The Power of Communication
Communication is a powerful tool, which is most effective when it is direct, congruent with true emotions, and undertood by others. Surprising as it may seem, symptoms of an eating disorder are actually a way to communicate something, albeit unhealthfully. Messages are wide-ranging and unique to each individual, but may include such underlying thoughts and feelings as I am hurting, I am not coping, I need help, I need more control, I am lost. It seems that for many women and men with eating issues, figuring out what the message is and then empowering them to communicate more directly is critical to their recovery.
“I’m fine” =
“I am hurting, but hiding”
Many of us are so used to ignoring our hurts or minimizing our issues that it is difficult to confront them openly and honestly. Although the messages are clearly being communicated through our eating disordered behaviors, it is not always easy for us to verbalize them. We often claim all is “fine” when we are actually holding back tears or feel distressed. We need help learning to express ourselves and to feel validated in our expressions.
Many eating disorders develop, in part, because of continually burying feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Food restrictions, binges, and purges reflect these attempts to deny feelings, causing us to become overwhelmed and then sickened with our responses. As we grow more aware of this connection, we not only literally begin to use our voices more, but we also find that the eating disorder behaviors hold less and less appeal.
“I’m not fine” =
“I am making progress by verbalizing my discomfort”
As we become more skilled at recognizing our own internal messages and practice more assertiveness, we also become willing to acknowledge when we are not fine and capable of examining what is contributing to this discomfort more directly. This is a particularly important step. While it can be difficult to accept, facing negative feelings is actually a good sign and not one to be avoided.
When we begin to speak up more, we may need to re-examine our personal relationships in order to be sure we are feeling valued rather than manipulated, heard rather than dismissed. There may be times when this is hard to do, but it is another important step to take. Those around us may eagerly jump in and help push us forward on our mission. But because we are new to direct verbalizing, we need to figure out how to do this our own way. Our growth depends upon it. If others are too strong in offering recommendations or suggestions, we run the risk of simply pushing our voices down again. Although their intentions are good, being told what to do or say does not allow us to tap into our newly developing voice. We can sincerely thank others for their support, but we must take a stand and find our own way.
“I am fine” =
“I am fine”
Slowly, but steadily and surely, we build upon our internal emotional awareness and learn to verbalize more about what is rather than what should be. We are honest about how we feel and no longer have the urge or need to deny, avoid, or apologize for it. We now identify internal emotions more readily without self judgment and censoring.
Eventually, our messages become direct, honest, and genuine. Once we learn to utilize healthy and effective communication tools, symptoms are not needed and verbalization is primary. We—as well as the loved ones around us—can trust that “I am fine” means just that.
By Sandra Wartski, Psy.D.
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Winter 2009 Volume 7, Number 1
©2009 Gürze Books
About the Author
Sandra Wartski, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specilizes in working with individuals with eating disorders and is passionate about building positive communication and empowerment skills in the clients with whom she works.
Dr. Gnap website editor eatingdisordersrecoverytoday.com. Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.