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Pavel Somov, Ph.D.

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Build Your "Self" First Before You Argue With It

Posted: 04/02/10 12:33 PM ET

If you a reader of mine, you've heard me say that "not all craving control strategies are created equal." I still stand by that. But here's a related thought. The less potent strategies (such as self-talk) can be leveraged in utility as your sense of self crystallizes in time.

Here's what I mean. Some of us have not yet developed a particularly firm sense of self: the self-structure is a little fuzzy, so to say, not enough informational-conceptual ego. If you are getting easily flooded with emotions, if you happen to recognize yourself in the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnostic criteria, such craving control strategies as self-talk are a bit premature. To put it bluntly, you just don't have a firm enough self to argue with yourself (because that's what self-talk is, a kind of inner dialogue, a tug-of-war between the wise mind and the not-so-wise mind). Self-talk is a bit too destabilizing, defragmenting for a self that is not neurotic enough to argue with itself.

If you are recognizing yourself in this, then mindfulness-based craving control is a better option. Mindfulness-based craving control allows you to build the very self that is required for self-talk. Say, you are craving ice-cream. Instead of arguing with yourself, you simply notice the sensation and just as you notice the sensation, you inadvertently notice yourself noticing it. This is the process of differentiation, or identity-building, or structure-building. When you notice yourself being separate from your emotions (and craving is just a state of desire), you are actually actively engaging in the process of self-construction. You are building a firmer, more conceptual sense of self.

With this in mind, mindfulness-based craving control is a form of self-work, a process that firms up your sense of self. So, by witnessing a craving come and go, you are also getting to see the self that triumphantly remains intact. As this sense of self firms up in time, self-talk craving control strategy becomes a plausible self-regulation option. But not until...

In sum: self is a prerequisite for self-talk craving control. So, build your (neurotic) self (ego) first before you start arguing with it, and certainly before you try to transcend it.

Resources:

Mindful Eating Tracker

Craving Control Training