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"Call to Differentiate" Findings and Discussion

rebecca's research May 11, 2000


The importance of this magnet emerged strongly from my experience at the retreat. It began with the name “individuality,” as I saw the need for individuality as central to the process of healing the relationship with body. Included in the notion of individuality for women was a reverence for diversity. As I worked with the data, the material that attracted to this lens was somewhat varied: individuality, the seduction of following trends, the tensions of growth, and examples of resolution of growth experiences. This led me to see the core of this magnet as the process of growth itself, for which I have chosen the term “differentiation.” As it is used here, differentiation is synonymous with individuation and describes the process of growing more completely into one’s uniqueness and complexity through relationships. I use the terms “process of growth” and “differentiation” interchangeably, and discuss differentiation in greater detail in the discussion section of this magnet. Phrases that capture my felt experience of this magnet include: “my body, my science experiment”; tolerance; holding the tension between uniqueness/personal truth and belonging/urge to merge; courage to step off the bandwagon; specific/universal; and “What does my unique body find nurturing, energizing, relaxing, enlivening, cleansing, strengthening, and nourishing?” The images I associate with this magnet are rubberband, spiral, and lettering with lots of space in each stroke of the font. The energetic feeling in my body is concentrated in the 2nd chakra with energy moving out in all directions.


I begin these findings with a few pieces addressing individuality, or rather, the lack of it. The unconscious act of conforming to or adopting behaviors of a group without regard for one’s individuality is what I term "jumping on the bandwagon. ” In many of the stories, the co-researchers describe the pull to belong to their group of choice by conforming to externally-defined standards which, in some cases, starkly contradict their intrinsic preferences and strengths. In the following piece Katrina marks both the beginning of assessing herself in relation to other girls and the pull to conform to society’s standard of thinness.

Katrina: Right around that time is when other girls at school were also starting to develop and I remember starting to do the comparison, like I wanted to be just like Tracy Knudsen. I remember Tracey Knudsen had braces and had to wear a headgear to school and I'm sure, like, had trauma around that and it didn't matter. She was skinny and that's what I wanted. I just wanted to be skinny like her. That was more important than anything else.

Below, Katrina again describes the influence of others in her life, this time it is the gay bandwagon she is compelled to join. She is searching for community to support and empower her emerging sense of self as she grows into womanhood. Driven by her desire for acceptance, she’s exploring new behaviors and experimenting with different ways of being. Essentially, she is learning about what fits and what doesn't by snapping the snaps, zipping the zippers, and buttoning the buttons of the group’s norms to see if they fit.

Katrina: From junior high on I was a very feminine girl. I always enjoyed the hair, make-up, girly-girl stuff. My senior year, when I started identifying myself as being gay or lesbian or whatever I thought then, I thought that in order to be gay I have to be very masculine. So I cut my hair really short, I quit wearing make-up, I lived in jeans and cowboy boots, and I wore a wallet in my back pocket. I had lost about 40 pounds before this during my senior year and in this process gained probably 60 back. I thought in order to be gay I had to be very masculine. The one thing I always took pride in was doing my hair. I always thought I had nice hair, I always enjoyed getting made up and dressing up and that was the one thing I enjoyed but I took that away from myself because it didn't fit what I thought I was supposed to be.

For all the co-researchers, wanting to fit in one’s family meant conforming to a particular role. While each woman had taken the role of caretaker for family members, and compromised their sense of self in the process, they each described unique features in their individual roles. Common among all the women was using food to caretake themselves. Taking care of others to feel included and/or safe in one's family is at one time a useful survival tactic. However, at some point the need for a new position—new maturity—-presses into awareness and the caretaking becomes an outworn act of non-differentiation.

Tara: Just take care of them. Take care of them with all my energy, take care of myself with food. That’s where that thing comes up for me about not wanting to be touched. Sometimes it’s okay to be touched but other times I don’t want to be touched because they’re touching me for their needs and then I have to respond to them, or so I think. Either respond to them or set up a boundary, it’s like “get away.”

Christy: Yes, that really resonates with me. That whole taking care of the caretakers. It’s such a crazy-making experience.

Katrina: Not only taking care of but protecting.

Christy: Yes. I remember feeling like I had to protect my parents from my own experience of feeling pain so I’d shut down. I didn’t let them know that I was feeling pain.

