The line between being a supportive caregiver or parent, and enabling a family member struggling with an eating disorder can become blurry when fears run the show.
Enabling is defined as ‘Protecting someone from experiencing the full consequences of their behavior.’
We are absolutely terrified beyond description that our loved one is disappearing before our eyes - regardless of their weight...they are absent from their body as if their true self has been hijacked by this ‘ed monster’ and we cannot find them. What we see in front of us and hear talking back to us is not the person we knew. Now and then we will get glimmers, much like when a loved one has alzheimer's. It gives us momentary hope...and pain.
Family members do not want to see a loved one suffer. And being labeled as “enabling” or “enmeshed” or as an “anxious parent” increases everyone’s suffering. We are not trained on how to tolerate a loved-one’s distress and how to manage our own distress at seeing them suffer. We need support and training on how to do this. We are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
At some point all family caregivers learn how deadly eating disorders are. That is terrifying. We need help to calm the fears. Then we can be calm, compassionate, confident caregivers.
Parents may invest all of their time and energy into helping their child while neglecting their own feelings and needs. To an outsider, it may seem as though the parent or caregiver is simply being self-sacrificing in order to help their child to the best of their ability. However, this type of relationship begins to take a toll on the child and the parent, and may leave the parent feeling as though they need to “fix” their child.
It is essential for family members to be involved, and include these 4 things:
- Separate your child/family member from the eating disorder.
- Practice EXTREME self-care.
- Learn as much as possible about these complex, deadly illnesses.
- Get support from someone who knows eating disorders well.
When we see what enabling does for us and our loved one and what having healthy behaviors does for us and our loved ones we can see the benefits of learning different ways to provide support.
When we enable we can:
- Try to fix the ED
- Stop Living
- Worry all the Time
- Are Held Hostage by ED
- Lose Hope
- Stop Sleeping
- Jump Down the Well
- Get on the Emotional Rollercoaster
- Become Resentful
- Feel Exhausted
When we use healthy behaviors we can:
- Can Feel Guilt at First
- Be Engaged Part of the Team
- Support the Therapeutic Process
- Can Enjoy Life Again
- Reduce Distress
- Model Health Behaviors
- Increase Compassion
- Reduce Burnout
- Increase Hope for Recovery
- Learn to Validate
- Communicate Effectively
- Remain Calm
- Stop Accommodating ED
- Reduce Drama
- Practice Self Care
- Raise Confidence
- Lower our own Distress
- Increase Capacity to Tolerate Child’s Distress
I hope that this gives you some ideas and hope to begin to experience the benefits of learning different ways to provide support.
Keep loving, keep supporting, be present and keep YOU on your TO DO LIST. Remember, self care is not selfish.