Navigating relationships with an eating disorder

You may have seen our recent blog post about the importance of healthy boundaries. In this blog, we’re focusing more specifically on relationships; what it feels like to navigate relationships whilst you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, and how we work with our clients to help them to develop meaningful relationships and heal from past wounds.

Relationships are the antithesis of an eating disorder

An eating disorder thrives on isolation; it actively keeps people at a distance so that attention limited to only a few specific things. At the very beginning of someone’s recovery journey, we often find that people have very few close friends or intimate relationships as their eating disorder forms a seemingly “protective” barrier between them and the outside world.

This protective barrier can be indicative of what may have caused the eating disorder in the first place. Often, an eating disorder develops after something or someone has taught the individual that the world is not as safe as they once thought, and the eating disorder serves as a protective shield against being hurt or harmed once more. Like we’ve said previously, they develop from seemingly good intentions, but it is really a false sense of security and control.

In this way, people with eating disorders may feel (or may feel deep down) significant anxiety when someone appears to be getting too close. The eating disorder’s control is threatened, so it keeps people at a distance so it can have you all to itself.

Eating disorders are the antithesis to relationships because authentic relationships require you to relinquish some degree of power. Other people cannot be controlled and you can’t control the outcome or experience of intimacy. It can therefore feel safer to be alone, within the boundaries of what you can control.

Developing and nurturing the relationships you deserve

However, you – or the person you care about as you’re reading this – deserves loving and authentic relationships. No one deserves to feel the loneliness and isolation that so often comes with an eating disorder, and a lot of the work we do with our clients is to help them to realise this and take steps to bringing the wall down between them and others.

We help people to explore patterns they’ve identified in their relationships; heal the negative experiences they’ve been through that has taught them a way to think about themselves or others, and investigate the natural vulnerability that comes with allowing someone to see us and care for us as we are. We all deserve to love ourselves so we can allow others to love us too.

A way over overcoming the barrier of an eating disorder is to allow yourself to have relationships and give yourself permission to authentically enjoy them. This also means allowing yourself to explore different kinds of relationships and to be curious of who and what you are drawn to.

Notice how you feel around others; whether you feel comfortable or uncomfortable, what you like to do with certain people and how much time you genuinely want to spend with them. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to have the friendships and relationships that you want to have, as long as they are true to you.

This process may come easily – or it may take time. Either way, be kind to yourself. You’re on your journey and it’ll take time to figure things out, but that is okay.

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