Ways of Seeing

Have you ever tried those Magic Eye books? (This was a big craze in the 90s, using pictures which allow (some) people to see 3D images by focusing on 2D patterns). The viewer has to  unfocus their eyes in order to see the hidden three-dimensional image. I could never spot them, but it didn’t stop me getting angry and cross-eyed in the attempt. However, new research on personality types and eating disorders, may suggest that my time has come.

If you look at the picture of the coffee beans, some of you will be able to spot a face. This is part of a diagnostic test for eating disorders, used by the Institute of Psychiatry in London. It’s highlighted by Carrie Arnold in her fascinating blog. She notes that people with EDs, especially anorexia, find it easy to focus on the details and ignore the bigger picture – so they often find the face in the beans. She adds;

‘These tests aren’t diagnostic of anorexia, but they do indicate a detail-orientation, a tendency to lose sight of the big picture (the coffee beans) and focus in on tiny little details that ultimately reveal a face. … For someone with an eating disorder, they will focus on the fact that a Hass avocado has 300 calories rather than focusing on the good fats and oils in the fruit, the buttery taste of guacamole, that California burger they had at a backyard cookout. ..No, an avocado only means 300 calories. Period’.

Our genetics and life experiences may predispose us to particular kinds of behaviour. This is not to suggest that we are simply ‘victims’ of disorders such as anorexia or addiction, (see previous posts on the interplay between sickness and the choices we make). Nor is it to provide a blanket excuse for our choices, (though it may mitigate these – for example, if certain health problems run in my family, or if I’ve been abused). All of us are sinners – in other words, we naturally enthrone ourselves rather than Christ. However, the interplay of nature and nurture means that different personalities will be instinctively drawn to particular addictions or coping strategies.

Anorexia for example, commonly occurs with other conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, ADHD, and Asperger’s syndrome. That’s the upside. (I’m kidding..) No, the good news is this – by identifying our triggers or leanings, we can better understand how to pray about and fight them. So if, for example, I struggle with depression, I can spot the signs for when it’s getting out of control. This might look like scheduling in regular periods of time off, so that I don’t get overtired. Eating regularly and getting enough sleep. Having a regular coffee on Monday mornings with a friend, to get me out of bed and help me get some perspective on the week ahead. If I get periods of manic behaviour, I can ask those close to me to help me spot the signs, so that I don’t end up maxing out my credit card or signing up for tasks I won’t be able to achieve.

As I come before the Lord, I can also learn to manage my personality style, so that those attributes I dismiss as ‘rubbish’ can be redeemed. My OCD tendencies can be a great asset when it comes to helping organise a friend’s wedding. My shyness means that I’m good at relating to those who struggle in the same areas and knowing how to make them feel more comfortable. I may struggle with an eating disorder, but I can spot a face in coffee beans at a hundred paces..

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