Eating Disorders: Accepting the Pain of the Past
Contributed Article by Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. – The Center for Counseling & Health Resources, Inc. / A Place of Hope
Individuals with an eating disorder-be it anorexia, bulimia or overeating-are often unaware of the source of their pain. In order to survive as children, we block past abuses. But somewhere along the line, the adult must discover the wellspring of pain from the past. Denial is a significant detour in that quest.
TWO TYPES OF DENIAL
The first is your own denial of what has happened to you. This may take the form of doubting that what you remember ever took place. Because the abuse has been denied, it may take on an unreal quality when remembered, almost as if it happened to someone else.
Denial enters through self-talk. These are the messages we repeat over and over to ourselves as we try to deal with the pain and the eating disorder. I should be strong enough to deal with this on my own or everyone turns to food when they’re down, increases frustration at the inability to bring the eating disorder under control. But denial, this minimization of the pain, is merely a coping mechanism to keep the pain at bay.
The other form of denial comes from the person or people who hurt you. They may deny that the abuse ever took place or that there was anything wrong with what they did. He or she may accept that the event or events happened but deny responsibility or minimize the damage.
This person may even attempt to make you feel responsible for the abuse itself or responsible for your version of the events. They may deny the damage by calling into question your natural response to the damage. It is to his or her benefit if denial goes both ways their denial of the event and your denial of the damage done. They may resist acknowledging your eating disorder, because acknowledgement means recognizing the abuse or pattern of hurtful behavior behind it.
Instead of denying the pain behind your eating disorder, you can learn to accept it.
It is possible to replace your faulty eating disorder coping mechanism with healthy skills for withstanding the stress of life.
It is possible to feel anger without feeling rage.
Through counseling, you can learn to understand and accept your childhood and its pain. If you can weather the storm of finally learning the truth and giving up your ideal image of the perfect family, your pain and hurt can become like parts of a puzzle, fitting into place and giving you greater understanding of why your parents do what they do.
Verbal and/or emotional abuse leaves no visible scars, so the tendency to deny that these events happened can be very great.
Often the parent will remember the circumstances from a very different perspective than the child. Your child-self recalls one version of events, and your parent another. Which is right? They may both be. When you were a child, you remembered things from the perspective of a child, often unaware of the larger picture. Your parents may never have considered how their actions looked from the other side.
Finding the truth and working with your family will not be easy, but it can be extremely illuminating and rewarding. It can mean the reconciliation of relationships. Or you can gain an understanding of the type of relationship you can realistically have with your family as an adult.
Egregious physical or sexual abuse, by its very nature, may lead to outright denial by the abuser.
The more valid the memory, the more vehement the denial. Because societal and religious condemnation of such acts is so great, the person who abused you may never truly admit what he or she has done. The abuser may believe that if the abuse is denied outright, you may begin to doubt that it occurred at all. In spite of this, you need to realize you were hurt. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if memories are totally clear or recalled; you still felt hurt.
The next point is so important, I want to put it in bold type to make sure you don’t overlook it: Your self-destructive behavior did not come about for no reason. Most people who develop a severe eating disorder have had some history of abuse, and I encourage you to believe in what your past reveals.
Don’t allow denial, your own or others, to halt your journey toward healing and recovery from your eating disorder.
Published Date: December 1, 2011
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 4, 2012
Page last updated: June 12, 2012