One of the most compelling discussions in our group was about our process of learning to care for our individual body in a variety of ways, and holding the tension of the differences among us. With our history of lumping on diet bandwagons, this was both a constructive and a potent tension for each of us.

Katrina: One of the things that I learned from you [Becky] and a huge difference for me is your method of getting where you’re at. I went through my own process of being judgmental about it like before I knew you, really knew you, and understood that we all have our own ways. That’s the process, figuring out our own ways. But I went through being judgmental about it. Then I thought I’m not going to be judgmental about it - that could be my way too. Thinking that I could fast. It’s like a rubber band going from one extreme to another and then coming back in the middle where neither is so for me. So experience a difference in method but something I completely resonated with is finding your own path. Like the research that you’ve done to figure out what works for you, trial and error, just that whole thing of taking notice. What does this feel like, what is that, like that has been just an invaluable tool for me.

Becky: So you feel that even though our methods are different, that process is similar. Is that what you’re saying? The trial and error...

Katrina: (Nods head)

Tara: Me too.

Wild Horse Woman: Ditto.

Christy: Yeah.

Becky: I felt the same thing experiencing Katrina and her method in my classes. It’s so hard, talk about holding the tensions within oneself. This is another example of how within a group of women it’s like there’s such a tendency to want to jump on a bandwagon that seems to be working for somebody as though it could be mine too when it’s that person’s. But it’s so hard to hold that tension. My experience with Katrina’s story was that her way [giving up dieting, listening to her body and organically releasing weight without a structured food plan] was the way I always wanted to be able to do it. How many years have I worked with that? I wanted it to be that way. One day I just got to the point where I said, “You know what? I don’t think it’s going to be that way for me.” You know, I’ve got to experiment with some other things. I’ve been really giving this a lot of time. But then having Katrina’s experience in the group was really confronting, it was like, am I sure? Am I being too hard on myself? Am I... you know the whole dialogue of questioning myself. Which I’m not saying is a bad thing because those questions helped me to know what I know even more just like you [Katrina] and your process. It helps me to settle into myself that much more to be confronted with that.

Rose: I just love that term “jumping on a band wagon,” you’ve heard me talk about it. There’s been this part of me just dying to find the right bandwagon to jump on for so many years and this other part of me just hating that. I love the inclusivity of all the different ideas. I realize when I want to jump on a bandwagon I also have so much pain around not doing that, which feels like an enormous fear of abandonment. It’s like a differentiation issue but the fear is like everyone’s going to go on the bandwagon and I’m going to be left here by myself. It’s the pain of that. My fear is that everyone else is going to figure it out but me and I’m going to be the only one left here with all this pain. Even to this moment, hearing different people’s processes, I want to get on them.

The honesty in Rose's and Katrina's revelations in the preceding excerpt is very moving to me. It speaks to the level of trust and openness we experienced with each other in our group. Together we created an environment in which we experienced even greater connection through the honesty of our differences than because of our similarities.

We talked about the intrapsychic processes involved:

Tara: There’s a trip in there, a failure trigger for me in losing weight. I’ve had the experience where the weight was just coming off so I didn’t even think about it anymore. But when my focus could go to other parts of my life and the weight would stop coming off, I would be pulled back to thinking about the weight loss. I think that’s why I had the dream, “Don’t weigh yourself anymore.” I was in this new place and was weighing myself to see if I was losing weight. But then I’d be seduced into getting focused on the weight loss and be right back into the obsessive rut again.

Becky: For me there’s like an energy around the poles of tension in this process. Like a vortex that I can get totally sucked into. The whole diet thing and weighing thing and appearance thing, the whole external thing is like the domination pole. During different periods of my life if I started out feeling connected with myself and balanced and then I would weigh myself I would just get sucked right into that obsessive end and it would take me forever to get out. It could take me a year to get out of that thing. I would get a kind of blindness in there. Then on the other side, at the other pole, I was just going unconscious and not thinking about my weight it felt like that was freedom from the domination. But at that end I was also ignoring the disconnect between the body size that felt right to me and my current physical expression. So the part of the process that is so rich, like you guys mentioned, is holding the tensions of both poles. It’s allowed me to eventually be able to do things like weigh myself now with no charge, you know. I can have some discipline in my life. I can make food choices. I’m using all kinds of structure, but I’m with myself, I’m not getting sucked into that domination vortex. To me that’s freedom. To me that’s what the true freedom is. And that’s the thing that I’m happiest about is to feel like I have freedom. I can be whatever size I want to be because it’s okay with me. I can eat or move a certain way, with certain limits and still feel connected to myself and it came from holding those tensions.

