Let’s visualize a scene here: work didn’t go well today for you (no specific person); your boss made you feel incompetent in the meeting you two had earlier, and the team meeting following it was full of catered food. You didn’t see this coming, and it wasn’t aligned with the plan you had for yourself today. You were overwhelmed by the amount that felt out of your control today, and all you really wanted when you got home was a feeling of safety. You get home from work, and show visible signs of anxiety. Your husband asks if you are okay, to which you reply, “yeah, I’m fine.” You two sit down for dinner an hour later, and you take three bites before you decide to leave the table. Another hour passes and you’re getting ready for bed. Your husband is in the other room, and you decide to purge in the bathroom loud enough so he can hear. You enter into the bedroom, visibly upset with tears rolling down your face, and scream at your husband, “why don’t you care about me?”

How are you getting your needs met?

Raise your hand if it feels easier to use behaviors than to use verbal communication as a way to get your needs met. Are both hands raised? I can relate. When we’re deep within our eating disorder, we initially learn how quickly our behaviors may get us what we feel we need at the time. I remember (falsely) believing that the only way to receive love was to use my behaviors. So I continued to restrict sometimes for the sole purpose of making sure my parents were still concerned! My notion: concern meant being cared about. How accurate is this? What happens when using behaviors actually fails to get your needs met, and actually pushes others further and further away? The reality is that engaging in behaviors doesn’t hurt anyone else nearly as much as it hurts the person doing them.

If I stop engaging in behaviors, will you still be around for me?

In other words, “If I stop purging, and reveal that I’m actually progressing in recovery, will you think I don’t need you anymore?” This is pretty common scenario of the fear of abandonment. There is the false belief that when we are all “fine and recovered,” our supporters will not have as significant of a presence in our life. Receiving support becomes contingent on being “sick.” I wonder what it would feel like to say “I’m fine,” and actually mean it? What would it look like for your life to be going “well;” would you still receive love? In what way would love transform or feel differently?

Our supporters aren’t mind readers

Let’s refer to the situation above. At any point, was support asked for? The most instantaneous response I typically get when this question is asked goes something like this: but he/she should know what I need. I shouldn’t need to tell them. I would have known that he/she was struggling without them having to point it out! Generally speaking, those diagnosed with an eating disorder struggle with perfectionism. Part of this perfectionistic thinking actually equips us with this ability to be receptive to other’s struggles, and results with an “inherent” need to please others. However, we cannot expect that every individual understands, receives, and knows how to support us as we are struggling. It is our role to tell them that we need support.

What does support actually look like?

Part of asking for support means putting into very concrete terms exactly what support means to us. If you ask me for support, I won’t know that you actually mean you want me to order the same meal as you to help ease anxiety. If you ask me for support, I won’t know that you actually want me to “forbid” you from using the bathroom an hour after our meals in order to keep you from purging. If you ask me for support, I won’t know that you just want a hug. I won’t know these things unless you tell me. The same thing goes for our supporters. What they view as support may be the last thing we benefit from in the moment of our distress. While this is educational for your supporters, it is also building upon our own self-awareness in identifying: what do I actually need?