I’ve heard over the years that people with eating disorders commonly tend to have a very negative mindset. In particular, I’ve heard about Peggy Claude-Pierre’s hypothesis that Confirmed Negativity Condition (CNC) is a condition that all sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa also have. It is not limited to Anorexia, it also occurs in depression, agoraphobia, panic disorder, OCD, somatic disorders to name a few.
To me that makes sense, given that all these illnesses are characterised by negativity, self-blaming, anxiety, etc.
CNC is used to explain the constant voice or voices in the mind that we have, that one that interprets everything negatively, that tells us how awful we are, or coerces us into harming ourselves in some way. It’s sole reason, Claude-Pierre said, was to destroy us.
Bargaining – do you do that? I do. Feeling unworthy? Yup. Punishing myself? Been there, done that, always have in some way. All of these, the author says, also are part of CNC.
I don’t know what my opinion of CNC really is yet. I would have to read a lot more about it first. I did read The Secret Language of Eating Disorders back in the late ’90s, sadly I threw the book away because I felt guilty for having read it. A lot of what was said hit home hard for me – and yet, at that stage, I was heavily in denial about having anorexia. I also felt guilty because of how lovely the sufferers were described as, and I didn’t feel lovely – so I had to destroy this book. I wish I hadn’t done that, because I can’t find a copy any more.
I strongly relate to things like this:
“Anorexic-minded children will want to create perfection and, given that beauty and accomplishment are highly valued, they are often attracted to such things as gymnastics and modeling. Yet the drive for perfection is not so much for personal gratification, but that they want to improve the world, or think there will be less pain. They take on the responsibilities of the world, without understanding that they cannot manage it. They tend to think that they should handle everything, so the condition is essentially a breakdown from overburdening themselves. Such a distorted perception probably starts at a very early age, but by the time symptoms appear the victims can no longer deal with their perceived inadequacy, and relinquish the right to live” (source)
And I say “YES, YES, YES!” to this:
“The suffering that they go through is something that nobody can relate to. Anorexics worry about everyone else – not themselves – and when they realize that they can’t fix everything, then they begin to feel worthless. That negative self-image is so powerful that victims simply stop eating. These unusually sensitive people realize that they cannot solve the world’s problems and collapse into self-loathing. Anorexia is really an unconscious attempt at suicide because the victims don’t believe that they deserve to live. There is a negative mind-set that convinces them that they have to die. It is a complex and devious, deep mind-set. The victim’s mind is able to construct such negativity against themselves so that the patient actually has a civil war going on in their head” (source)
This was so true for me, and still is to some extent. It could have been written about me.
But Claude-Pierre goes on to say that all anorexics are using the eating disorder as a slow form of suicide:
“In the most simple terms, Claude-Pierre believes that eating disorders stem from an extreme ‘negative mind-set,’ which may be present even at birth. Anorexics and bulimics, she says, want to make everything right. When they realize they cannot, they turn their sense of worthlessness inward in an unconscious attempt at suicide. ‘Anorexia isn’t about thinness,’ says Claude-Pierre. ‘It’s about death. Victims starve themselves in order to disappear.’ But anorexia and bulimia can be completely reversed, she believes…” . A former professional ballet dancer who “had been around cases of anorexia and bulimia for years,” renders the self-killing aspect of anorexia as rendered by Claude-Pierre in a lecture she had attended:
She spoke about the helplessness and hopelessness that people suffering from anorexia and bulimia face every day. Most of them enter one treatment program after another, yet are still not cured of their eating disorder. Peggy described how she discovered that it is not the desire to lose weight, but the desire to literally not BE, that causes someone to starve themselves of food. (source)
This was totally true for me. I lack a sense of self worth – food is symbolic of that for me, as well as being something that I have a screwed up relationship with. I did not ever engage in my eating disorder with the conscious decision to die – at least not initially. But as the years passed, I realised that was actually my intention – to die. I hated myself, and I couldn’t see a life in which I would ever be free of the disorder, ever be at peace in myself, and I was SO tired. I had nothing left to give or fight with.
And I didn’t have the courage to live.
But I didn’t have the courage to kill myself, either. So I chose limbo – the not living, not dead state that my eating disorder kept me in.
I also believe that choosing neither to live, nor die, was me fighting it in a roundabout way – there is such a deep self-loathing and sense of ‘not good enough, not worthy to pollute this earth with my self’ – there was always this constant, unspoken but nevertheless STRONG drive to self-destruct – to wipe myself off the very face of the earth. Like a cockroach being stomped on.
I do believe Claude-Pierre makes a heck of a lot of sense with what she says about the CNC and why we think the way we do, blaming ourselves, hating ourselves, catastrophising… but at the same time, I also think she could just be grouping together a bunch of symptoms common to people with eating disorders and giving them her own name. Pretty much all these symptoms are acknowledged already by the psychiatric field – not grouped together into a condition all on their own as CNC does – but then again – the truth is, every single person with an eating disorder is so different, I find myself doubting that CNC could actually be true for every single one of us with an eating disorder.
That’s why I’d like to hear YOUR opinions. Do you fully relate to CNC, or not at all? Or a bit? And have you ever read the book “The Secret Language of Eating Disorders”?