I believe that one aspect of human nature is to desire connection through sameness; this is certainly reflected in our stories. The value of having something to bump up against is here as well. In the following dialogue Wild Horse Woman describes the value of having a food structure to bump up against as support for encouraging new levels of development.

Tara: Wild Horse Woman, you said something that is actually more of a question for me and I wanted you to talk more about. I wrote down that you said, ’’The edge of waiting to be alive and be in the world and doing things is when the weight goes off.” I’m not quite sure what you meant by that edge.

Wild Horse Woman: Before, just going to therapy was enough. But this is the being willing to show up for my body and have some kind of methodology that has some tension to it so that the edge comes up and requires my commitment to be there. Which is huge. I’m doing it so much in my life and yet I feel like I want to step into more of a plan so that it will get me through the times of, “Oh I don’t feel like going to the gym today.” No particular reason, just whatever. Upping the tension a little bit more to where I’m trying to hold it to find that balance. To learn how do I do that and not have it go so far that I lose myself again. That’s the continual edge. Maybe that’s part of the line that we’re talking about too. I knew before I came up here that part of what I wanted to get out of this, was the knowing that I need more structure. I need more people involved in it. I need 5 or 6 people in different ways that are right there with me in this process, be it a coach, counselor, dancing class, whatever.

Tara: Okay, in my words it’s like when I go to far and lose myself that’s when the twisted masculine in me is taking over and just trying to gobble it all back. “You feminine you come back here, I own you, I’m going to squish you, you can’t do that.” You know? But the feminine in me is going towards the life, something like that.

Becky: You’re saying the feminine gets kidnapped along the way?

Tara: Yeah, kidnapped. Yeah, twisted.

Wild Horse Woman: And it especially is assisted in the kidnap by all the memories of all the times gone before when that didn’t work. I mean that’s just real good ammunition for that kidnapper part.

Rose: I totally related to all this last piece, memories...

The following two passages offer examples of the value of holding the tensions. It seems that no matter how many times we've read it in Marion’s books or heard it from each other, the power and necessity of the process resonates in us. It resonated in me, in the following quote from Wild Horse Woman:

Wild Horse Woman: When I was in OAI had plan of abstinence that was reasonably loose but it was a plan. I knew if I was on it or if I wasn’t, and the spiritual connection part was sticking with it. I know there were a lot of times when like I’d be going to group or something and I’d get nervous and I’d want chocolate. It just came to me that, “No, that would keep me from my truth. That would take me out of my space and I’m not willing to do that.” In fact it would be easier to go, it would feel better to go without the chocolate and be vulnerable than to be covered. Those changes I noticed with a plan.

Below is another discussion of how, as painful as it can be, it feels useful and valuable to hold the tensions.

Tara: One of the things that I found important that you [Becky] said, even though you’ve said it before I like hearing again and again that has to do with holding the tension, is being able to tolerate and endure discomfort in my body. You said, “I’ve learned to tolerate a lot of discomfort... being able to hold the fear... when I have something to say that I’m afraid to say and I’m able to hold that fear and say what I need to say, enough to act on my own behalf.”

Christy: I really resonate with holding the tension. Holding the tensions like that, both sides, until my own truth comes through.

Differentiation is catalyzed by relationships. The final three passages in this section each offer perspective on the process of holding the tension - “taking one's own shape ” in relationship. In the first excerpt the group reflects on Christy's process of differentiating from or taking her own shape in relationship with her father. The following piece also discusses the relevance of space in the process to heal the black-and-white thinking associated with perfectionism and eating disorders.

Rose: That piece related your [Christy’s] sexual abuse, holding both the truth of what happened and not wavering from that at all and the open heartedness towards your father, felt very significant to me.

Tara: That’s so much grace.

Rose: Integration and holding the opposites.

