National Eating Disorders Association

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concernboyfriend7
Need help! Warning: long read ahead

My girlfriend and I are both 22 years old. She has had an eating disorder for over 10 years. From what I can tell, her ED has been less active during our relationship than it has been in the past. She has only purged a handful of times during the past year. My understanding is that she makes herself throw up when she is not able to process her feelings - when the distress they cause her is just too much.

A bit about me: I have been struggling with anxiety disorders for several years, I have pretty severe issues surrounding trust and fears of abandonment, and I also have a history of self-harm. I think my behaviors come from a similar place as ED behaviors. I hurt myself when my emotions or thoughts are too much to handle.

Guilt is an especially difficult feeling for my girlfriend. When she perceives that she's done something to upset me, she feels extreme guilt. This has made it difficult at times to tell her that I am upset or feeling insecure about her or our relationship, that I'm upset over something she did, or that I'm upset about anything at all. She often inaccurately attributes my hurt feelings to her wrongdoing. I do not want to make her feel guilt like others have in the past. However, I have become more and more expressive about my insecurities and hurt feelings, which she tells me has helped her deal with her guilt in positive and productive ways. So that's a good thing.

From what I can recall, she's never purged because of feeling guilty about upsetting me. There was one situation when she did something wrong that broke our trust and really wanted to purge, and I basically forced her not to. I didn't think it was fair for me to feel guilty for causing her to hurt herself when she was the one who messed up. I also think I was protecting myself - I thought that the guilt it would cause me would further my pattern of being unwilling or unable to properly express or even feel hurt emotions. And I think I felt like purging would be too easy of a way out of the situation. In that moment I probably didn't want her to escape the guilt she felt.

Anyway, fast-forward to today. This past week was especially difficult - I was extremely physically ill and overloaded with schoolwork. My anxiety was through the roof and I was having a ton of insecure thoughts about my relationship with my girlfriend. I felt alone and like she didn't care about me. Looking back, I recognize most of those thoughts and feelings were irrational and didn't fit the situation, but in the moment they felt very real. I felt extremely out of control and my internal state was bordering on real psychosis.

I expressed a lot of my insecure thoughts and feelings to my girlfriend. I became even more upset and worried because at first she seemed very unresponsive. I was afraid she didn't care about me, that she couldn't connect with me, and that she couldn't deal with my emotions.

Last night she told me that earlier this week when I was upset she made herself throw up. I got really upset. I told her I couldn't express my insecurities and feelings if they were going to hurt her. I thought that this confirmed all of my anxious thoughts about our relationship. About her not being able to handle my emotions and help me work through them.

I know making that conversation about me was the wrong thing to do and that I messed up. I made her feel like I didn't care about her eating disorder and her feelings, which was fair.

She has been trying to explain to me that I didn't make her throw up. That it's not something that I did to her, and not my fault. But no matter how she puts it, I can't stop thinking that my actions are hurting her. That if I wasn't so sensitive, insecure, and anxious, she wouldn't be making herself throw up. It's making me feel like I shouldn't tell her when I'm upset, and even worse, that I shouldn't allow myself to feel upset.

I have been reading a lot about ED to try to make sense of this, specifically about how it affects relationships. A lot of what I'm reading says that for people with ED, their behaviors help isolate and separate them from their partners. They make them not need to be as vulnerable, loving and intimate because they're focusing their energy on their ED instead of their partners.

My biggest fear is that my girlfriend can't handle the emotional labor of supporting me when I am in my extreme insecure and anxious states. And that that is why I felt so alone this week. And that it wasn't just in my head. I feel very strongly that my emotions and thoughts are too much for anyone but a therapist to handle and that I'm unfit to have open and healthy relationships.

I ended up starting to feel loved and supported after a few days. But now I can't tell if my earlier feelings were in my head or not. Now I'm thinking I was right to think that she was withdrawing from me and not supporting me. Even if she's not aware of it.

So, I'm not sure why I posted this. I hope it makes sense to others. I am obviously going to talk to her about everything. I think I just want to hear what other people think. I want to know if there's anything I might be missing. I love my girlfriend very much and I want to understand her and make her feel supported. I want to respect her eating disorder and treat her the right way, and I'm not sure how to do that. If you read this far, thank you so much! I'd appreciate any advice.

