Many people view meal times as an opportunity to share conversation and enjoy companionship with friends and family. But, a common trait of individuals with eating disorders is a tendency to isolate and avoid relationships. Some of the anxiety around interacting with others may stem from difficulty communicating ones needs and feelings in relationships. It may seem less stressful to just avoid interacting indepthly with others. After all, there is some truth to the concept that “familiarity breeds contempt”. It gets messy whenever we become too involved with another’s life, and in most cases, there is no real control over others in relationships. It can feel terribly vulnerable to need someone and/or to depend upon their support and love. Many of us have been sorely let down by those meant to be our support systems in life. Poor parenting via abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. can lay the groundwork for avoiding emotional dependency in relationships. Also, wounds sustained by friends/peers/boyfriends/girlfriends often haunt us years after the rejection, betrayal or abandonment occurred. Somewhere deep in our psyche, we decide “this relationship business is too fraught with potential for hurt and disappointment. It is best that I not let others get too close to me. It is safer that way”. So, logically, it sort of makes sense, right? Avoiding pain is appealing to everyone. But, the problem occurs when by our very decision to take care of ourselves and distance from others we incur loneliness, isolation and a host of other unmet needs for companionship and love. So, we protect ourselves, to some degree, from the painful emotions, but also prevent ourselves from experiencing the joy and companionship that relationships offer us, quite the dilemma.
An eating disorder often becomes the substitute for the lack of supportive and loving relationships in our lives. It is always there for us, we can control the decision of when we interact with it (ex: “today has been awful! I cannot wait to binge on cookies when I get home tonight! At least I have that comfort to look forward to”….).
The crux of the matter is that we must experience and tolerate a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, in order to be involved in relationships deeply. How are you at expressing your needs in relationships? How do you deal with conflict and feelings of anger? Are you able to express your needs in relationships? These are key reasons why it is important to be able to identify, tolerate and express the wide range of emotions that make up the human interaction experience.