Thursday, 26 July 2012

cry for help or attention seeking?

ouch. harsh pic from here

I had a conversation the other day with the mother of a girl recovering from anorexia. Her daughter is doing really well, but has a friend from hospital who is not doing well and keeps sending her text messages all about how there's no point and how she's never going to eat again. My friend's daughter finds this not only distressing but also very triggering and is thinking about cutting ties with  the girl in order to protect herself. She is also, not to put to fine a point on it, sick of this girl's drama.

My first advice was of course that her daughter needs to protect herself and her recovery above all else - that her responsibility is only to her own well being. But I also put in my two cents as to why the other girl is acting the way she is. My friend found this a very helpful perspective, so I thought I might share it with you here.

From how I know I have acted, and the way I have seen others acting (especially on social media) I have four theories why people suffering from an eating disorder engage in what appears from the outside to be 'attention seeking' behaviour:

1. Catharsis - sometimes the pain is just so great that if you don't shout it out you're not always sure what you'll end up doing. It's always better to shout about how much you hurt inside than turn to self harm. You don't really want anyone to respond or fix anything, you're just getting it off your chest.

2. Conversation - sometimes it's about wanting to start a conversation about something that's bothering you, but not really knowing how to do that. You might say "it's all too hard, I'm not going to eat today" but you might mean "what do you do when you feel like this?" You might just being looking for someone with a shared experience to let you know that you are not alone and give you some strategies.

3. Validation - when you are feeling really low, and don't have the emotional resilience or self esteem to find that little spark inside yourself to keep on going, sometimes you just want someone to let you know that you are worth a kind word. That you are loved and appreciated. That you are worth the effort it takes for someone to say "it'll be ok".

4. Sabotage - eating disorders love to isolate. And yes, sometimes the constant badgering is targeted at wearing you down for the specific purpose of eliciting the "go away, I've had enough" response. Then your eating disorder gets the honor of yelling "see, I told you your friends would turn on you in the end. They never really cared about you".

Nothing is ever straight forward with eating disorders, and communication is definitely very high up on that list of complicated issues. But I hope these ramblings are helpful to you. And I hope it helps you to see 'attention seeking' behavior with new understanding and tolerance.

For those of you who know me too well, you will know how much a list with only 4 points on it is bugging me. So if you have a 5th to add please leave it for me in the comments :)


Abby said...

This point will kind of go along with the "validation" issue, but I think it's also to seek permission. I know there are times that I don't trust myself-or rather, shouldn't trust myself-and don't think I have "permission" to not exercise or to eat extra without feeling like a big lazy slug. I need the reassurance that I am actually sick and not just screwed up in the head.

Considering I rarely seek validation or permission in other areas of my life, this often makes me feel so immature, but it's true. I need to see it spelled out. I need permission to heal.

Unknown said...

Great post PJ! Every person is so different!

Laura Collins said...

Thank you for helping parents get underneath these responses and for putting the priority on self-care for the patient in our own home.

PJ said...

Thank you lovely readers :)
And yes, Abby - seeking permission is definitely true too. I agree it's probably tied up a bit with validation - there may be an element of I don't think I'm worth saving but if you can give me permission to eat then I will either a) do it for you, or b) be able to do it bc I can blame you. Either is ok bc the outcome is still eating.
And thank you for giving me a #5!! :)

if the moon smiled said...

Great post, very thought provoking. I have been guilty of posting stuff like this in my darkest moments. I try to delete these posts afterwards, when I start to feel better, but sometimes I don't get them all or forget, and then I'll see them there months later (since f-bk saves everything) and I'll be SO embarrassed. The main reason I would post these things was validation I think- I mean, I was so so sad and hopeless and afraid, and I knew that the ppl on my f-book couldn't exacatly save me, but at that point even a kind word or a 'hang in there' would have helped, maybe.
In the case of your friend's daughter, I think she should stop communicating electronically with this friend, at least for the time being; hopefully they will both get to a point where they won't feel so desperately low (in the friend's case) or be so vulnerable to the triggering texts (in your friend's daughter's case), but until they get to that point, they have to do everything they can to protect themselves. These texts do not seem to be doing any good for either one of them.