Katrina: He wasn’t a bad person, what he did was a bad thing.

Christy: That’s been the major learning tool of breaking the either/or stuff, the black-and-white. It’s either got to be this or it’s got to be that. My father always has been a very black-and-white person, where if you say something it’s got to be what the dictionary says it means. I’m into symbolism, I’m into using words in different and poetic ways. I take lots of poetic license on all kinds of different levels. So it’s been very difficult to deal with him all of my life. There was and is a lot of him in me, in the sense that I grew up with that whole black and white thinking so that’s what I took on. That’s how I saw the world. Dealing with the incest survivor stuff has been for me one of the greatest tools for getting out of that. Having to look at, no it’s not just either/or. It’s where we can have such very different perspectives, it’s a both/and.

In response to Wild Horse Woman's comments about differentiating from her mother, Katrina describes her own process of holding onto herself in relationship with her mother in the following excerpt.

Katrina: Something that was very helpful and rings true for me is when you were talking about your mother. I can’t remember who said what but your response was, “I love my mother.” That was a really good thing for me to hear because even though my mom didn’t always do what was good for me, like, I still love her and I think that takes a lot. It takes a lot of recovery, although I don’t know if recovery is the right word. I know too that the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and for my relationship with my mother was to distance myself from her by fucking 2,000 miles. I’ve gone through the cycle of being angry and stuff and, “I can’t even talk to you right now and I still love you.”

Becky: These conversations totally make me think about maturity. What I’ve heard consistently in the stories is that the thing we feel our parents weren’t able to give us, separating die behavior from the soul of the person, we’re now giving to our parents. It has sounded to me like there was a shaming done that made us feel defective at the core rather than whole at the core; it was attached to our behavior and body. It reminds me of a view by a guy, I think his name is deMause, who suggests that in this culture children are the poison containers. Rather than the mature adult being the one that holds the tension and the toxins of the kid so that the kid has the opportunity to change and grow that we do the opposite.

Tara: Dump them with ours.

Becky: What’s so interesting in the these reflections is you guys have matured in some ways maybe more than your parents. So that you’re holding that space for them like we would for a child. You’re actually doing it for the children you teach also. Making space. Not dumping that on them but managing the tension within yourselves to give them the space to see their essence, to feel that their essence is good, is whole by itself even if there’s behavior that you disagree with. I think that’s a huge piece of work. I think it’s huge.

In this final passage, Rose offers an intimate example of holding the tension as she bumps up against her husband’s view of her body size. She beautifully describes how she embodies new aspects of herself and her relationship with her body in the process.

Rose: As soon as we got engaged the anxiety in the relationship started rising. The day after I moved in, Greg told me that he wished I would lose weight. I was so devastated, it was like, “Well, fuck, now you tell me!” I was so heartbroken, I cried for two days straight. I was so into body acceptance and so into, “Everybody who doesn’t love and accept me exactly the way I am is a fucking piece of shit and it’s their problem.” I was enraged and I was also so sad and hurt that I just sobbed.

When we eventually discussed it he said, “I just need to be able to talk about it. I need it not to be a taboo subject. I’m not going to leave you over it, and I wish you would lose weight. You don’t have to, I’m just telling you I wish you would. I want you to.”

I hated him for saying it but I also felt like, “I can’t lose weight.” I mean it never seems to work. Every time I try I just seem to gain weight. I couldn’t seem to get that point across to him. I couldn’t find words to explain that. I went away for a couple of days and I felt anger for awhile and then this thought came to me. I thought, he does need to be able to say his truth. And so do I.

So we made a time to talk about it and I said, “I need to tell you something. I really want you to accept me exactly the way I am and be my biggest cheerleader for my process and my body exactly the way it is. And you don’t have to do it, but that’s what I want.” He said, “I hear that.” That was it, I felt so good afterwards.

The next day I realized I had something else to tell him so we had another meeting and I said, “The other thing I need to tell you is part of my eating disorder is this obsession with losing weight. What happens when I get obsessed with losing weight is my eating disorder gets bigger. So part of the reason I’ve been so upset with you is that I feel like you’re trying to perpetuate my eating disorder.” I could not find those words until that day. He said, “That makes sense.”

