Continued from Part 1 Tips for Supporters – Comments on Bodies here!
As someone supporting an eating disorder sufferer, it can be extremely frustrating to see your loved one hurting themselves, but try to keep that frustration under wraps. Getting angry will only increase the shame and guilt that the sufferer feels which may lead to more secrecy and an increase in symptoms. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and honest which is why it is suggested that you find someone to talk to about your frustrations and struggles, support groups or individual counselling may help in this respect.
“Why can’t you just…” These comments are never helpful. The sufferer honestly doesn’t know why they can’t “eat like a normal person” or “stop throwing up”, the addition of the word “just” makes it even worse. The sufferer often feels as if changing their rituals or behaviours will cause an incredible amount of pain and that they will not be able to survive giving them up. There is much more involved in eating disorder recovery than “just” eating like a “normal person” and saying things like this is honestly insulting.
Please, please, PLEASE do not use threats to encourage your loved one. Recovery on the basis of fear does not help anyone and often creates larger problems down the road. Comments such as “I’m not eating until you do” or “I’m leaving if you throw up one more time” promote more secrecy and may lead to an increase in symptoms, especially if the threat is something they know you will not follow through on.
Try to avoid the “if you loved me” comments. They do love you, and if they could change their behaviours to help you they WOULD! It’s not a question of how much they love you, but how much they love themselves. They know that their behaviours hurt you and it is in no way a statement about how they feel about you.
Sometimes external motivations are easiest. I know personally stopping symptoms for events or people was the easiest way to motivate myself. The only issue with this is that outside motivations waiver, people change and events pass, and then what are you supposed to do? It may be necessary to help your loved one find external motivations but the ultimate goal is finding motivation within. This can resemble a vision of the future you desire, a physical goal or a development of self-love and respect (obviously this one is far away, but it is possible!)
Above all, please do not compare your behaviours or thoughts with those of a sufferer. “I once didn’t eat for 3 days”, “I hate the way I look too”, “I know how you feel”, “I used to be really thin” and “I wish I had your problem” are all INCREDIBLY un-helpful. Not only might these spawn more symptoms and thoughts, but a lot of frustration as well. Speaking as a sufferer, no one can POSSIBLY understand what you are thinking or feeling other than another sufferer. Please do not pretend to “get it”, instead try to say thing like “it must be difficult” and “I don’t understand, but I’m here for you anyway” are so much more comforting.
Lastly, please know that you have very little control over the behaviours of your loved one. It is imperative that they take ownership of their own behaviours for them to truly recover. Try not to personalize their behaviour as a reflection of yourself.