In support of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, below is an excerpt from Chapter 6, “The Detour of Denial,” from my book, Hope, Help and Healing: A New Approach to Treating Anorexia, Bulimia and Overeating:
Individuals with an eating disorder — be it anorexia, bulimia or overeating — are often unaware of the source of their pain. I believe this is God’s way of protecting us. In order to survive as children, we block our abusive behavior. But somewhere along the line, the adult must discover the wellspring of pain from the past. Denial is a significant detour in that quest.
TWO TYPES OF DENIAL
The first is your own denial of what has happened to you. This may take the form of doubting that what you remember ever took place. Because the abuse has been denied, it may take on an unreal quality when remembered, almost as if it happened to someone else. If the abuse is remembered, it is often seen through a prism that “explains” why the abuse wasn’t really abuse at all.
Denial enters through self-talk. These are the messages we repeat over and over to ourselves as we try to deal with the pain and the eating disorder. Thoughts of “nobody’s home is perfect” or “it could have been worse” or “it wasn’t that bad” or “there’s nothing I can do about it now” allow you to minimize the damage. “I should be strong enough to deal with this on my own” or “everyone turns to food when they’re down” increases frustration at the inability to bring the eating disorder under control. But denial, this minimization of the pain, is merely a coping mechanism to keep the pain at bay.
Denial is the ticket that allows you to transform life-altering pain into that limbo state of “not that bad.” If it’s “not that bad,” you believe you can find the strength to go on.
The other form of denial comes from the person or people who hurt you. They may deny that the abuse ever took place or that there was anything wrong with what they did. He or she may accept that the event or events happened but deny responsibility or minimize the damage. This can happen regardless of the nature of the abuse. Whether the abuse ws a single, specific event or a pattern of hurtful behavior carried out over a number of years, this person may refuse to accept the ramifications of his or her actions.
This person may even attempt to make you feel responsible for the abuse itself or responsible for your “version” of the events. They may deny the damage by calling into question your natural response to the damage. It is to his or her benefit if denial goes both ways — their denial of the event andyour denial of the damage done. They may resist acknowledging your eating disorder, because acknowledgement means recognizing the abuse or pattern of hurtful behavior behind it. So the responsiblity for the abuse itself and the resulting eating disorder could be shoved back at you, increasing the stress surrounding your eating disorder, escalating its progression. As your eating disorder escalates, it becomes easier to focus your attention solely on its progress, diverting your attention from the root cause.
Tomorrow: Accepting the pain of your past.