BULIMIA/ANOREXIA AND COMPULSIVE OVEREATING:
WHEN FAMILY AND FRIENDS DON'T
by Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C
Often a person with an eating disorder covers her pain so well that even
when she tells the truth about her suffering, people don't believe her.
They think she is exaggerating, overreacting, in a mood that will pass, etc.
She can look so good or so happy that people who love her and think they
know her well, cannot get past what they wish to see and hear. They can
also be too afraid to believe that her expressions of pain might actually be
So, if that eating disorder person is you, you are in a situation where
there may be many well meaning people in your life, but none who take your
Perhaps they feel helpless because they don't know how to help. They wish
and try to believe that whatever is bothering you would just go away. Nobody
likes to feel helpless in a painful and bewildering situation, especially
when it concerns someone they love.
But as you well know, recurrent bouts of anxiety are not something you can
make go away through an act of will. Anxiety like yours is often a signal
that something needs to be dealt with. It's what usually sends people
looking for relief and then real help. Attempts to find relief take many
forms such as starving, overeating, drinking, using drugs, overplaying,
overTV viewing, overflirting, overdating i.e. doing anything to excess in
order to block out thoughts and feelings.
Some people never get past the search for relief in these ways, and they
cause great havoc and destruction in their lives. Others, like you since
you are still reading this, start exploring and looking for the meaning of
their symptoms. They, like you, know that a better, happier life is somehow
possible, even if they don't know how to achieve it yet. And they, like
you, sense that real help involves honoring yourself and your feelings,
including your anxiety, working to discover what the anxiety signals, what
it means for you, and what kind of developmental process is called for now.
Sometimes friends and family can be a big help. Sometimes they can't.
Sometimes they just don't have the understanding of psychological processes
necessary. They may be impatient with emotions or are unaware of the
significance of feelings. They are only human and may have personal and
protected inner feelings of their own which they can't risk coming into
their own conscious awareness.
If they can't respond to your need to be heard and understood, let it go and
look elsewhere, to people who can be there for you.
Even if friends and family have understanding and willingness to listen and
help, they can be supportive, but they can't be your therapist.
At this stage you want desperately to be heard. One of the most important
things a therapist does is listen to you. It's a very special kind of
listening that goes very deep. In time it teaches you how to listen and
hear yourself in ways you never dreamed possible.
As you learn to hear what your inner depths are crying out for you gain
information, guidance, support from within and from your therapist so you
can heal what needs to be healed, be free of barriers to happiness and grow
into the unique woman you are and can be.
If seeing a psychotherapist would cause other people to judge you harshly,
then you must be dealing with people who do not have an appreciation for
what working with a trained and experienced mental health professional can
accomplish. By seeking out and reading this essay this far you must have a
sense or a hope of what is possible in a professional relationship. Often
the work involved is something that a person simply cannot do alone.
Family and friends don't have to get it. It's your healing path and your
understanding, your willingness to go for what you need that really matters.
In time, as you go through your recovery with your psychotherapist and your
chosen support system you will be able to meet your friends and family on
the ground that they can tolerate. They may grow to understand you. They
may never understand.
What's important is that you understand and that you are proceeding with the
actions and commitments that will bring you health and freedom.
licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child
Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles
where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in
working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying
to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax