Recovery Newsletter Issue #28 - Eating Disorders Victoria
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Recovery Newsletter Issue #28

Home ~ Recovery Newsletter Issue #28

Managing existing friendships when you have an eating disorder

Jan 20th 2021

We’re delighted to be back in your inbox for 2021. We’ve got some exciting things happening at EDV this year – you may have seen our recent announcements. If not, you can catch up on it here.

We’re starting our first newsletter of 2021 with a topic that we get asked about A LOT! Friendships. Notably, existing friendships. We’ll cover new friendships in a later issue.

Let’s start by acknowledging that eating disorders thrive on isolating you, having you all to themselves and convincing you that the ED is your only friend, your only ally.

Managing your existing friendships when unwell can be exceptionally hard. Many people struggle with feeling as though friends pull away and do not understand. This increasing isolation only fuels the ED more. It can be easy to place all the blame on the people that are walking away, but it can also be extremely easy to blame it all on yourself! After all, your ED would love to tell you that “you don’t deserve any friends” and “nobody likes you.” NOT TRUE! Living with an ED is very complex, but so is living around an ED.  

Existing friends may begin to pull away because this is an uncomfortable issue for them, they have minimal knowledge of mental health issues and perhaps they see the ED behaviors as choices and poor decisions. The person they previously befriended seems long gone and they are left with someone that they do not recognize anymore. It can be a shock to the system and endlessly upsetting. Sometimes this shock and confusion results in someone to be unable or unwilling to learn and try their best to understand. 

Hurtful things can happen when unwell, so sometimes friends might feel it is in their best interest to have less contact because they find the ED so distressing for them to witness.

We cannot blame others for acting on the instinct of self-preservation! 

All humans try to protect themselves from hurt, so pulling away might be how your friend is doing this. That does not make it easier, or less hurtful, but sometimes when we can understand a little better, it is easier to accept. You might find yourself in a big blow out with a friend and hurtful things are said, either by one of you or both of you. This is because emotions run high when it comes to eating disorders. It is important to remember that your friend is not the enemy in this situation, the eating disorder is! Even if things are irreconcilable at the time, try and look at the bigger picture.

Try to communicate openly with your friend and acknowledge the damage the ED is causing. Reassure your friend that YOU are still there, underneath the chaos of the ED and that you are fighting your hardest to get back to them. Initiate and arrange activities that feel comfortable for you, don’t just leave it up to your friend to navigate this alone.

Maybe talk to your friend about hitting ‘pause’ on things for a while if they don’t seem able to cope with your illness. Make a promise that you will both reach out when feeling a little better and reignite the friendship in a way that works for both of you.

If it seems like the friendship is over then allow yourself to grieve and mourn the loss. Talk to others about this loss and take it as more fuel in the fight against your illness. In these moments of vulnerability, it can be easy to slip into the promising embrace of the ED, but push with all your might to step further and further away from it. Every step away from the ED is a step closer to the life you want and deserve to live.

Things to remember:

  • Your ED is to blame and that is what you need to fight against!
  • Hurtful things can happen, allow yourself to feel these emotions and take the time to process them. Forgiveness might not be possible but try and work towards acceptance.
  • Take time to consider if your ED is misusing the friendship in any way. Are you comparing yourself against them? Are you competing with one another? Does your ED stand to gain something from this friendship? How is this impacting your friendship?
  • Set boundaries on how you are willing to be treated by others, but also respect boundaries that your friends may put in place.
  • Express your feelings to your friend, speak to them about what you need from them and see if they can support you in that way. You won’t know if you don’t ask!
  • Give people time to process, learn and try to figure out how to navigate your ED. They might get it very wrong, but we all make missteps.
  • If it all goes awry, dust yourself off and go after the ED harder than before. Recovery is possible for everyone!

Part 2 will explore how to navigate new friendships!

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