One of the prime factors in denial of an eating disorder is pride. An eating disorder and many types of disordered eating patterns begin as a way to cope with pain, but along the way pride can take root.
In the beginning, pride in your cleverness in handling the pain through the eating disorder or in your patterns and relationship with food motivates you. Pride keeps you blind to the fact that your behavior is abnormal. And in the end, pride hinders you from admitting you have a problem and getting the help you need to recover.
It feels good to be able to get a handle on a weight problem, to be able to keep your weight down and still eat the things you like or use food the way you want. It feels good to be able to exhibit the strength to deny yourself what those around you cannot. Pride tells you, “I can get away with this. I can get my needs met this way, and I can do this myself.”
As with any addiction, what makes you feel good in the beginning soon ends up controlling your behavior. Then you don’t feel so good anymore. But what do you do when the good feelings stop? Pretend your addiction really isn’t so bad? Believe you can stop any time you want?
Pride sets up a pattern of self-absorption and leads to an exaggerated sense of self-importance. The negative circumstances that feed into an eating disorder or disordered eating are internalized and regurgitated as a positive display of personal power and accomplishment. Not only is there pride in surviving the pain, but there is tremendous pride in turning that pain around and using it for personal gain. The pain is perceived as ultimately positive. The anger produced by the pain is relished for its role in strengthening the resolve to continue to use food the way you want to address your needs.
This leads to a created reality where pain is positive, anger is empowering, and food is compensation. Thin is vindication for the anorexic or bulimic, maintenance is victory for the person with disordered eating, and fat is defiance for the compulsive overeater. Pride flourishes within this false reality. Every comment, every situation, every relationship is filtered through this false reality. Anything that doesn’t measure up or is in contrast to this carefully constructed reality is rejected. Concern over your behavior is scorned, distrusted, rejected. Negative consequences are embraced instead of feared. Warnings are ignored and denied.
If you are anorexic, you’ve got denial and pride down pat—and you take an enormous amount of pride in the accomplishment of your weight loss. If you overeat, you may tell yourself that your behavior is normal due to your difficult circumstances. If you are a compulsive overeater, you are probably past the point of pretending that what you do is normal, but your pride may be keeping you from crying out for help. You may prefer to keep your disorder as your “best friend.”
The pride that keeps you immobile, unable to break its hold and admit you need help, is a learned response. Some families display a patterned, prideful response based on presenting a “perfect face”—to each other and to the rest of the world. Since you learned your pride from your family, you should not be surprised if that prideful pattern affects your family’s ability to see your disorder or admit their role in its creation.
People with eating disorders or those overwhelmed by their disordered eating patterns are inappropriately concerned with themselves. How you look and what you weigh are your major concerns. Not being or no longer being fat and ugly is your obsession goal. But look again: Your goals and concerns are completely self-directed. Pride has been used as an insulator to ward off pain, anger and shame.
Central to healing is being able to focus outside of yourself, to reduce your level of self-absorption. Being able to look at others as allies instead of competitors or enemies is vital in grasping reality. Not only do these attitudes allow you to see the world as it really is—and yourself as others see you—but they help you to find other people who can interact with you, providing you with the support you need on your journey.
When you finally do climb up and out of the trap of pride, you may want to go back to your family to try to resolve past conflicts. Your family, which may still be stuck in their own pride, may not want to admit the pain you’ve been through. Perhaps by understanding how pride has played a part in your own life, you will be better able to understand the role it is playing in theirs.
If you or a loved one is struggling with one of the aforementioned issues, The Center • A Place Of HOPE can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.
Excerpts taken from Gregory L. Jantz, Hope, Help & Healing From Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach To Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating, WaterBrook 2010.