Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Blue Horizon Eating Disorder Services, LLC
1155 Louisiana Ave., Suite 216
Winter Park, FL 32789
Many people with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, and other specified or unspecified eating disorders have lived most of their lives in invalidating environments. They may have been raised in a home with an alcoholic parent, where the unspoken rules of the home were to not speak about the clear problems occurring, not talk about emotions at all, and to not let outsiders in. They may have had a coach tell them repeatedly to “suck it up” and even possibly to ignore their physical needs as well as their emotional needs to get the desired results. They may have had a bully in school tell them to “stop being a baby” or “get over it”. If they are so used to being told to “leave their emotions at the door”, then they are surely used to being emotionally invalidated. This can be a recipe for an eating disorder or other addiction.
If someone is told they should “get over it” and “stop being dramatic” when they show sadness, anger, fear, or even joy, then they will eventually have a conditioned response to their emotions in a similar way. This also means they may start relating having emotions with being “bad”, which can create a shame response every time an emotion is felt. Shame can manifest in “should statements” like “I shouldn’t feel this way, it’s no big deal”, or “I should be over this by now”. An eating disorder can develop as a perceived solution to these thoughts and emotions. The thought process may look like this: If I have a feeling, that’s bad. I need to get rid of it. I can use this behavior to numb the feeling.
Naturally, the treatment for this is to work on self validation. While we as treatment providers can empathize and validate while they are in session, patients need to build an internal system of validation that they can use within themselves. Patients may find it difficult to give themselves permission to have emotions. They may have many negative core beliefs about themselves having emotions, such as believing that having emotions is weak. Patients can practice self validation by telling themselves it is okay to have any emotion at any time. They can practice reframing and thought replacement for times that they invalidate themselves. They can also use affirmations to confirm that their experience is real and makes sense. Using self validation can create shame resiliency, increased self compassion, and self efficacy. It may seem basic or general, but it can be the foundation for which they create their complex and profound recovery.
About the Author:
Melissa McCormick, MA, LMHC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and received a Masters of Arts degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Central Florida. She has previous experience working with eating disorders at the residential level of care, as well as various other clinical disorders including substance use, mood disorders, and trauma related disorders. Melissa is a board member for two nonprofit eating disorder organizations in Central Florida, including the Central Florida IAEDP Chapter, which focuses on advocacy and education of eating disorders and eating disorder treatment.