December 4, 2006

On Being Picture Smart

My friend Beth has battled an eating disorder for well over 10 years. She hates her behaviors. Her actions endanger her life. So a year and half ago, Beth sought expert counsel.

Ken quickly earned Beth’s trust and helped her grasp connections between her behavior and some severe childhood trauma. Yet Beth’s eating problems persisted. For days and then weeks she abstained from “extreme eating” patterns, only to then inexplicably return to her old habits.

Recently Ken explained the concept of neuropathways: that Beth’s disordered eating is ingrained because of the years she has spent “teaching” her brain to respond to any anxiety with her eating disorder habits.

Beth knows she is “picture smart.” She automatically—as Kathy explains in her soon-to-be-published book How Am I Smart? A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences—“visualize[s] pictures, diagrams, and colors in [her mind].” So she designs scrapbooks to document her children’s lives. In high school, she re-copied her science notes each night, using beautiful handwriting and adding detailed drawings. And, when she hears new concepts, pictures form in her mind. Sometimes a word itself appears in her brain, designed to match the word’s definition—so she sees the word “puffy,” for example, shaped like cumulous clouds.

When Ken talked about neuropathways, Beth saw angry, scarring trenches gouged into her brain. Ken acknowledged the accuracy of her picture, saying that, every time she engages in “extreme eating,” she digs a deeper, longer trench. And every time she resists, she covers a bit of a trench with rich, healing topsoil. In time—with the right choices—she can repair every trench.

Beth is still working on recovery. But in difficult moments, when she has pictured those brain trenches and then imagined herself tossing the shovel aside and gently patting in some dirt, she has chosen wisely.

Applying this works best because Beth knows about her picture-smart abilities. There is power in knowing what “smarts” God has given you! Ken fostered Beth’s understanding by validating her images and expanding upon them toward healing measures (i.e., throwing down the shovel). When we help others—our children, students, clients—discover and apply how they are smart, we give them important power!


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