For many individuals who experience symptoms of an eating disorder, they encounter common themes of social disconnection, isolation, and loneliness. Oftentimes, family and friends may notice that their loved one has pulled away, particularly once the eating disorder has taken a strong hold on that person’s life. Understanding the process through which a person becomes disconnected and isolated within the throes of an eating disorder can be crucial to helping that individual begin to reconnect meaningfully with others.
Problems of Self-Worth
One factor that frequently underlies patterns of isolation is a reduced sense of self-worth. Among individuals with eating disorders, many experience problems with their self-worth, which can often manifest as some version of the following beliefs: “There’s something wrong with me,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m undeserving.” As a result of these belief systems, people experience significant fear of allowing others to get close to them—for in their minds, doing so may lead another person to see their perceived negative qualities and ultimately confirm their painful beliefs about themselves.
Trauma and Distrust
Additionally, rates of prior trauma are higher among individuals with eating disorders than the general population. People with a trauma history can oftentimes find it difficult to trust others, as they may fear getting deeply hurt again as they have in the past. Thus, many individuals with eating disorders have understandable difficulty approaching meaningful connection with others as a result of previous trauma.
Lack of Authentic Connection
Whether it’s a manifestation of low self-worth, a response to prior trauma, or a combination of these or other factors, people with eating disorders often experience an inherent difficulty with establishing and maintaining authentic, close relationships. As the eating disorder develops, the person’s obsessions with food, exercise, weight, and body shape begin to take over that individual’s life—in turn, rendering it even more difficult for them to genuinely connect with other people. As these behaviors continue to reinforce patterns of isolation, eventually, the eating disorder itself becomes the primary relationship in that person’s life.
Reconnection as Fundamental to the Recovery Process
A crucial component of the recovery process, therefore, is helping the individual to find meaningful human connection that can replace the relationship with the eating disorder. Understanding and, ultimately, confronting the fear associated with genuinely relating to others must occur to allow for reconnection. Part of this process also involves individuals learning to reconnect with themselves—for it is virtually impossible for people show themselves authentically to another if they do not first know themselves.
A therapist can provide invaluable assistance in these ways for individuals embarking on their journeys of recovery. If you or someone you know could benefit from talking with someone about an eating disorder, we are here to help.
Here at Greenway Therapy we have multiple therapists who can help guide you on your journey, provide resources, and support you.