An eating disorder can make you feel like you have a sense of control when things feel out of control. It is a coping skill that enables you to stuff down feelings that are too uncomfortable to feel. You may have found it necessary to stuff your feelings for your survival. Your eating disorder in a way is what saved you. But when strength becomes a weakness, it’s time to look at better ways to channel that strength. As we know, eating disorders can certainly ruin your life, and may even kill you.
You may have held all the emotions for your family or been cut off from your own feelings. No one in your family was brave enough to acknowledge that something was wrong. You were the one with the eating disorder, crying out, “There’s something wrong here!” You may have recognized the dysfunction and felt unhappy.
So in a way, you were the strong one, but you became the identified patient in your family. However, eating disorders are not an individual problem. They are a family systems problem. In fact, studies indicate that it is best to treat the person within the family system.
How Do You Recover?
If you think you may have an eating disorder, it’s best to call a therapist who has an expertise in that area. A therapist can help to hold your emotions until you are no longer overwhelmed by them. Slowly, you and the therapist begin to process past experiences and feelings; replacing the eating disorder with healthier coping skills such as journaling, walking, finding a safe person, relaxation exercises, and developing your interests and talents. You begin to notice your self-esteem is improving.
Some people may be lucky enough to repair the damaged relationships. This may not be an option for you, but even if your family can never change, by participating in counseling and/or a group, you can learn to give yourself what you needed, but never received.
From here, you can go on to create your own family and build healthy relationships. You can surround yourself with friends who will care for you as you care for them. That’s the great thing – you get to choose.
There is life after an eating disorder. Although it has become your identity, perhaps for many years, you can begin to create a new identity. This happens by developing the parts of you that you have disowned in order to survive. You’ll learn that you don’t have to be perfect nor do you have to please everyone around you.
First, you need someone to validate your experiences and feelings, process them with you, and support you as you grieve. You may come to feel that you have some power and efficacy. In counseling we say, you found your voice.
If you’re reading this, you have already taken a very brave step towards reaching out for help. I hope you will continue on your journey to recovery. If you have any other questions about individual or group counseling, please feel free to call and set up a consultation. (626) 335-0903
Also check out my radio shows at www.ilissabanhazlmft.com There, you can listen to an interview with Dr. Lisa Hoffert and I speaking about eating disorders.
Ilissa Banhazl, Marriage and Family Therapist