BULIMIA/ANOREXIA AND COMPULSIVE OVEREATING:
WHEN FAMILY AND FRIENDS DON'T GET IT

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 true.

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 anguish seriously.

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.

10/11/98

Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., 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.

Contact Information:
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax

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