Your kid has an eating disorder. You know it. They know it. Friends and family know it. But your child just doesn’t want to get better. It’s the most common phenomenon in eating disorders treatment. Let me help you understand what this is like for them.
Your child, even your adult child, is drowning in their emotions. Usually it’s anxiety, but it might also be depression, trauma, OCD, or the like. Now imagine their emotions are like a vast ocean with them stuck in the middle of it. The only thing keeping them afloat is the life jacket they’re wearing. You look closely and the life jacket says “eating disorder” on it. Now you, your family, friends, counselors and doctors are close by on a nice, steady ship and you are all screaming to your kid, “take the life jacket off! It’s bad for you!”
What kind of response would you expect? Not a compliant one to be sure. Most likely it involved something along the lines of “hell no” and possibly a middle finger. It’s beyond frightening to conceive of taking off the one sense of comfort and safety you have when you’re struggling with an eating disorder. Resistance is to be expected then.
Our job is to roll with it. Your kid is scared to death of giving up their eating disorder. We must keep trying to toss them some sort of ring buoy and ask them to try to grab onto its rope. It won’t feel as safe, as close to their body, as comforting and reassuring, as their disorder. But it’s something else to try. Slowly we can pull them in.
Parenting and guiding a loved one past their eating disorder takes a lot of trust building. Sometimes, you’ll have to lead the way, sometimes you’ll be side by side with them, and sometimes you’ll let them soar on their own. The hard part is knowing when to take over.
Let me put it clearly to you. Your job is to get your child into treatment even though they don’t want to grab that buoy for help. You toss it to them, and let the team involved get to work establishing rapport and trust. They will help you learn how to do the same in an effective way too. But waiting for your child to want to grab that rope and buoy is how you let them drown. Eating disorders are typically progressive diseases, and the more you let them linger the worse they are, more ingrained they become, and the harder recovery is down the line.
This is hard work, and sometimes it feels like you’ll never get beyond it. But if you can roll with the wave of resistance, your child will be a survivor thanks to you.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS - Founder and CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.