“Monthly Matters with Melody” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Melody Moore, a clinical psychologist, yoga instructor and the founder of the Embody Love Movement Foundation. Her foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to empower girls and women to celebrate their inner beauty, commit to kindness and contribute to meaningful change in the world. Dr. Moore is a social entrepreneur who trains facilitators on how to teach programs to prevent negative body image and remind girls and women of their inherent worth. Her work has been featured in the books Yoga and Body Image and Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for Modern Illness, as well as in Yoga Journal, Yoga International and Origin Magazine.
What are the best ways to respond to people who mean well and are trying their best to help, but don’t always understand that they’re not helping and are, in some cases, hurting the process? (There are people in my life who have the best of intentions and are trying to understand and be supportive, but aren’t quite there.)
Thank you for your inquiry. I can tell by the way you framed the question that you have compassion for the intentions of those in your life who are coming from a place of care, but unknowingly causing harm. Because you are able to see that they are meaning well, hold that part of them in mind and heart when you are responding to them.
This is not as easy as it sounds, since it is likely that you will feel hurt or triggered by their “helpfulness,” so consider taking at least a few slow, deep breaths and allowing yourself to calm and center before reacting. In fact, if the hurtful comments or behaviors are coming from the same person(s), it may be best to approach them during a time when you are feeling less charged and upset than just after they’ve unknowingly caused you harm. If possible, find a time that feels comfortable for you, and then seek agreement from the other person that this time is also comfortable for them to be able to listen and respond with an open mind and heart.
When you do speak to them, first acknowledge that you see and appreciate their intentions to be supportive of you. This validation of their motivations should help alleviate them from becoming defensive. If it’s true for you, let them know that you recognize how difficult it must be to witness your struggle and to feel helpless to impact it. Show that you have compassion for them.
This puts you and them on the same team, working toward the same goal: your recovery and wellbeing. Next, and this will require vulnerability and courage on your part, let them know that even though the intended result of their behavior is to be helpful, the actual result is harmful. Just like that. Tell them why this is so, validating that bearing witness to your struggle with an eating disorder can be counter-intuitive and confusing, because it is so complex.
Then, offer them an alternative way to be supportive of you. Because you are the expert on you, they are relying on you for insight. Tell them what to say, what to do, or what to know about you and what would feel safe and helpful for you. They will appreciate hearing directly from you how to be received in a way that does feel understanding and supportive.