probably saved me from going down a very damaging path.

Upon suspecting that I was wrestling with eating disorders, my two roommates went to the library and got books about the damage that’s done to the body through binging, purging and/or starving oneself.

One night when I returned to my dorm room, they staged an intervention.

They sat me down and told me they needed to speak to me about something important. Then they proceeded to share with me what they’d learned, and how concerned they were that I was doing these things to myself.

I cried, ashamed of what I was doing. They comforted me and assured me that they were there for me, and that they would help me.

At the time, while I’d been struggling with weight and body image for some time, thankfully I’d not gone so far down the path that I couldn’t stop the destructive behavior like so many do. My roommates ultimately scared me enough to stop what I was doing…mostly.

It took me a couple more years to fully stop, but I never forgot what they did for me.

I told my son that this is why it’s important for everyone to learn about these things. Whether we would do it or not is irrelevant. What matters is that people are out there hurting enough to hurt themselves, often while not fully realizing that’s what they’re doing.

When we know how to see the signs of harmful behaviors, and gently show our support, we can be a guiding light in the darkness for others in their suffering and ignorance.

My son was in a “box” thinking from his own perspective and not understanding how learning something seemingly irrelevant to him could benefit another in the future.

I was in a “box” thinking I had to measure up to outer expectations to the detriment of my own well being.

Cinderella’s step sisters were in a “box” believing they must listen to outer authority to be something they’re not.

The boxes we put ourselves in are harming us.

The more we remain stuck in one way of seeing the world, the more we close ourselves off to healing, compassion, acceptance and love.

We wonder why others don’t see as we do, and even condemn them for seeing differently.

We feel stuck in the hamster wheel of life and believe there’s no way out.

We seek guidance from everyone and everything outside of ourselves, not realizing that we have inner wisdom longing to be awakened and received as a guide for our lives.

Years after college, even while I was no longer harming myself through binging, purging or starvation, I joined a group of women healing from eating disorders and struggling with body image.

Connecting with others in a shared struggle is such a powerful tool for healing.

We need each other. We need to see beyond the boxes we put ourselves in.

How do we escape the boxes?

Recognize the Box

First, we need to know there is a box that we’re in. None of us are exempt from this. We can only see what we can see, and therefore we all have boxes we’re stuck in, some more harmful than others. Once we know and honor that there’s so much we don’t know, we begin to open the box and see that there’s more beyond its confines.

Open the Box

Once we see that we’ve been stuck in a box, we need to have the courage to open it. This usually isn’t easy. The box is familiar, and what’s familiar feels safe, even if it’s actually hurting us. We can begin with the willingness to open it, and look around to see who or what might be there to offer support as we do. This isn’t like “ripping off the bandaid” to get it over with. It’s often a long process requiring compassion and perseverance.

Explore with Cautious Curiosity

Once we’re willing to open up and see that there are other ways of existing, we can begin to align with others who can help us to see these new ways while still feeling safe. For me, this was the women’s group. I began by reading a book, then going to a workshop, and ultimately joining a group. I had to dip my toe in and explore with curiosity and a willingness to experience life beyond the box.

Practice

Once we find new ways of living that are more aligned with who we really are and long to become, then it’s about practice. I had to actually practice the tools I was taught in the books, workshops and groups. One day at a time, I learned to love myself more, see myself in new ways, and believe there was life beyond my box, until I was finally living without the box.

Keep Noticing

Inevitably, when we escape one box, we notice other boxes we’ve been living in. Perhaps in finding a sense of self-worth and self-love, you start to see that the relationship, job, town or any other “container” you’ve been living in isn’t support you to live your truest potential. Stay gentle with yourself. Honor the process of one step at a time, slowly noticing, opening, exploring and practicing new ways of being that feel more aligned.

My son opened up that evening I shared my experience. He realized that he was harshly judging something as “stupid” without understanding what makes someone turn to such behaviors. I realized in our conversation how many boxes I’ve opened up and removed from my life since that day of the intervention from my roommates over 30 years ago.

When we see the boxes and begin to move beyond them, we expand beyond the stress, addictions, and damaging behaviors that are slowly harming and sometimes even killing us.

Stepping out of our boxes is not easy, and it requires tremendous courage, and likely even some support from others who understand and have awakened their own inner wisdom via their box openings.

Know that you are so much more than the box, and there is so much more beyond the box longing to share gifts, beauty and creativity with you, and to receive the best of your gifts, beauty and creativity.

You’re not alone. Please reach out and let’s see which of your boxes might be ready for opening.

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