BobJ48
CBF7

Hey CBF7,

First off, bummer about all the anxiety. That stuff can be really oppressive I know, and not just something we can hope to shake off. Maybe it does get in the way of things sometimes, but it is what it is, and I think that it's good that you are able to be honest about it with your partner. Better than if we just had to submerge things all of the time.

Also, it sounds like you have a pretty good handle on the dynamics of things with your GF. Yeah yeah, we're all just really really sensitive about everything, and sometimes there's perhaps more drama involved than we might wish that there was, but still, I don't think it's bad to be in tune with things.

You wrote :

"A lot of what I'm reading says that for people with ED, their behaviors help isolate and separate them from their partners. They make them not need to be as vulnerable, loving and intimate because they're focusing their energy on their ED instead of their partners."

I'm not sure that's true though. Granted there is the withdrawal thing, where they begin to feel more distant, but I'm not sure how much their actual ED behaviors play into that. That they are somehow using their behaviors as a means to take their energy elsewhere. I don't think that's usually it.

They can feel (rightly or wrongly) like they are overwhelmed by their partner's expectations though. Like they feel that they can never be a good enough partner unless they get better, which they frequently doubt they can do. In this case she may feel ( again, rightly or wrongly) like she'll never be able to provide you with the support that you need. And she may be withdrawing because of that.

So it may be one of those things where you need to let her know that you just need her to be someone to listen, rather than someone to fix you, you know ?

In turn, you may want to assure her that you won't suffer harm if you hear about the things that she's feeling either.

Because people really can be concerned about if they are being "good enough" for each other, you know ? And if they are being a burden on each other. So that's one thing that you may need to clear up with each other.

Which is not always easy, if our own self-doubts aren't always the greatest.

But people are people, you know ? And it's no sin not to be perfect, which I think all sensitive people can hopefully understand.

So self-forgiveness may play into this too.

Keep writing ?

concernboyfriend7
Hey Bob,

Hey Bob,

Thank you for the response.

You say that I should assure her that I won't suffer harm if I hear about the things that she's feeling. But that's not really true. It doesn't seem fair to expect me to not at all be upset by her self-harm. I'll always be some amount of upset when I hear that she's feeling negative things. I think the best thing I can do is to tell her that just as she wants me to tell her things even if it upsets her, she should tell me things even if it upsets me. And that we can work on things from there. The most important thing is expressing yourself, right?

What you said about needing someone to listen rather than fix me is spot on. She has always had a lot of trouble trying to fix people, with me and with others. I have been trying to really explain to her lately that all I want is someone to listen to me. But I think part of my problem is that I feel like I need some sort of active listening. She often tells me "You know I'm always listening, even if I'm not saying anything back." And that doesn't really help, because I feel like she isn't saying anything back because she feels so much pressure to fix me and doesn't know what to say, so she withdraws. I've been trying to reinforce that all I want to hear is very simple reassurances and other cues that she is listening and cares.

Also, It's nice to hear that you don't necessarily agree with the statements about ED keeping sufferers separate from their partners. There is so much information and ideas about ED on the internet and it's a bit overwhelming trying to decide what makes sense and what to believe.

Thanks again!

BobJ48
CBF7

Yes, I believe you are right about "expression" and how in some cases it needs to be mutual.

"Some cases" that is. When it comes to the negative feelings and frustrations we have towards our partner's ED, it's unreasonable to expect us not to have feelings about those things. However, I usually think it's better to have someone other than our partner who we can unload those particular sorts of feelings. If we unload them on our partner, it often just serves to confirm the frequently-too-harsh judgements they tend to pass on themselves already. Which is where therapists and trusted friends can come in. Or even forums like this.

This is not to imply that they are somehow of responsibility for their actions, or that we should behave as though they are. So it can be a fine line to walk sometimes, that's for sure.

This may sound a bit out there, but there is a theory that people are trying to say something or express something each time they purge. So that's something to think about too.