I once knew a Christian lady whose husband was self-centred, domineering and prone to uncontrolled fits of rage. She, on the other hand, was unselfish, capable and self-controlled.
At some point she developed an interest in fasting. After a time it became apparent to brothers and sisters in the faith that she had become extremely thin, even emaciated. We admonished her that this was not a healthy way to live, she needed to keep up her strength to care for her children. Her response was that she felt so much closer to God when she fasted. She felt that she was really much more spiritual than the rest of us; we were all much too ready to satisfy our carnal appetites.
After much counselling from a group of brothers and sisters, she began to let go of her attachment to fasting. I felt at the time that the reason it was so hard for her to let go was because her out of control husband was making life miserable and this was one thing that she could do to feel she was in control. And we were trying to take that away from her.
In Girls on the Edge*, Dr. Leonard Sax writes about anorexia among teenaged girl;s and young women. The cases he describes sound very much like the situation I just described. Girls say that when they don’t eat for a while their mind becomes really clear; they feel calm, relaxed and at peace.
Dr. Sax also writes about girls who cut themselves. When a friend of my wife’s first talked about this, it seemed so outlandish that I could hardly fathom that such a thing could be happening. Yet is has become an epidemic among teenage girls, with estimates that upwards of 30% might be doing it.
Dr. Sax says that many girls report feeling a sense of dissociation from their bodies, not really feeling the pain, but rather feeling a sense of euphoria. Apparently the cutting releases opiate-like chemicals in the brain that give this sensation.
The mother of one of Dr. Sax’s patients described what was happening to her daughter as “anorexia of the soul.” I have borrowed that phrase for the title of this post.
Anorexia and cutting are not social activities. The girls that do these things are feeling anxieties and pressures and don’t know how to cope with them in any other way. They don’t want others to know what they are doing.
Girls growing up today are pressured by the zeitgeist in many contradictory ways. From a very young age they are pressured to dress and act in a sexually provocative manner, yet the nurturing side of femininity is disdained. They are taught that their sense of worth needs to come from achievements at work, thus they are expected to be high achievers in school and at work. Women who choose to dedicate themselves to home and family are almost viewed as being contemptible. Is it any wonder that girls are confused and stressed beyond their capability to endure?
For those who are able to cast off the blinkers of the zeitgeist, it should be obvious that a Christian stay at home mother makes a greater contribution to the well being of our society than a career woman. Mothers who are there when their children need them are rewarded with honest, conscientious young men and women who will not be a drain on the budgets and resources of the police services and social service agencies. As Christian men we should be letting the women in our lives know how much we value their contributions.
* Girls on the Edge, © 2010 by Leonard Sax. Published by Basic Books, New York