Eating disorders start out as silent thieves; they take from you – little by little – until one day you look around and realize that while the thief was silent, the carnage left behind is not. Among the many things that your eating disorder may have taken from you are the relationships you value with people you love. Eating disorders have a way of creating a barrier between you and the people you care about, leaving you feeling isolated and disconnected. And for a while, your ED renders you unable to notice this is happening. 

But Then the Healing Starts

At some point during your recovery, once you have started healing parts of yourself, you find yourself exploring the impact your ED has had on your relationships. Maybe the realization is slow, maybe it hits you all at once. This realization came later in the healing process for me:

If I imagine a pie as the sum of all my thoughts and behaviors, when I was consumed by my eating disorder, most of this pie was made up of thoughts and behaviors related to food, calories, tracking, body checking, and exercise. This left very little room for me to prioritize the important relationships in my life. My mental and physical capacity was finite, as is true for humans, and I was giving most of what I had to my ED. It wasn’t that I consciously didn’t care about the relationships that were suffering at the hand of my eating disorder; it was more that I didn’t, at the time, have the capacity to realize the gravity of the impact.

Through the healing process, as fewer of my thoughts and behaviors were driven by my ED, less of my “pie” was consumed, allowing me to recognize that my ED had taken over much of my mind, which had, in turn, forced important relationships out of focus. While in ED recovery, you are given several tools that help you look inward to begin the process of healing both physically and emotionally. When rebuilding relationships, the healing does not stop with introspection. There comes a point where we will have to reach outward — and this can feel particularly vulnerable and intimidating.

Designed for Connection

Once you are at a point, though, where you feel you have done enough inner healing to be able to start reaching out to do some relational repair, it’s important not to shove this desire down or push it to the side. As humans, we are designed for connection. Brene Brown reminds us that, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” 

So, if you are at a point where you recognize the strain or brokenness in one or more relationships in your life caused in part by your eating disorder, and you feel ready to start reaching outward to repair these relationships, let’s look at how you can seize this opportunity. Rebuilding broken connections with loved ones can feel daunting, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of your recovery journey.

7 Steps To Help You Rebuild Relationships When Recovering From an Eating Disorder

1. Shake the Shame

If you’re experiencing any level of shame for struggling to maintain relationships with loved ones when you were struggling with your eating disorder, let’s start there. Shame likes to keep us focused on things we cannot change: what we should or shouldn’t have done in the past, the lie that a strained or broken relationship is entirely your fault and that it is beyond repair, and that the person with whom you had the relationship has maybe completely written you off. You are a human being, not a robot, and your bandwidth for fostering relationships changes when you are just trying to survive. And for a time, you were in survival mode. There is no place for shame there. 

2. Seek Professional Support

If you are working with a therapist, it can be helpful to talk with them about your hope to reconnect with loved ones through or post recovery. And if you are not, consider connecting with a professional who can help you work up reconnecting with loved ones during and after your recovery journey. Recovery is a lot of work, so are human relationships, but both are well worth it. And a therapist can help provide you with the tools you need to help you restore relationships. 

3. Ask Yourself Questions

Take inventory of the relationships you want to address, and for each, consider your hope for the relationship before you lean in to reconnect. The following questions can help clarify your goals for the relationship you are hoping to rebuild:

  1. What was this relationship like before?
  2. What is it like now? What is different or missing?
  3. What would I like this relationship to look like in the future?
  4. What specific action can I do to move toward reconnecting with this person?

4. Make a Plan

Whether you have one or several relationships you are aiming to foster on the other side of recovery, consider how you may start bridging the gap between you and this person. If you’re hoping to reconnect with a friend, planning opportunities to start a conversation that could move you toward reconnection will lessen anxiety and make the process less intimidating. Once you have a plan, make it tangible by writing it down in a journal or in a note in your phone.

5. Take Action

Reach out to your friend, sibling, partner, parent, or other loved one when you are ready. Depending on the nature of the relationship, this may be a planned phone call, coffee date, sitting across the dinner table from one another. Even if it is someone you see every day, make a plan to actually talk. Use this opportunity to communicate as honestly as you can to help rebuild connection. This does not mean you need to divulge all the details of your ED and recovery journey if you do not want to, but letting your loved one know that you are hoping to rebuild the connection between you two is important. 

6. Take Your Time

While it can be tempting to try to get relationships “back to normal” quickly once you start to feel a pull toward reconnection, be careful not to overextend yourself. If you have a handful of people with whom you are rebuilding relationships, choose a relationship or two at a time to focus on. There is no deadline, so take steps when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready.

7. Continue Checking In With Yourself

As you begin the reconciliation process, be sure you are doing so as a part of your recovery and healing, and not at the expense of it. If, at any point, you are feeling anxious, like your attempts at outward connection are causing you to lose traction on the inner work and healing you have done, that is an opportunity to notice and address the cause.

Rebuilding and Reconnecting: It’s a Process

The process of rebuilding relationships will look different for everyone depending on a multitude of factors: the type of relationship, your desire for what the relationship will look like in the future, and where you are on your own recovery journey. But recognizing that relational repair is a desire you have is an important first step to reconnection, and understanding that this process takes time and, like recovery, is not always linear. It may be a one step forward, a couple steps back type of situation for a little while, and that is okay. 

Connecting and reconnecting with people you love (and who love you!) is invaluable. These people are an important part of your healing journey, and authentic connection with others is an important part of the human experience. You deserve connection, you deserve friendship, you deserve the sense of belonging that comes with being in healthy relationships, and you deserve the joy and fulfillment you will feel when you take back another thing that your ED stole from you.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

How Can Eating Disorder Therapy in Philadelphia Help You?

If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of emotions you may experience throughout your eating disorder recovery journey and relationship rebuilding, our therapists in Pennsylvania would be honored to help!  You can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.

Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA

Life is a unique journey for each of us, and we all have our individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s difficulties and we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.

We offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to helping you on this journey!