Bearing Witness to Suffering

January 2, 2019

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy


My hubby travels sometimes for work, and pretty much every time I have a freak out moment. It's usually something that overwhelms me with juggling work + kids (e.g. sickness, tantrums, general lack of cooperation, running late, not sleeping well, you get the point...).  

I hesitate to tell him about the hard stuff, for 2 reasons: 1) I don’t want to make him feel worse than he already does for being gone, and 2) I have my own shame about how hard it is for me to juggle the kids and working without his help.  Sometimes I feel like an inadequate mother.  (Mommy shame is a very real struggle, y'all!)    

 My husband and I have talked in circles about how to “fix” it or make things easier.  But at the end of the day, all I really want and need is for him to witness, validate and empathize with my suffering.  I don’t need him to change jobs and not travel.  I need him to say, “That sucks,” and give me a big hug when he gets home.

With my clients I often find myself in the opposite role - that of the witness to their suffering.  The suffering that I cannot “fix” no matter how desperately I want to.  

Sometimes the most powerful thing I can do is listen, so they know they are seen and heard.  

Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani writes about this in her book Sick Enough,

“I can bear witness.  I can hold space for my patient's suffering without getting impatient, distressed, or overwhelmed...I promise my patients in these moments that I will continue to walk with them on this journey of finding answers and relief of symptoms.”

Suffering is part of being a human being.  

The eating disorder may tell you that it will help you feel better (through restricting, bingeing, purging, using laxatives, exercising, etc.).  Even if those behaviors give you temporary relief, they only fuel the eating disorder which is almost guaranteed to cause you more suffering in the long run.


Next time you are suffering, try this:

-Take a moment just to notice it.  Sit with it and let it simmer.  Notice where you feel it in your body.

-Name your suffering.  Give it language by writing or talking about it.  Words help us process what’s going on and work through it.

-Resist the urge to jump to fix it mode.  There will be plenty of time for that later.  Stay with the pain - get to know it, observe how it evolves, learn to tolerate it rather than avoid.  

Working on following my own advice.  Easier said than done.

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