I noticed that a shift started to happen with him when one day he said, “I’m liking you round.” He started acting differently and I felt that part of it was that process we’ve gone through. But part of it also was that once I came into the class I started owning my own ambivalence about the issue so he didn’t have to own the one side and me the other.

It was like I felt my own mixed feelings about the weight. So he was free to be less a part of it. I feel like that was important too. It’s been so painful to me to ever think about losing weight because it always causes me to gain weight. It was perfect for me to just say “I don’t care about losing weight” because I hated the part of me that wants to lose weight because it makes me want to gain weight.

Probably around the time Greg and I had that turning point, I felt like I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to lose weight but I didn’t want to admit that to anybody. I made an intention in the class to get to know the part of me that wants to lose weight instead of pushing it down so much. I discovered basically that I was pushing it down because it caused so much suffering. When I would be in touch with it I would get attached to it and then I would gain weight. It was like, “Fuck this part of me.”



Individuality regarding eating choices and movement options for women seeking to improve their relationship with body through issues with weight is filled with tensions in our “one size fits all,” “one right way,” diet-obsessed culture. The co-researchers in this project have been encouraged to know and to express their individuality generally, including their work and sexuality, but specifically we’ve addressed the question, “What satisfies your unique body with regard to body size, food, and movement?” It is possible that our optimal diet and exercise plans are as unique as our fingerprints or as similar as our biological classification. However, it is likely that most of our differences and similarities lie somewhere in between. I believe our current scientific focus on genetics and obesity will eventually give us useful information about and rationale for individual food sensitivities and intolerances, without the frustrating and labor-intensive process of experimentation required at this time. In the meantime it is up to individual women in concert with their professional resources to discover and satisfy their body’s unique nutrition and fitness preferences.

Embracing individuality with food and exercise builds autonomy by encouraging a woman to know and satisfy her unique physical needs. Based on these stories, this ability extends to other aspects of the women’s lives. According to Frederick and Grow (1996), building the self-esteem of young women is a necessary component for healing disordered eating: “By learning to be ‘perfect’ and seemingly in control, the girl subsequently fails to develop a separate sense of self-esteem because her feelings of worth are contingent upon her behaving to please others, rather than who she is as an individual.” (p. 225) The researchers indicate that women will improve their relationship with body in environments that encourage the woman’s shift in focus from satisfying the needs of others to satisfying her own. Therefore, they recommend discouraging women’s reliance on controlling eating behaviors and encouraging their development of autonomy and self-determination, which will ultimately increase their self-esteem.

While the need for autonomy as it relates to self-care and self-esteem is a relevant and important part of this discussion regarding women’s relationship with body, I believe the basic need or basic hunger which drives disordered eating is more thoroughly addressed by the process of differentiation. Our country’s emphasis on individualism and self-sufficiency is part of the problem facing not just women in this healing process but the future of our planet as well. From a differentiation perspective it is possible to observe a more complete and accurate picture of the personal dynamics of self-in-relation, and how the topic of this study exquisitely illustrates some of the dynamics we face as a culture (discussed in greater detail in Meaning Making). Based on the co-researcher’s stories and discussions, I’ve come to see obesity and disordered eating as an invitation or portal to deeply learning about our true nature. In other words, the co-researcher’s process of healing their relationship with body can be viewed as a Call to Differentiate.


Drawing on his extensive clinical work with differentiation theory, Schnarch (1997) defines differentiation as “the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love.” (p. 51) According to Schnarch, features of differentiation include: standing up for what you believe, not caving in to the pressure to conform, calming yourself down instead of letting your anxiety run away with you, and not getting over-reactive. He suggests people in the process of differentiation grow through holding tension—by stepping into mystery, and by dying to old ways of being—in a process that is filled with both great hardship and intrinsic fulfillment. He observes that the more people believe in their own goodness, the more they hunger for their own development. Elements of differentiation include heroism, generosity, spirituality, and lack of shame (Schnarch, 1997).

Jung (1989) observed the same process of growth, which he referred to as individuation. In his view, the more individuated a person became the more their masculine and feminine aspects became balanced and enhanced. Both Jung and Schnarch see the process of growth through holding tensions as the path to freedom or personal liberation.

