Does the word balance make you go blah?
A client of mine felt even more strongly about it. "I've realized that I hate balance", she told me. This announcement came after she described to me how she restricts during the week and overeats on weekends. She knows it isn't ideal, but does not want to give it up.
To some, this might seem really odd.
Why would Goldilocks want the cold bowl of porridge?
Or the bowl that was too hot?
Naturally, she’d want the one that was “just right.”
But there are plenty of individuals like my client, so if you can relate, you aren't alone. I checked in with my with my friend and colleague Tamar Sullivan, MSW to hear what she had to say on this relatively common issue. As a therapist specializing in eating disorders, Tamar is someone who knows all about why people do the things they do with food. Here are Tamar's top two reasons you might hate balance:
1. Balance Feels Weird
It's not what you're used to. If extremes were normal in your childhood home, then balance is going to feel unnatural. Lessons, habits, and coping mechanisms learned in childhood, both directly and indirectly from our caregivers, role models, and peers, can impact how we think and feel about balanced behaviors.
If all the messages you received as a child communicated, say, the importance of career and monetary success over relationships and family values, it may be difficult for you to achieve a work-life balance and sustain healthy relationships without proper support. If food was chaotic in your family of origin, following consistent eating patterns might feel very foreign. Your past can shape you in ways that aren't always apparent until you try and change things!
2. Extremes Can Feel Good
It's also possible that you don't necessarily that "hate" balance; rather, you feel a pull toward an extreme behavior. Why?
Because it serves a purpose.
If you have unprocessed trauma or pain, you might be driven to cope with it by doing things that serve as a distraction from your thoughts or help you zone out entirely. Because they seem to work so well, the unbalanced behaviors are very attractive and can be hard to stop. They can be clearly problematic, such as an alcohol or video game addiction. Alternatively, they can seem like a "good" thing on the outside, such as perfectionism in school or work. However, if you are doing it because it's a need rather than a preference, if it's a way of escaping from feeling your feelings, then that's a sign there's something underneath that needs attending to.
If you have extreme behaviors around food, such as restrictive eating, binge eating, or swinging between the two, it's possible that the function of these behaviors is helping you avoid feeling pain. When extremes serve a purpose, balance doesn't seem very appealing.
Essentially, if you struggle with balance, it's more likely that you are driven towards "unbalance" rather than resisting balance. It's not so much a matter of not wanting to have balance; it's a matter of feeling safer with the extremes. The problem is that in the long-term, the extreme behaviors don't help you function better. It becomes exhausting to maintain them. Tamar explains,
"The consequences of avoiding living in balanced ways depends largely on the behavior, but generally speaking, instability usually has long-term consequences. Some of these include worsening health, poor relationships, emotional pain, and detachment from self. It is critical for someone who struggles with unstable or unbalanced behaviors to identify those consequences, often with the help of someone objective, in order to establish motivation for change. It is easier to engage in the extreme behavior than to tolerate the "discomfort" of balanced behavior, so support from friends, families, and an appropriate clinician(s) is often critical."
If you’re afraid that a balanced life will be intolerably boring, consider this: if you've managed to achieve one, it means you've managed to move beyond your past and shape your own present. It means you’ve succeeded in facing your fears and overcoming some very real struggles. It means that instead of escaping the fullness of life, you can now find a thrill in really living it.
If you and balance are not yet besties, I dare you to question why. You might end up better friends than you’d ever imagined possible.