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Self-disclosure: I’ve never been a very patient person. When I set a goal, I delineate exactly what I need to do, create a timeline that is admittedly both too structured and a tad unrealistic, and I’m off! When I set my mind to something, I want it done. I like to check things off lists because it feels so satisfying and controlled-Can you relate?
However, to my frustration, life isn’t always so black-and-white, cut-and-dry. It’s messy and confusing. Perhaps one of the more confusing aspects is the potential to hold two conflicting feelings at once. There are times where it feels plain awkward to feel both happy and sad about something at the same time. I can’t be the only one!
Oftentimes, when people are beginning their journey in eating disorder (ED) recovery, I hear a version of the following statement:
The majority of people saying that experience deep shame in vocalizing that statement and feel utterly confused by it. They know the eating disorder is greatly harming their bodies and minds. They know how concerned loved ones are. And yet, the thought of giving up the eating disorder sounds terrifying- like taking a step off of a cliff and hoping that something or someone will catch you.
First of all, these feelings are normal. Incredibly uncomfortable, but also normal. If you look closely at eating disorder recovery language, there is often a theme of battle. “Fight the eating disorder!” “Defeat ED!” There is nothing wrong with challenging our thinking and standing up against the rigidity that the ED often brings, but I’d like us to consider an alternative approach that is more focused on cultivating compassion (I know, self-compassion feels weird, but don’t stop reading!)
Eating disorder behaviors, when you break them down, are coping skills. They have helped you in some way, whether that was to numb, distract, punish, grieve, etc. We know the behaviors aren’t good for us, but they are hard to stop because, to some extent, they have WORKED for us. So what if, instead of fighting against our conflicted feelings and eating disorder behaviors, we instead approach those parts of us with curiosity, appreciation, and compassion. Why? When we tend to those parts of us that feel unheard, we can address what our needs actually are and attempt to have them met in a different way. We are honoring our needs and honoring our Self.
How in the world do we do that, you ask? We can start by becoming open, or curious, to our conflicting feelings.
Why am I scared to give up the ED?
What do I fear I will lose?
What has it given me?
Once we have an understanding of this, we can appreciate how our minds have found a way to try and cope-We are adaptive! Thank yourself for your adaptivity and talk with your therapist about how to get those needs addressed in a different manner.
Looking at the different parts of ourselves to find healing comes from an Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. If this feels like a helpful tool to utilize in your recovery, I encourage you to pursue therapeutic support. You are not alone in the journey to wholeness from an eating disorder.