Self Acceptance and ED Recovery
A common myth that emerges over and over in my work with those in recovery is the belief that one has to get rid of a significant part of oneself--the eating disorder part--in order to recover. No wonder so many people are hesitant and conflicted and panicky about recovery! It is completely understandable to not want to let go, since the eating disorder part serves its own significant and unique purpose. I want to break through this myth and share with you my thoughts on recovery and self-acceptance.
Eating disorder recovery does not have to involve rejecting the eating disorder part of you; instead, true recovery involves accepting, updating and integrating your eating disorder part.
I have had times in my history that I was ashamed or embarrassed to expose parts of myself that were problematic. Unfortunately, this only served to perpetuate the problematic aspects of these parts.
I tried and tried to hide away and control these shameful parts of myself, only to have them pop up time and time again. Even though power struggling with parts of myself didn’t have great outcomes, in the past, I have strived towards personal growth down the path of self-rejection.
Then this past year, I started studying and attending trainings for IFS--Internal Family Systems. The IFS therapy model has a motto that I love: “All parts are welcome.”
As I became more familiar with this model, I started seeing more clearly that being at an internal conflict with unwanted parts of myself was a futile and toxic battle.
The reality is that these parts of myself are there whether or not I like it, so I embarked on a journey of self-acceptance, welcoming all my parts.
In the process, I have come to realize that the “bad” parts of myself actually all have really good intentions for me but have developed ineffective and maladaptive ways of applying their good intentions.
Learning how to respect and accept these parts of myself that I formerly rejected have been transformational for me!
So often, the focus in eating disorder recovery is on controlling and eliminating the behaviors and symptoms of the eating disorder, which is needed to protect medical safety, but does not address the root issues that drive the behaviors.
When the eating disorder is seen for what it is on a deeper level and there is a development of respectful awareness of the good intentions of the eating disorder, then a working relationship with one’s internal system becomes possible.
Genuine respect for one’s eating disorder part is an act of self-acceptance.
From an outsider’s perspective, it can be confusing to hear that an eating disorder part might have good intentions for the sufferer. However, I have had many people tell me that their eating disorder helped them survive really tough situations, even when it was slowly killing them. I know my own episodes with disordered eating occurred at times when I was desperate to cope in any way available to me.
Take a moment to curiously ask what your eating disorder part’s good intentions are for yourself. When you really accurately understand that part of yourself, you have taken a great leap towards self-acceptance. And in eating disorder recovery, this is a foundational concept.
If you try to get rid of your eating disorder part or label it as the enemy to fight against, then recovery will be an uphill battle and so much harder to attain. Of course, swinging to the opposite extreme of passively giving into the eating disorder parts demands and complying to its rigid rules is also not a helpful path in recovery.
Once you have gotten to know your eating disorder parts good intentions, then you can look for more effective and adaptive ways it can serve that purpose in your life. For example, the eating disorder part is so very good at being an alert system.
When your eating disorder part is compelling you to engage in a compensatory or coping behavior, it is informing you that there is something in your life that is imbalanced or toxic or out of line with your true values.
Your eating disorder has rules and processes for temporarily relieving the stress of this, but it will continue to surface until the underlying needs are addressed. True recovery is about being informed by your eating disorder part but not putting it in charge.
So, who should be in charge, if not your eating disorder part? The answer is cheesy but accurate nevertheless: your true self. Full recovery involves unearthing your core self and giving it space to emerge and take leadership. This integrity is an act of extreme bravery because it sometimes means that you have to disappoint those who were wanting you to be someone else and to go against society’s norms and standards and to courageously approach life in new ways. It is when you are connected with your true self that your eating disorder part can update and develop into a part of yourself that is helpful to you. This journey of self-acceptance is so very hard but incredibly rewarding.
About the Author: Joy Linn
Joy Linn lives in the Santa Cruz area. She works at The Lotus Collaborative as Clinical Director and is honored to support those in their recovery journeys. Joy is working on further developing her ability to live intuitively and with integrity to her true self.