Like the perspective in this study, Schnarch (1997) maintains a positive view of human growth and potential. He suggests that the “trauma model” and “wounded child” views of adults cheapen, trivialize, and strip meaning from the struggle for self development. In summary, he describes differentiation as the “lifelong process of taking our own shape” (p. 51).

Taking one’s own shape 

Metaphorically I can think of no better illustration of the process of differentiation or “taking our own shape” than that of a woman healing her relationship with body. Manlowe’s (1993) research on women and weight illuminates the myriad levels of cultural pressure on women to conform to a particular body size. Her phrase, “wanting to fit,” describes the dieting motivation of the women in her study who are succumbing to the many levels of social pressure to control their body size. These two phrases, “wanting to fit” and “taking our own shape,” offer a poignant contrast, reflecting both the oppression the co-researchers felt regarding their relationship with body in the past, and the freedom they are experiencing as they take their own shape for themselves, in relationships, and in the world.

Putney and Putney (1964) suggest we have a basic human hunger for an accurate sense of self. However, we learn from the culture to misinterpret the tensions of growth as something to be avoided, thus revealing our tendency to look for quick fixes. This leads to what they call the “the squirrel cage”:

The interplay of normal but neurotic behavior patterns is as follows: a pressing need creates tension which motivates the individual to action; faulty interpretation of the nature of the need leads the individual into misdirected behavior, which leaves him deprived; deprivation, now more extreme, triggers heightened tension; faulty interpretation of this tension (as anger or depression) leads to more frantic but misdirected action-and the squirrel cage whirls around. (p. 19)

For the women in this research project, exhaustive efforts to control their bodies are like the squirrel cage Putney and Putney (1964) describe. As the women began more accurately interpreting their tensions by exploring the emotional roots of their disordered eating, their process of self-discovery gave them a more accurate view of themselves. When their knowledge informed their actions in the world they began taking their own shape in response to their environment. They became more healthfully resistant to “jumping on the bandwagon” and less focused on “wanting to fit.”

The co-researchers are meeting the needs of the self as defined by Putney and Putney (1964): (a) the need for an accurate and acceptable self-image; (b) the need to verify this self-image and expand the self through association; (c) the need to verify the self-image and expand the self through action, (p. 30) These needs suggest, like Schnarch’s (1997) and Goff and McReynold’s (personal communication, October 4, 1995) work, that the process of growth proceeds in relationship with one’s environment, particularly through encounters with diversity.

A culture which interprets anxiety as something to be avoided provides a poor training ground for growing through diversity. In their clinical work on differentiation in individuals and communities, Goff and McReynolds (personal communication, October 4,1995) position differentiation as a nonviolent way of handling diversity. As opposed to domination, submission, and distancing, they describe differentiation as one’s ability to include their reality and the reality of others in response to the tensions of diversity:

This means knowing your values and experiences, and expressing them frankly; owning your own position. At the same time, it means inquiring respectfully into the experience and perspective of the other and allowing it to touch you, to be included in your increasingly complex (even contradictory) understanding of reality. Differentiation means differing artfully - maintaining your own shape or viewpoint while engaging candidly with others who are expressing theirs. (Goff & McReynolds, personal communication, October 4,1995)

The co-researchers’ commitment to growth is reflected in Goff and McReynolds (personal communication, October 4,1995) view of the paradigm of differentiation. The women are developing in maturity. They are striving to be able to stand the pain and loss that comes in life. They are choosing to tolerate anxiety for the sake of growth; and they are acknowledging that the basic human anxiety of existential separateness is intrinsic to the process of fulfilling their potential. There is great intimacy and integrity in their revelations to each other as they allow themselves to be known in the midst of self- discovering (Goff and McReynolds, personal communication, October 4,1995).

The process of differentiation requires space to hold the tensions and paradox associated with healing obesity. The women grow in tolerance of various aspects of themselves and others as they gain a more accurate sense of self. Over time they gain respect for the process and claim the responsibility and rewards of expressing themselves authentically.

Points of tension in the healing process

While I came to understand the value of holding the tensions before conducting this research, the co-researchers’ experiences and our discussions gave me a new way to articulate the process as a whole. As I worked with the data I began to see the thresholds of growth where turning points occurred in their stories - including the current threshold, which we are each navigating in our own ways. Specifically, I observed three distinct points of developmental tension in the healing processes of the co-researchers. Each threshold can be described as having two strong poles or energy vortexes pulling in opposite directions. Growth through the threshold requires one to hold the tension between the opposite poles, eventually learning to embody a transcendent third position.

