03/31/2011 07:16 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Wisdom of Viewing Coping Mechanisms as Warning Signs

As I have shared before, I've maintained a 200-pound weight loss for over a decade. Self-awareness of my patterns has been one of the most important tools I have used to keep me slim. When I find myself engaging in chaotic eating, I start to free-form write daily in an attempt to discover what is eating me. I usually uncover a new level or layer of denial that I wasn't conscious of or hadn't wanted to face before and which often was somehow undermining my sense of self-respect.

Self-respect is a really interesting thing. Respect comes from holding something in high regard. So while I may have moved beyond the need for everyone else's approval for the things I do, having my own respect is important. So what gets in the way?

All of us have core issues that we get to struggle with throughout our lives and some of us use self-destructive coping mechanisms in our struggle. Mine is/was binge eating. When I am eating inappropriately I now take it as a clue -- a message from my angel at the gate -- that I am not congruent with myself. By that I mean that what I am feeling, what I am telling myself and the way I am behaving -- essentially, what is going on with me -- are somehow at odds with one another. There's a disturbance going on somewhere inside me, but I'm telling myself it's OK and then behaving as if it's OK or as if nothing out of line is really going on.

What I'm really doing is pretending it's OK. After all, it should be OK and I really want it to be OK, so it must be OK. This little dance occurs when my ego has a real, vested interest in the outcome. There's that master addiction we call control at work again. If it's not what I want, at least I can pretend it is. And oh how I don't want to see or feel at that particular moment the truth of what I really do see, or feel, or think.

But why? Among other things, the ego is responsible for self-preservation, and it takes that particular job very seriously. And at their very heart, core issues and self-preservation are quite closely linked. Although the exact triggers are sometimes extremely difficult to identify, one thing is for certain: when the ego comes into conflict with reality, it is much more likely to put up a fight than to give in. The more basic the issue, the bigger the fight. The larger a stake you think you have in the outcome, the more denial. The more emotional the issue, the easier it is to play "Let's Pretend."

I've written a lot in my blogs about the importance of self-loving in helping me to first realize what is going on in these situations and then in being able to do something about it. I've reached the point of self-awareness where my coping mechanisms no longer work. By that I mean they no longer numb the anxiety or provide the protective armor. What they have morphed into is a kind of warning mechanism that alerts me to the underlying problem. If I continue to eat, my self-respect takes a real hit. If I get it under control and begin to deal with what is really troubling me, it rises back up.

As I become more and more aware of how this process works, I find that I spend much less time fooling myself with the coping mechanism and more time loving myself by working on the underlying issues and supporting my true me. This has become far more important than propping up the imposter who used to rule the roost and every once in a while still comes out to play.

I highly recommend the process. Instead of using your coping mechanisms to mask what's going on underneath, why not use them as an early warning system that something is going on and begin to take a look under the hood? I think you'll find that by doing so you will not only recognize the destructive behavior earlier, but also be able to begin the healing sooner. As a result, you will find yourself back in alignment, feel better about yourself and return to being that beacon of light you were always meant to be.