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"Relationships and Eating Disorders."

28 April 2022

External relationships directly affect our internal one, and vice versa.

In every eating disorder sufferer I have ever come across, there seems to be a direct relationship between the level of insanity, fear, confusion, etc. they experience in their eating disorders as in their relationships.

This is not to say that your relationships are flawed, unloving, or insane, but there is usually a correlation between our relationships with others and our relationship with ourselves.

The complex dynamics in relationships feed back into our perceptions of ourselves and the world. We call this a dual feedback loop – consequences feedback into causes and intensify them.

When we have a greater understanding of how we relate to the external world, we can begin to better navigate our internal world. This often leads to a strange but beautiful improvement in our relationship with food and our bodies.

As you start to cultivate more awareness, you may notice that interactions with other people often trigger uncomfortable feelings, which might increase the desire to use ed behaviours to cope. It’s important to keep in mind that creating awareness is only the first step to lasting change. We need to then assess and implement necessary action around these relationships to improve our situations.

Perhaps you have relationships that have brought pain, trauma, or guilt in the past. Or perhaps you are dealing with a specific relationship now where you're stuck in a vicious cycle of negative interaction.

Perhaps you desire to be in more loving relationships but are filled with fear to open yourself up to others. Maybe you have very few or no relationships and feel isolated and alone, or perhaps you have given up on relationships altogether and feel numb to any interaction at all.

You may find that certain interactions leave you feeling vulnerable, insecure, frustrated, fearful, angry, lonely, unloved, not seen or appreciated, inferior, guilty ... the list goes on.

These relationships have one main thing in common…

They cause an emotional response.

Up until now, you probably have become used to responding to uncomfortable emotions (or any emotions for that matter) by resorting to eating disorder behaviour. This means that the emotions (or thought responses) you experience in relationships actually act as triggers to act out on the eating disorder.

These emotions arise because of certain beliefs or feelings you have about the interactions or the people you interact with.

For example, you may have had an abusive relationship in the past, and you used the eating disorder to cope. Now, a new relationship comes by and you argue… Before you know it, you’re back in ed behaviours because it has triggered an underlying belief e.g. “Anger means I am not safe.” Which is a thought and emotion that your mind is used to responding with through acting out.

Or perhaps you have a negative relationship with your mother so every time you go visit for a long weekend, it brings up feelings once again that you are accustomed to responding negatively to.

Lack of true connection and/or unhealthy relationships in any area of our lives make us vulnerable to responding in unhealthy ways to our internal or external environments. In other words, we are in danger of developing unhealthy coping mechanisms.

A fundamental part of eating disorder recovery is to start assessing your relationships and how they make you feel.

Here are some tips to assess your relationships.

1. Write out a list of the people who play the most important roles in your life (family, friends, colleagues, spouses etc.) 2. Give each one a rating of 1- 10 as to how healthy they currently are. 3. Think of times when you have interacted with each of these people. Have you acted out on the eating disorder while, before or after interacting with each individual? What was the trigger? 4. Think about ways that you could improve each relationship. This could be having an open conversation, changing your perceptions, accepting them for who they are or even removing the relationship completely. Whatever comes up for you. 5. How would you like to choose to respond next time you feel triggered in these relationships?

Struggling to navigate your way through your own eating disorder recovery? Why not drop me a message, I would love to see how I could help you along your healing journey!

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