5 Tips For a Positive Recovery When Your Family Is Unsupportive

Recovering from an eating disorder is an uphill battle that’s filled with obstacles, hurdles, and traps designed to test you…. and when you add one or more unsupportive family members into the mix, it can make the task of getting better seem absolutely impossible.

Whether your family make derogatory comments, outright dismiss you or simply make you feel at fault for your disorder, it’s important that you choose to keep the atmosphere around your recovery positive and uplifting to allow you the emotional space to continue to make healthy decisions for yourself.

If you’re struggling with your family dynamic, try these 5 tips:

Tip 1: Write it down.

With families, tension and emotions often run high – especially in parent/child relationships wherein the child has an eating disorder (and may be particularly prone to fears around disappointing the family, or their parents being ashamed of their disorder when they choose to reveal it). In these situations, it can often be helpful to write down your feelings in a letter to your family members saying that you feel they aren’t supporting you as a mechanism for both coping and change.

A great way to tackle this is to write two letters:

Letter 1 (coping): Write this to your family members, but with no intention of ever giving it to them. This allows you to write as if you were talking directly to them, let out all your emotions and say all the things that you want to say. Once you’ve written this, take some deep breaths and read over it a few times.

Letter 2 (change): Once you’ve read over Letter 1, try and extract the main key themes that you are wanting to communicate, and write a second letter to your family – this time with the purpose of actually giving it to them. Mention some areas of change that you’d appreciate your family participating in to help with your recovery, and how the current situation is impacting you adversely.

This way, you can let out your emotions in a constructive way and your family members have time to read the letter, process the information and formulate a course of action whilst not in an “on the spot” pressure filled situation.

Tip 2: Become a team.

Now, if your family is greatly unsupportive or dismissive of your illness/recovery, they may not be up for this (and you might not be willing, either). But, if possible, ask your family if they’d be willing to attend some family therapy sessions with you. These sessions will have the goal of reconciling your family differences and creating an environment where everyone can feel supported and work together as a team. Often in situations with unsupportive families, an external mediator’s recommendations will be taken more seriously than the opinions of the person who is at odds with the family.

It can help to take someone totally unbiased to create some clarity in the chaos sometimes.

Tip 3: Find your own family.

Not everyone’s family are blood relatives – family can be anything that you want it to be and for some of us, we feel closer to the people that we choose to keep in our lives (rather than the people that we inherited by proxy).

If you’re closer and more supported by a group of friends than family, that’s okay. If you have a more maternal relationship with your best friend’s mother than your own, that’s okay too. If your father’s family treats you like garbage but your mother’s family embraces you with open arms, it’s okay to shun those who don’t have your best interests at heart.

Your mental health is more important than prioritizing blood relations at your own detriment, and you’re allowed to choose who gets to take up space in your heart.

Tip 4: Try and understand their perspective.

When we’re hurt, we tend to look at those who’ve hurt us as being deliberate and malicious in their words/actions towards us. Sometimes, this unfortunately can be the case. However, in therapy contexts with many of the family situations that we see, family members simply don’t know how to react to their relative having an eating disorder.

They might say/do the wrong things not out of wanting to hurt you, but out of feeling lost and confused. Particularly where parents are concerned, they may be dealing with their own internal hurt and fear that they’ve failed as a parent by raising someone with an eating disorder. And these beliefs are often contributed to by the greater culture of secrecy and shame that unfortunately still surrounds eating disorders.

Try and put yourself in their perspective. Can you think back to a time where you felt betrayed, at fault or confused, and didn’t know how to handle a highly emotional situation… what did you do? Did you act out, at all?

Most family members will be grateful to be given an invitation to assist in your recovery, but feel like they need to wait for you to personally tell them what to do before they offer a helping hand. If it’s possible that your family simply doesn’t know how to react to you and doesn’t mean to be insensitive, then family therapy and the letter approach mentioned above can work wonders.

Tip 5: Remove yourself from the situation.

In saying that family members don’t always mean to hurt us, sometimes they do and not all of us are fortunate enough to be born into a loving family dynamic. If your family has a history of violence, emotional/physical abuse, frequently make derogatory comments to you or are in any way trying to actively keep you sick/sabotage your recovery, it’s critical that you prioritize yourself in this situation.

This means finding a way to eliminate their toxic behavior from the mix of things that you need to deal with right now. Depending on your living situation, this may mean moving out of the family home and staying with a friend or finding your own place to live, entering a treatment facility or if the situation is dire, this may involve contacting the authorities and taking out the appropriate protective orders to maintain your safety.

The important thing to remember is that you’re never alone. There are people who can (and want to) help you stay safe and focus on getting better, and there are people who want to help you find the options that will suit you best. It can be a hard decision to make if you realize that your family is actively hurting you, but however tough that choice may seem, it may be the best thing you can do for yourself in the long run.

Additional tips:

  • Whatever is going on in your family situation, YOUR recovery needs to be your priority. Try not to become so discouraged with the changes that you want them to make that you forget about changes that you can make to help yourself.
  • If your family is willing to move on and assist you, it’s important to allow yourself to forgive them for whatever may have happened in the past. Forgiveness does not mean that you’ve forgotten what’s happened, but simply means that you’re allowing yourself to have the space that you need to grow positively forward.
  • Surround yourself with as much positivity as possible – friends that support you, inspiring articles on social media, music that makes you happy and hobbies that make your soul sing. Focusing on this positivity is so important in recovery.
  • Know that your family situation may change – even if your family elect not to be a positive part of your life now doesn’t mean that they never will.

Remember, no matter how hard this situation may be – you’re choosing to recover. That makes you strong, brave and incredible. And whatever comes your way, you have the power to choose what happens next.

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