National Eating Disorders Association

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Essgee
She thinks I'll run away the more I know

For two years now my girlfriend has been battling with anorexia nervosa and depression. We’ve been together for three months but we’ve been friends all our lives. Our parents are best friends and she and I have essentially grown up together. She has become my best friend and I love her and she loves me.

She hasn’t told me everything about her experience with anorexia and depression, and I don’t expect her to just yet. She tells me a little bit more every time I see her and I can sense that she is slowly opening up more, but she is afraid to let me in completely, to tell me everything, or even a little bit more than she already has, because she is afraid I will run away. I reassure her that there’s nothing she can tell me that will make me run away, that I love her and want to be with her. I tell her that I love her on her best days, her worst days and every day in between.

She says she believes that I mean what I say, that I feel what I feel, but she says she just cannot believe it herself that I won’t simply run away if I learn the whole truth about her experience and how much she struggles and how difficult she thinks she is to live with. I know without doubt that I’m not going to run away - I love her and she is my best friend, it’s as simple as that - and I want nothing more than to give her the love and support she deserves. Nothing she tells me will make me run away - I’ve spent eighteen months reading endlessly about anorexia and depression, so there’s probably very little she can tell me that will surprise me about it, that I haven’t read at least something about, although that's not to say I understand it all and that it won’t make me sad to know what she’s gone through and is still going through.

She says she doesn’t feel she should be with me because she’s burdening me with this. She says she feels so guilty for feeling depressed when she should be feeling ‘butterflies and rainbow’ feelings all the time because we’re in love. I don’t begrudge her the bad days or feeling depressed. I don’t expect to fix how she feels, firstly because she’s not broken, and secondly because happiness isn’t a switch to be flicked with a sweet word or a corny joke. I know that these spells of depression lift in the end eventually, that there is an end to the anorexia in sight, though some way off still - she says there is a light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t there before. I don’t try to solve her problems for her, so I listen and support her.

But she’s afraid to let me in completely because she’s afraid I’ll hear or see something I don’t like and that I’ll leave her. She would then fear that it would jeopardise our friendship and the relationship between our parents, so in her mind there’s a lot at risk, so she must be thinking, ‘Why tell him everything and run that risk?'

Is there some way that I can make her trust that I won’t run away? Or will it just take time for her and continued reassurance from me? Do I just need to keep pitching my love for her against the anorexia, the guilty thoughts, doubts and depression? If anyone has any advice or reassurance, I would appreciate it so much. I just love this girl with all my heart and I want her to be happy and healthy.

BobJ48
Hey SG,

As you are discovering, people with EDs often view themselves in ways that are considerably different than how we see them.

There's lots to read about EDs, and you really are taking a responsible approach by doing all the reading that you've done. Not everyone would take the time to do that, so I think you can feel good about that.

But oh brother, the sorts of ways that people with EDs think about themselves ! The self-hate thing has got to be one of the most toxic aspects of EDs. "If only he know what a horrible person I really am " , "I do a good job of faking everything" and beliefs of that nature. No matter how supportive we are, it's really hard for them to shake thoughts of that nature. "Poor self-esteem" is such a cliche, but it really is something that so many people with ED's struggle with. They'll just never be good enough, you know ?

Of course we'd like to help them counteract those sorts of feelings, so we tend to come at the situation with positive affirmations. And really, when we love them, that's just naturally how loving partners respond. Even in relationships that don't involve emotional issues, we find ourselves naturally drawn toward saying things that affirm the many positive views that we have of the person. That's just kind of how loving relationships are.

But when it comes to EDs, sometimes we may need to take a different approach. For our partners to really believe that we understand them, then sometimes showering them with positive comments has the opposite effect. It's like we don't really get it about them, you know ? At least from their viewpoint, that is.

So it's important to strike a balance I think. " I know that it must be difficult to believe good things about yourself. " "Sometimes it's hard to trust that we'll ever be a good enough person." "It's easy to believe that if people knew the real truth about us, they'd never want to be with us."

As you'll notice, none of these statements resemble the sort of positive affirmations that everyone's supposed to be paying attention to these days. And yet they are the very sorts of fears that our loved ones struggle with.

If your GF can believe that you really do "get it" about the sorts of thoughts and fears that she struggles with, then perhaps that will be an important breakthrough ? Because people with EDs often have a lot of fears - fears that they can have a hard time speaking openly about. Showing them that we understand those fears, even if it means acknowledging a lot of less than positive thoughts they may have, sometimes there's value in that.

Keep writing ?

.

Essgee
That you so much for your

That you so much for your response. It means a lot and your advice and reassurance is a great help to me, so thank you.

It really is upsetting to see how my girlfriend views herself, how she doubts herself and doesn’t think herself worthy of a relationship. And I’m really beginning to understand how the positive affirmations I say can make her feel like I don’t understand where she’s coming from. Thank you for the examples you gave of how to strike that balance between offering support and also acknowledging her fears and the negative thoughts she has about herself. I want her to know that I’m trying to understand and that that understanding won’t make me run a mile, and I think what you’ve told me will really help.

Another worry I have is concerning how to explain to her that I don’t just like how she looks now, that I’ll find her attractive as she progresses through her recovery and once she’s hopefully recovered. She has told me she’s worried about this. I did my best to reassure her, but I’m willing to bet part of the worry for her comes from the fact that I first started thinking about her romantically when she was anorexic and not before when she was healthy. I know that I fell for her because of our connection more than her physical appearance, but I’m sure she must be struggling to accept that. I fear that I may play a negative part in her recovery because she worries that I won’t like her anymore as she gets better and recovers.

Thank you for your response and advice. You’ve been a great help!

BobJ48
SG - Her weight worries.

SG,

You wrote :

"Another worry I have is concerning how to explain to her that I don’t just like how she looks now, that I’ll find her attractive as she progresses through her recovery and once she’s hopefully recovered. She has told me she’s worried about this…"

She may seem to be worrying about what you'll think, but I bet these worries are connected more to how she worries that she'll feel about gaining, rather than how you will. It's complicated, but basically , once a person has been in their ED for a while, their minds begin to associate gaining with all sorts of negative things. You name it : Nothing good is ever going to come of seeing that number on the scale go up. Seeing it go down is really the only road to safety. Getting past these sorts of inner mental associations is a huge part of recovery.

" I know that I fell for her because of our connection more than her physical appearance, but I’m sure she must be struggling to accept that. "

Yes, it's likely that she is having trouble accepting that. And the reason is, that for herself and the way she thinks, all judgment gets down to those numbers on the scale. You will hear people with ED's say this. "My BF says he will love me at any weight, but I don't see how that could be possible." Because given where their own mind is, they wouldn't love themselves at all, if somehow they "got fat". Basically, they have a really hard time putting themselves in your shoes, when it comes to the way you look at this issue. Even though it's quite likely that she does believe that you love her.

People with ED's are frequently "on edge" about all sorts of things. Are they good enough ? Will other people see them as "good enough" ? Will just one normal meal abruptly make them fat ? Being able to feel secure and confident about anything positive can become really difficult, so you can kind of understand where she may find herself doubting her relationship with you as well.

" I know that you worry about our relationship, but you'll just have to trust me, OK ? "

Again, showing that you understand her fears, you know ?