If you struggle with an eating disorder, the way you relate to food started as a coping mechanism for dealing with an often chaotic and confusing world. It became your way of coping with anger. You’re starting to really relive that anger now.
Your next step is to find a new perspective with which to view your past. If you were to hit your thumb with a hammer, your initial reaction would be anger. You’d be furious with the hammer for hitting your thumb, and you’d be mad at yourself for not being more careful. After the initial rush of pain was over, you’d realize that the hammer wasn’t to blame; it’s just a tool. You’re not to blame either. Hitting your thumb was an accident. Once you realize this, you’ve put what happened into its proper perspective.
Up until now, you’ve been looking back at the events of the past and seeing them through the eyes of a child. As an adult, you know that children, especially those of past generations, were not often told all the reasons behind the decisions made concerning them. Your parents may have felt it was too much of a burden on you to explain certain family circumstances, especially difficult ones.
As a child, not being privy to all the reasons why things happened or why things were said, you filled in those blanks with your own explanations, using the full imagination of your childhood. This can result in faulty conclusions. Somewhere along the line you may have concluded that all distressing events around you were your fault. By reliving these events and looking at them from an older, more mature perspective you have the opportunity to correct your faulty childhood conclusions and adopt a more well-rounded understanding of what happened and why.
On the other hand, the unfairness of pain and hurt can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if the ones who hurt you were family members. Once you realize you are not to blame for the circumstances of your past, you might find yourself asking, How could they have done that to me? Didn’t they know how much they hurt me?
Parents aren’t perfect. They are people, capable of mistakes and failure, and these mistakes may result in their children’s pain. They simply may not have been attuned to how their actions and attitudes were affecting you. It is not an excuse, but it is an explanation. Sometimes an explanation will have to suffice, except in the case of flagrant abuse.
Some of you will have been neglected, dismissed, pressured, driven, silenced. Others of you will have been sexually abused, physically beaten, or deliberately abandoned. Pain, however, is still pain, no matter how it is inflicted. As you reflect on how you have been hurt, an obvious question will come to mind: should the person who hurt you have known better? In some cases, especially those involving flagrant abuse, the answer is yes. The parent or the one who hurt or abused you may have been carrying on faulty parenting skills they learned as children. They may also have been abused. Or it may be that you were a victim of a truly evil person who needed no reason beyond their own hellish nature. If some abuse can never be justified, it can, however, be understood. In most cases, there will be a “why” to help explain the past.
In cases other than flagrant abuse, should the person who hurt you have known better? The answer is “probably.” People generally know when they are hurting another person. They know when they answer in anger or respond selfishly or are cruel and sarcastic. They may know when they do these things but explain them away because of fatigue or frustration. Some parents can have a difficult time asking forgiveness from their children. It upsets what they see as the hierarchy of the family. Some parents would rather hide behind the cloak of parental authority than admit how they have inured their own children.
Do not let the question of “Shouldn’t they have known better?” stall your journey. Your answer may differ from theirs. The person who hurt you may continue to reject any responsibility for their actions. You may never hear an admission and an apology. The person who hurt you may have specific, definitive reasons for their inability to understand the ramifications of their actions. The person may have truly been unaware of how much you were hurting.
You must move on. The healing journey requires you to turn your focus away from others and onto yourself. Once you have uncovered the pain in your past, it will be tempting to stay there, focusing on the mistakes of others and blaming them for all your misery. In order to heal, you must turn inward and take a hard look at your own responsibility for the choices you’ve made. Others may have been responsible for your past, but only you are responsible for your future.
You must want to get well, to move forward and reestablish a healthy, balanced relationship with food. Once you have understood that something is drastically wrong with the choices you are making in your life, the responsibility for making positive change lies solely with you. You must replace false control of food with a positive control based on your new understanding of yourself and your past.
Please don’t give up on the journey because the path isn’t always easy and level. Neither is life.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and best-selling author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz is a go-to media source and sought after speaker for a range of behavioral and dependency disorders. The Center creates individualized treatment programs and has been voted in the top ten facilities for the treatment of depression.