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Eating Disorder, Shame, Denial


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A few years ago I posted this:

“I am currently working towards remission from bulimia that I’ve been suffering on and off with for about 7 years. I’m focused on working through shame that I feel towards myself now and examining the reasons why I began to feel this shame in the first place. When my eating disorders started around 17 years of age, my mother made shameful comments towards me. For example, she noticed I had eaten a lot of food and asked, “did you enjoy your binge?” She also caught me purging in my bedroom once and said, “you can do whatever you want when you leave the house. No more puking.” To me, this sent the message that she didn’t care what I did once I was out on my own, didn’t want to deal with my feelings or disorder, and didn’t care for my wellbeing. She also once said, “all you’ve been doing is eating all day,” with no constructive comments to make afterwards, leaving me to feel immense amounts of shame about my eating disorder. I needed my mother’s support during these vulnerable moments, not to be shamed. I needed someone to try and understand the reasons behind these unhealthy eating behaviors, not to hear incredibly shameful comments. It really irks me that a mother would shame their child this way and not try to understand the feelings behind the disorder. My mother also had eating disorders around my age, so one would think she would understand. Perhaps it hit too close to home for her to deal with, or perhaps she has unresolved habits surrounding food of her own. Perhaps she was not there for herself during my times of need, so couldn’t be there for me and the best she could offer during those moments were shameful comments. I try to understand it from her point of view, but I also feel enraged that she was so incapable of helping me during those moments. Do I work through this myself and learn to just let these comments go, or do I tell my mom how they made me feel at those moments and still affect me 7 years later? I feel if I at least give her an opportunity to apologize for causing me to feel shame, at least I could get some closure regardless if she apologizes for her actions or not. At the same time, I don't wan't to focus too much on the past and make my mother feel bad. These comments are haunting me and I want to make peace with them and my mom, so I am not sure what to do. Looking for some insight from others, should I learn to let go of these comments on my own, or tell my mother how they made me feel after these years?“


I did not end up confronting my mother regarding this until today, and it kind of happened organically and unexpectedly. She knows I am still struggling with my bulimia, so she tried to open up conversation to help. I told her I didn’t want to go into depth about it with her because I was carrying some resentment. Then somehow all of this came up. I tried to do it in a way that didn’t make her feel attacked. But the conversation started off by her saying “it isn’t my fault”, so I should have known to set a boundary and not get into anything. But I didn’t set the boundary and the conversation kept going. She 100% denies the memory of asking me “did you enjoy your binge?” when my disorder first started. She said repeatedly that she would never say something like that and that I must have misinterpreted her. I observed this unfold with a neutral demeanor. She started crying at one point. Is this a common thing for people to completely block out a memory of something so horrible they did? I feel like my memory is so invalidated and I’m even starting to question my own reality, even though I vividly remember it that way. Is she in denial, or am I making up a memory? There is no way to know because there is no recording of this interaction obviously, but I feel very invalidated nevertheless. My guess is she probably felt very attacked and blocked out the memory because it was too painful for her to see herself asking me that. The conversation went okay overall other than that, and she wants to help and be a source of support now. I can tell she is trying, but maybe she just feels guilty too.


I also want to keep an open mind that I could have created these memories to take some of the fault/responsibility off of myself for my disorder. Like I created my mom out to be an enemy and made that memory up? This is so weird.

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Only therapy can help you explore the relationship between eating disorders, power/control conflicts in the mother-daughter relationship. As you know eating disorders are not about food or starving or purging. It's about control, boundaries and strained relationships as well as asserting the only control you have... what you eat.

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Have you ever been to therapy for your eating disorders? If not, why not? If you have had this for the past 7-10 years you NEED intensive therapy/counselling by a professional who specialises in eating disorders as it is something you can never sort out on your own (imo). Get the professional help you need and the sooner the better. If you have had therapy/counselling before, then you need to go back and stay with it for as long as it takes, even if that means years. Clearly there are many underlying issues and you need to address them. You either get the help you need, or you live with this for the rest of your life.

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Consider that the first step in giving yourself a break may be to give your Mom one. Very few of us, if any, have had perfect childhoods. The good news is, as adults we can shed our child role and adopt instead a position of equality in our relationships with our parents. That means we can use discretion in what we choose to share--or not--and it also means that we can choose to model for them the kind of empathy and caring we wish that we could have received while they were raising us.


Kindness toward our parents is an upward spiral. It tends to teach us how to view ourselves through a more forgiving lens as we recognize the fallibilities and frailties in those who's approval we no longer need. We are in a position of negotiation for what we want as opposed to viewing ourselves as at the mercy of anyone else's lousy judgment. For instance, I once told my Mom, "I love you, and I admire you, but if the price of doing business with you is hearing you say things to make me feel guilty, that's too high of a cost for me. If you want to see more of me instead of less of me, and you want me to tell you things instead of withholding them from you, then you'll need to treat me with the same kindness and respect you'd reserve for the next door neighbor or someone on the street."


She got it. Our relationship has grown into a close and good one over the years since, and I never required her to admit and apologize for all of the wrongs in my upbringing. I just set a new course for us going forward, and I credited myself with an ability to heal my wounded places without a need for her to eat crow. That's what hiring a therapist is for--they're trained to teach people how to navigate beyond our perceptions of injustice.


The mother-daughter relationship is a primary focus of therapeutic work around eating disorders. How much therapy have you had, and have you been satisfied with the results? If not, there is no time like the present to pursue more help. This doesn't preclude you from having whatever conversations with your Mom that you believe you must, but it may help to lessen any beliefs you may hold that getting your Mom to say 'uncle' is the only way to heal.


We can't rewrite history, but we can accept ownership of our decisions to plot our own course forward.

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