Because of your dysfunctional relationship with food, you’ve been isolated from those around you. This isolation has been largely due to fear—fear that others will discover what you do with food, how you feel about food, and how you feel about yourself. You’ve isolated the real you out of fear that they will find out who you really are, and fear of your own unresolved anger. Understanding casts out fear. Anchored solidly in your understanding and self-acceptance, you can begin to trust other people again.
As you go about strengthening, reestablishing, and developing relationships, it is important to remember the following guidelines:
Be honest with your feelings. This does not mean your relationships must be solely dictated by your feelings and emotions. But through your past relationship with food, you have developed a pattern of covering over or numbing your emotions. One of the joys of a relationship is the ability to experience a full range of emotions within the context of relating to another person. Expect to experience a variety of feelings. This is normal.
Develop clear boundaries. Relationships are not invitations for others to take advantage of you. Healthy relationships are mutually uplifting and edifying. Pick and choose your relationships carefully, and find people who will honor and respect your boundaries. Be sure, also, to honor and respect their boundaries.
Respond rather than react when you are hurt. So much of how you’ve dealt with and used food in your past has been a reaction to pain in your life. While it’s true that your relationship with food is changing, it’s also true that you’ll continue to experience pain, including pain in relationships. Relationships aren’t perfect because people aren’t perfect. Be realistic in your attitudes and set goals for your relationships. Relationships involve hurt. Becoming involved with imperfect people means you will be hurt. Remember, however, that being imperfect yourself, you will also cause hurt. That is why forgiveness must well up like an ongoing fountain in your life.
Seek maturity in your relationships. All of us have been hurt and all of us cause pain; it’s the nature of who we are as humans. The point is not to avoid relationships in order to avoid pain. Instead, the goal is to learn from our pain and grow as individuals dedicated to reducing the amount and severity of the pain we cause others and ourselves. This is maturity. A focus on food, weight, and body image freezes you at the point of self-absorbed emotional adolescence, encouraging you to do whatever is necessary to feel better momentarily. Seek to respond in your relationships in a mature way.
If you have begun your eating disorder recovery process, but continue to struggle with the relationships in your life, you may benefit from the guidance of a professional. The team of eating disorder treatment specialists at The Center • A Place of HOPE are available to talk about opportunities to receive professional help and support during this recovery process. Call 1-888-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone from The Center • A Place of HOPE will be in touch with you soon.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.