Healing from Sexual Trauma and Eating Disorders

Woman upset with her dental issues during eating disorder

Contributor: By Rachael Clauson, MAAT, Eating Disorder Specialist, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment

Healing from an eating disorder is a complex journey that is rarely linear and predictable. Overcoming an eating disorder involves the healing of the mind, body, and spirit.

And for someone who has experienced sexual trauma, healing adds another layer of complexity in the recovery journey.

Treatment for an eating disorder and sexual assault may look like co-occurring healing processes involving the mind, body, and spirit and it’s important to regulate, rebuild, and reclaim among those three components of the self.

Healing of the Mind

In the thoughts and the mind of someone suffering from trauma and an eating disorder, distortions often take over and distort the truth. Survivors of sexual trauma frequently live according to distortions such as, “I deserved it, it was my fault that bad things happened.”

This may show up in the relationship between food and the body as these distortions may influence the eating disorder thought process.

Eating disorder behaviors may be fulfilling the distorted truth through achieving the illusion of control, self-punishment, or self-fulfilling prophecies.

Sadly, many survivors employ thoughts and behaviors such as, “I had no control/safety during my trauma, and now I can find control/safety in my eating disorder”, “I deserve to be punished, and I will punish myself through using eating disorder behaviors”, or “I’m a bad person, I deserve to starve/purge/binge”.

Beginning to tear apart these distortions and the behaviors that follow is vital in the healing and rebuilding of a different internal and external dialogue.

Healing of the Body

Sexual trauma often causes a disconnect in the body from the person living in the body as a way of coping with the trauma.

Eating disorder behaviors may reinforce this disconnection through using starving as a way of numbing out from emotional distress, purging as a way to “get rid of” discomfort or distress, and bingeing as a way to distract, numb, or “fill” emotional discomfort or distress.

Treatment from these behaviors often looks like stabilizing, nourishing, and regulating through a balanced meal plan to achieve a level of healthy homeostasis that the eating disorder disrupted and as a way to reconnect to the body.

Through this reconnection, it is incredibly vital also to rebuild safety in the body to challenge the trauma narrative of being unsafe. Once safety is rebuilt, reclamation of the body can be a healing experience as it can be empowering to claim your body as your own.

Healing of the Soul

Sexual trauma and eating disorders are intensely invasive struggles that affect the whole person in extensive ways, internal and external. In order to heal the soul, it is imperative to regulate through each hurdle and discover purpose and rebuild hope in one’s life.

Reclaiming one’s life is also significant as it can give the person that opportunity to redefine their truth to explore what more they want their life to hold.

Woman on path struggling with sexual traumaWhat are their desires, wants, and needs, and how can those be seen and validated outside of behaviors and distorted ways of thinking.

Healing is not an easy process, and it certainly isn’t orderly. However, it is possible. It is a courageous act to embark on the journey of healing, and it takes resilience and perseverance to rebuild and reclaim the inner truth of feeling like enough again.

It takes healing as a whole person, mind, body, and soul to achieve true healing.

Rachel Clauson Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Rachael Clauson, MAAT, is and Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. Her primary responsibilities consist of facilitating group therapy, creating individualized support plans, and providing support and awareness for resident’s continued success in recovery. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Drawing and Painting from Northern Michigan University. She also received her Master of Arts in Art Therapy from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 5, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 5, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com