Disgusted by Disgust

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Disgust.  We’ve all felt it, as it’s a universal emotion, but it’s an emotion we try to avoid. 

When Pastor Dustin reached out to the counselors for help writing these blog posts, I was a little later than the other counselors in checking my email. We were given a list of emotions that were to be explored.  Joy and trust were among the first chosen to blog about. Then the emotions of fear, anger and sadness were relatable enough and taken to explore. Disgust was one of the last choices and so I was stuck with it. I was literally disgusted I ended up with the emotion of disgust.  

Remember PE class in grammar school? Writing about disgust was like being one of the last kids to be picked for a team. We hardly ever talk about the emotion of disgust because, well, it’s complicated and usually gets overshadowed by other feelings such as guilt, shame and anger. We like to categorize emotions as  “good” or “bad,” but God gave us these emotions for a purpose—they’re neither good nor bad.  

Understanding Disgust

So what is disgust? Wikipedia defines it as “an emotional response of revulsion to something considered offensive, distasteful, or unpleasant.” Thanks to Disney Pixar’s Inside Out, I now picture disgust as a little green lady with the voice of Mindy Kaling. In the opening narration of the movie, Joy describes the character Disgust as, “This is Disgust. She basically keeps Riley from being poisoned—physically and socially.” Disgust is an emotion given to us by God to help protect or direct us in some way.  

 For me, disgust is this intense nauseous feeling, deep in the pit of my stomach. Honestly, my automatic response to feelings of disgust are avoidance of the feeling. It’s uncomfortable and in some instances even painful. Disgust is everywhere in this evil, crazy, fallen world. It’s easy to get swept away and overwhelmed in all the pain and hurt in the world today. Disgust can be triggered by many different things, from a food we dislike such as brussel spouts (yuk!) to changing a baby’s dirty diaper (gross!) to . . . just turn on the news—bullying, sex trafficking, slavery, abuse, racism, another mass shooting . . . I am disgusted that these issues exist in the world today.  

So where do we go from here? 

It can be tempting to say, “This is too much, I can’t fix this, what’s the point,” and give up.  But honestly it starts with just one person. Maybe this is God utilizing our emotions to motivate us to take action. I’m only in control of myself so I start by looking at what I have control over. Am I truly listening to what the other person has to say? Have I done what God has asked me to do? Many of us in today’s society have a tendency to automatically default to emotions such as disgust or anger when we see things we don’t agree with. But I truly feel that the main piece missing here is empathy. Once we start to put ourselves into another’s shoes for just a moment, and begin to relate to them, change can happen. We should take steps to focus on what we have in common rather than what separates us from each other. Empathy decreases the feelings of disgust because when we can relate to each other and feel connected to each other, the disgust feelings start to diminish. What lens are we looking through? The lens of divisiveness or the lens of unity?

But what happens when we are disgusted with ourselves?

Self-disgust. I struggle with it.  In fact, I’m currently struggling with it. Remember how I said that I was disgusted with the fact that I got the emotion of disgust? God knew what he was doing and used this assignment to help me continue processing an issue I’ve had practically my entire life. 

I have struggled with my weight since adolescence. I’m Italian and was born and raised in New Orleans. I know good food. Think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding and swap the Windex for olive oil. Food is at the center of everything. In New Orleans, there’s always a party surrounded by amazing food. My entire life, food has been equated to the way we show love. I’ve lost and gained back the same weight (and more since having my children) since I was an adolescent. This triggers many emotions for me such as frustration, sadness, anger, but often self-disgust as well. And after all these years, if I’m being honest with myself, food has been an idol in my life. I use food to numb. To escape. Instead of turning to God, I’ve turned to food for comfort. Food in and of itself isn’t bad. God created food for our well-being as well as something to enjoy! But when food is used to numb pain, cover up discomfort, or idolized, it becomes sinful. It’s a problem with my thinking but more importantly it’s a problem with my heart.  

In my darkest moments,  I struggle and beat myself up with negative self-talk: “I can’t believe you did it again!”, “Can’t you ever get anything right?!”, “You own a weight loss clinic with your husband and you’re still fat.”

Truth is I know the things I need to do to get the weight off. And even though I know the information of how to lose weight, it’s still a struggle for me which triggers feelings of disgust.  As Lysa Terkeurst says in her book Made to Crave, “I have the ‘know-how,’ but I struggle with the ‘want-to.’” I highly recommend Lysa’s book Made to Crave as it has truly challenged and blessed me in this journey in my relationship with food. I’m praying not just for a change with my thinking, but a change in my heart. Instead of viewing this issue through my own eyes, I truly need to surrender and ask God to change the way I view myself. I need to rest in the truth of what God says about me. I’m redeemed. Made in his image. Beautiful, forgiven, loved and accepted.   

Self-talk is a powerful thing.  It can help to build you up or tear you down. Honestly, even though I’ve been saved for about 17 years, I’ve never fully let God into this struggle in my life. I’ve talked about it, prayed about it, but never truly surrendered and taken it literally one step at a time. I’ve felt too ashamed to let God in. Recently I’ve been open about my struggle with my vGroup and Life Group, and they have been tremendously supportive of me. Once I made the choice to let God into this part of my life, I started to pray for him to help me truly surrender this struggle. Things have started to shift. Sometimes when I am tempted, I am able to stop, and pray instead of eating automatically and mindlessly. When I am intentional in utilizing prayer and relying on God’s strength and not my own I am able to better resist the temptation.  So I have a choice to make. Keep repeating how I’ve been doing things my entire life, or let God in and obey his will for me step by step. 

I’d like to say that I’m on the other side of this journey, but I’m smack in the middle. God has done so much to my heart, pursuing me and drawing me closer to him. Teaching me to go to him instead of food. I can’t do this on my own. I’ve tried. And failed. So I choose to let Him in. Some days are better than others. Some days, I revert to old habits. But one step at a time, I’m making healthier choices, being empathetic toward myself thereby decreasing the feelings of shame, guilt and yes, disgust.