The first point of tension or threshold was traversed by the women in this study around menarche. One pole at this threshold is rooted in shame; “I’m valueless, powerless. I can’t control my life. I feel bad about myself’ are extreme versions of the inner dialogue of this position. The opposite pole in this scenario consists of an external focus: “My family, the culture, ‘they’ say I should be thin, I should eat this one right way and then I will feel powerful and valuable.” The tension between these two positions builds until it eventually manifests as growth and new development in the transcendent third position. This new position of growth qualitatively feels like new freedom and self-mastery. The woman has now been successful at controlling her body: “I can accomplish a goal. I am powerful. I have willpower. I can control aspects of my life.” The transcendent third position eventually wears out its usefulness and a new threshold forms from it, to create the next opportunity for development.

The second threshold or point of tension occurred for all women. One of its poles is now a distortion of transcendent learning of the last threshold, and is characterized by rigid rules, strict dieting, and a controlling mentality. The opposite pole is a balancing response to this twisted emphasis on control, and is characterized by bingeing, chaotic behavior, and feelings of no control. Tension between these two builds until the transcendent third position emerges. Here growth, which feels like a new freedom, is characterized by giving up dieting, legalizing all foods, and reconnecting with body signals and emotions. Out of this position emerge the many healing perspectives brought to this issue by feminist writers on the topic.

I experience all the women in the study, including myself, to be at various stages of the third threshold or point of tension. The freedom experienced by adopting the feminist position has distorted for most of us into eating whatever we want but being unable to set limits on food. This is one of the two tension positions at this threshold. Growth is urging us on to incorporate a new freedom of being able to make more structured choices with food, including the loving discipline of saying “no” to certain kinds or amounts of food that don’t feel good in our bodies. However, the only experience we have of structure with food is the diet mentality. Our experience of the diet mentality maintains the other position or pole at this threshold. The tension at this threshold then is between the distorted rigid rules and black-and-white diet mentality, and the distorted feminist position of total permissiveness with food, no rules. The tension building between these two poles encourages the women to experience the transcendent third position, which can be characterized as the transpersonal perspective. It includes the values of all the magnets discussed is this research and emphasizes embodiment, including the ability to learn and act on embodied knowledge; an internal sense of self- worth grounded in the feminine; and a commitment to and respect for the tensions involved in the process of growth.

Upon completing all the magnet findings I felt an urgency to depict my current overall view of this model of growth incorporating the influence of what I learned through all of the magnets. The resulting figure and a brief explanation appear in the Theory section of Chapter 5: Summary and Conclusion.

Working with the data today I realize how similar a process I’m in with the dissertation as the process with my body. I’m having a hard time letting go. I hesitate, I question 100 times: Do I keep this piece, am I being kind enough, inclusive enough, is there something I will miss if I let this go? My dilemma stands perfectly next to the co-researchers words about how to have structure with food without losing oneself How to take away one kind of freedom for the potential of a totally unknown and not trustable inkling of freedom. It's just like I used to feel when thinking about a food plan, I don’t want to be too hard on myself, I’ve worked hard to legalize all foods, am I saying that’s wrong? What if losing weight is wrong? Maybe I need this for protection still, it’s been here for a good reason. What if I’m trying to force a change before its time? Force the analysis before it’s time - rushing, not honoring the inherent wisdom? How do I know if I’m listening to my wisdom or my compulsion?

As I look back on the years I’ve been holding the data, on one hand it feels just right. On the other I know I’ve been afraid to start cutting things out. I’ve been afraid of letting go of the project, the co-researchers, my school, student life. Adulthood is making a new claim on me and it's been taking me a long time to warm up to this point of tension. In many ways this feels harder than the food process, and what I’ve learned with the food once again, prepared me perfectly for this. I know that when the old ways start feeling more uncomfortable and constricting, neurotic and painful than the fear of the unknown or letting go of something beloved - then it is appropriate to make space for the loving discipline needed to stay with the tension until it runs its course and I am new again.

Next, "Meaning Making" Findings and Discussion


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