This is part 1 of the The Communication Series, designed to help you help the important people in your life to understand what living with an eating disorder is like, and how they can best support you.
We all have different relationships with our parents. Some of us are lucky enough to call mom or dad our best friends, our rocks, and our biggest fans. Others have trouble seeing eye to eye with our parents or feel like making them happy is an impossible feat. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, when it comes to parents, we all have one thing in common:
- Dealing with an eating disorder strains and complicates the relationship we share with our parents
While an eating disorder can begin at any stage of ones life, the majority of them begin either during adolescence or college years – a time when our parents still play a very important role in our lives. Especially if you’re living at home. Today’s blog post is designed to do a couple of things:
- Explain why talking to your parents about your eating disorder is a necessary step in your recovery
- Help you maneuver through what can be an emotionally and mentally difficult conversation
- Establish an open and supportive environment that will be conducive to your recovery
Step 1: Consider What’s In Your Best Interest
Let’s put the parental unit on hold for a quick second, and talk about you. If you’re here, it’s because you’ve decided (either subconsciously or intentionally) that living with an eating disorder is not in your best interest. You’re here because you’re looking for help, and while I’m so glad that you’re reading and here with me, you should know that this search would be better spent elsewhere.
On my blog, my priority is sharing recovery resources and helping others heal. But I also care about how many readers I get per month, how many people download my info, etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? Most of the internet is not solely concerned with what’s best for you. Bloggers have bills to pay. Your Instagram recovery inspirations are not doctors or therapists. There’s nothing wrong with finding support among friends who have experienced what you’re dealing with, but when it comes to reaching a full recovery – it helps to have someone who only wants what’s best for you on your team. Enter mom and dad.
I understand that not everyone is comfortable opening up to his or her parents. I get that not everyone was raised in a family that recognizes mental illness. And I’m not going to tell you that it’s fair. But here’s a tad of tough love: your eating disorder doesn’t care about fair. So if your parents don’t automatically understand (and even the most wonderful parents sometimes don’t) it’s your responsibility to learn how to communicate what you need because at the end of the day, your recovery is worth any and everything.
Step 2: Creating a Caring Conversation from Start to Finish
When I was struggling with anorexia and orthorexia, I didn’t know how to talk to my dad about it. I kept my distance from him, avoided eating with him, and automatically assumed that he wouldn’t understand. That he would judge me or worse, treat me like an invalid. I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had been honest with him and had the difficult, embarassing conversation. Because by avoiding it, I took away his chance to be my parent. I was so sure that he wouldn’t understand, that I never even gave him the opportunity to try.
If your parent didn’t automatically applaud you for being brave enough to ask for help (or if you’re worried that they won’t) it’s because most parents don’t understand just how suffocating living with an eating disorder is. By taking the first step and explaining to them what you’re going through, you’re giving your parents the opportunity to give you the love and support that your recovery requires. You have a choice, and isolating yourself from the people that love you and want to see you be happy and well is the wrong choice. When you’re ready to let your parents in to help you, keep the following suggestions below in mind: (or use examples from my sample script!
1.) Find a peaceful time to talk
Remember, parents are human beings. So 9 PM after they’ve been working one or more jobs or taking care of younger siblings all day is probably not the best time to spring difficult news on them. Similarly, trying to dive into a conversation about mental illness and recovery as you’re headed out the door for school is probably not your best bet. Aim for a weekend day (or whichever day when one of your parents or ideally both are off of work) have some free time. If they always seem busy or stressed, then just do your best to pick a time that works for you. Life is full of “have to do”s but your mental health and wellness is as important as anything else going on.
2.) Focus on “I” statements
The conversation is about how your eating disorder is affecting you, how it feels for you, so be careful to keep the focus on you and try not to point fingers or shuffle blame. For example, “I feel overwhelmingly anxious and afraid when I have to eat one of my fear foods” communicates better than “You making me eat ___ just makes everything worse!” You want your parents to know that you want to help them understand where you’re coming from, and you’re open to their help. You’re not blaming them or making outlandish claims, you’re stating your feelings which are always valid. Stick with sentences that begin with “I feel…”, “I am…”, “I think…”
3.) Remember that reactions will vary
It’s hard to avoid expecting and hoping for certain outcomes, but do your best to go into the conversation with an open mind and heart. Remember how scary your eating disorder can feel for you, and how many mixed feelings of fear, anger, and frustration you’ve gone through in the past months or years. Your parents are likely experiencing all of that at once, and they may need some time to process it so cut them some slack. So if they don’t automatically respond with love and support as they should, give it some time. Remind them that you’re committed to getting better and what they can do to help you heal. For examples, refer to my sample script.
What’s the point of going through all this? Why put yourself through an emotionally draining and difficult conversation? Why add one more thing to your parents’ plate? Simply put and without any fluff – because recovery is damn hard. You need all the support and help you can get, so don’t write off the ones who love you most. Give them a chance to surprise you, to understand, and to be your ally. You won’t regret it.
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